The United States has apparently decided to seek a seat in the United Nation Human Rights Council. There was something of a struggle for the president's mind on this matter, and Susan Rice won it. She is historically very close to Obama, and this was her bureaucratic victory. Rice is committed to the "international community," such as it is. Someday, I'd like to read a little discourse by a student of words and of their distortions on the degradations of "community."
But that is another matter. Ot is it?
The American effort to be included in the routine work of the UNHRC will not be easy work. Still, in the tussle around the matter of campaigning--and a real campaign it will have to be--for membership in the Council, Ambassador Rice has had one win already, although it is a symbolic one. At the U.N., however, there are almost no other kinds.
The U.S. had attended the Geneva preparatory meetings for Durban II, to be convened later this month also in Geneva. And, although the American representative at the preliminary sessions did not much participate in the procedural hassles, the document put forward for further deliberations was shorn of various previous pronunciamentos offensive to democratic nations, particularly a few attacking an expansive view of civil freedoms, explicitly singling out Israel for special condemnations for defending itself from ongoing but random terror while at the same time giving passes to true butcher states, and other values enshrined in the very notion of progress. You see, sheer sitting in delegate chairs gets the U.S. a morsel of triumph.
We shall know soon enough whether this struggle to exclude ugly sentiments can be expanded to something positive. I myself believe that it can't, and that there will be serious reversals in Geneva in the next few weeks. One thing is already clear, and it is the great regress mankind has experienced since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights some six decades ago. Eleanor Roosevelt looks down from heaven upon us all with dismay.
The structure of the international system is chaos. This is both oxymoronic and true. Yes, I suppose that something concrete occurs in the International Labor Organizations, the Food and Agricultural Organization, even the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, each of them immensely bloated and given mostly to convening conferences in nice world capitols. Why else would anyone come?
The symbolic totem of the U.N. is the General Assembly which convenes every autumn in New York. (Imagine if the General Assembly fest would be held in Lagos.) There are 192 member states encompassing Andorra to Vatican City, including Nauru and Vanuatu. I do not mean these allusions as dismissive. The Holy See does have, despite Stalin's ridicule, the equivalent of several tank divisions. The assembly's roster includes every member of the League of of the Islamic Conference, numbering 55 (plus non-state "Palestine,") only a few being real nation-states and barely two (Turkey and Indonesia) functioning as reasonable democracies. There is the thick soup of the League of Arab States, 21 states (plus again the symbolic presence of Palestine), none of them countable as either nation-states or democracies. Most of the other states in the G.A. are also illegitimate on any reasonable index of whether they in some way conform to modern conceptions of representative government. Which is why I have my doubts about international law in the first place.
The annual fall fuss in New York is to compensate by pageantry for the lack of practical political work. And it is a pageant, although the parade of spokespeople to the lectern no longer includes many men dressed up in what might be Marimeko dresses. (These folk shop now at Gucci's, and it and its soignee Fifth Avenue competitors are anxiously waiting through the next six months for their arrival.) The fact is, though, that we are lucky that no real politics is done when everyone gathers on the west bank of the East River. The president of the assembly is a Roman Catholic "liberation theologian" direct from Sandinista ranks, Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. He does not disguise his hatred for the U.S. and for Israel. He reeks of it. He also does not disguise his affections for Hamas and other "progressive" actors in world politics. D'Escoto's election was proof that the assembly was no venue for anything but rabid ideological politics. What I am waiting for is a sign from Rice that she recognizes this fact...and not try to ignore it away.
The Security Council is in a way a very different phenomenon. Country by country, it is a more reasonable grouping, 10 of its 15 member- states in the present configuration being at least reasonable democracies. The rub here is that five of these are "permanent" members and each has a veto power. Given the issues brought before the council the fact of the veto moves it either to meaningless agreement or to what John C. Calhoun in another context (but not so different a context) called "nullification." Meaningless agreement comes about when the "big five" have so carefully constructed the language of a Security Council resolution that it will come to nothing. Darfur is just one instance but perhaps the most obscene instance in recent years in which the Council has made verbal gestures calling for this and for that but mandating nothing. And the fact is that it can mandate nothing but nothing.
Just for your curiosity take a look at at the 5015th meeting of the Security Council dealing with the issue of Darfur and resulting in Resolution 1556 LINK, "Security Council Demands Sudan Disarm Militias in Darfur" and "Requests Report Within 30 Days on Progress, With Intention of Taking Further Action in Event of Non-Compliance." This resolution recalls resolution 1504, requests, reports, reaffirms, decries, supports, urges, decides, reiterates, expresses its deep concern and mandates, blah, blah, blah. No one thought the passing of
1556 would accomplish anything which is why it received the votes of four of the five veto-empowered members. China abstained, as did Pakistan. China abstained because its investments in Sudan are financing the war against the African Muslims. And Pakistan abstained. Why? Well, you know perfectly well why.
The 5015 meeting took barely an hour but doubtless followed many days of haggling to get the Russian Federation to go along and China not to veto. The process of haggling might be characterized as linguistic subversion. (I think Pat Moynihan coined this phrase or a cognate one not far from this.) This is the way the Security Council takes action without there really being any acts as a consequence. The choice is veto (which is what nullification means) or just words.
The procedures of the Human Rights Council do not include nullification or veto. It's a straight up-and-down process, after negotiations, of course. And what the United States will claim as a victory in Geneva is first, getting itself elected. Our enemies might vote for American admission just to get the legitimacy of the country's presence in the deliberations even if from time to the U.S. mission votes "opposed."
And, when on the occasion that the American delegates votes "yes," it will be on a sorely compromised matter of principle on which they probably could say that "were we not here the resolution would have been much worse." This is not advancing American interests or American values but pacifying the ugly designs of our antagonists (of whom there many) and also our enemies (of whom there are even more).