Sunday, November 23, 2008

The UN – Curse or Blessing?

“Canadians love the idea of the United Nations, but know little about it,” said Dr. Adam Chapnick in a recent lecture at Beth Tikvah’s popular Lunch and Learn program. Chapnick explained that in surveys Canadians consistently rank second or third among the countries of the world in our support for the UN.

Given that the General Assembly often seems obsessed with denigrating Israel, I find the Canadian enthusiasm for the UN worrying. Not Dr. Chapnick. He suggested that most Canadians pay no attention to anti-Israel reports issuing from the UN. “It goes in one ear, out the other,” he said. The General Assembly’s many anti-Israel resolutions may embolden anti-Israel propagandists, but they don’t change how anyone sees Israel.

Currently an Assistant Professor of Defence Studies and Deputy Chair of Education at Canadian Forces College, Dr. Chapnick has a particular interest in the history of Canada’s involvement with the UN and the place the UN holds in our national mythology.

Chapnick pointed out that the vast majority of resolutions regarding Israel are passed by the General Assembly, not the Security Council and that the General Assembly was designed to be powerless.

According to Chapnick, President Roosevelt, one of the principal architects of the UN, envisioned the General Assembly as a forum where “small countries can vent.”

Chapnick suggested that the UN’s Human Rights Council is similarly irrelevant. He described the UN’s old Human Rights Secretariat as an “embarrassment,” a club for some of the world’s worst human rights offenders. The reformed Human Rights Council is just as bad, he said, and because it lacks credibility, it lacks influence.

Chapnick argued that the United Nations is a blessing as well as a curse, even for Israel. He stated that Israel will never be elected to a seat on the Security Council because of “the General Assembly’s racist bias.” However, in the United States, “Israel has an ally on the Security Council that looks out for Israel’s interests.”

Also, Chapnick explained that the UN’s primary purpose is to prevent a third world war, and, he argued, in this, the UN has been successful. Moreover, he pointed out the UN’s usefulness in disaster relief efforts, such as the 2004 Tsunami in the Indian Ocean, and in disease eradication programs, such as the elimination of polio.

Ultimately, Chapnick said that blaming the UN is a mistake. He suggested that the UN is a place where countries gather to talk. What gets done and doesn’t get done in the world is up to individual countries, which can and do act without UN authorization. Even Canada acts without the UN’s blessing, he said, such participating in NATO’s military intervention in Kosovo.

When the UN supports them, countries use the UN “to cloak themselves in legitimacy,” and when the UN doesn’t support them, they ignore it.

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