- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
I’m one of those guys that the conspiracy theorists love to hate.
I not only believe that we need stronger global governance mechanisms, I believe that the reinvention of our global governance system is one of the great shared missions of the world for the century ahead. Whether it is strengthening institutions that regulate trade or climate, finance or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or whether it is creating multilateral enforcement mechanisms with real teeth, the international system of nation states and very weak multilateral mechanisms we currently have is showing its age and is simply not up to satisfying the obligations of the social contract in the global era. In the eyes of the conspiracy maniacs … weakened by too much time staring at anti-Bilderberg, anti-Davos, anti-World Jewish Conspiracy Web sites … this makes me a world government guy and a threat to the natural order. (Which apparently is manifested in a libertarian fantasy land of white guys living in shacks and RVs far from the influence of any cultural tradition but their own. The notion of one nation under Toby Keith seems a little dubious to me, but then again, most of these guys think people like me would best serve as hood ornaments.)
Having said that, watching the UN continue its kabuki theater concerning North Korea makes me want to shut the place down, convert it to condos and remit the funds to the former member states. Even in a down New York real estate market it is almost certain to be a better return on investment for the dollars poured into that white elephant on the East River than “outcomes” like the proposed sanctions on Pyongyang. This is particularly tragic since containing and ultimately eliminating the threats posed by states like North Korea and other proliferators seems to me a vital role for the UN or at least for some international mechanism. But you can’t stand up to the bad guy without a spine and the UN has been an invertebrate by design since it first crawled out of San Francisco Bay in April 1945. No one wanted anything like a strong world governance structure back then and so they built a talking shop that makes most freshman philosophy seminars look like decisive drivers of global change. Basically the organization was designed along the lines of the conflict resolution sessions my daughters’ elementary school used to use when students got into a fight. The combatants would be sat down in a room, asked to explain the problem, and then told to apologize and make up or else. Of course the “or else” was the equivalent of the great parental technique of counting to three, you didn’t know what might happen once you got to the point of no return but you were sure it was bad.
To my eldest daughter’s credit at one point she got into a fight with a budding bitchlet from the grade ahead of her and when asked to say they were friends, she refused. She sensed that there would be no repercussions. Who knew that my adorable little cupcake and Kim Jong-Il would have that much in common.
He must be sitting there with his 26 year-old son, Kim Jong-Un, his recently anointed successor, in their badly paneled rumpus room full of tapes of old American movies playing their favorite video game (Grand Theft Plutonium) and cackling at the wimps on Manhattan Upper East Side. Seriously, I can hardly understand how in a city in which every cab driver is prepared to get all up in your grille about the most casual comment, these UN folks can manage to negotiate the basics of daily life. It takes more gumption than they have ever displayed to get a waiter to bring you a menu at most Manhattan coffee shops. (I’ve seen “Gossip Girl.” I know how that part of town works. Blair Waldorf would have Ban Ki Moon braiding her hair and carrying her books to school within seconds of their first meeting.)
In essence, the new tough stand of the UN, orchestrated by the United States, has two parts. In the first, we essentially reiterate what we’ve said in the past about interdicting shipments of weapons materials. But this time, folks, we say it with feeling. There is no commitment by anyone to actually stop or inspect North Korean ships and there is no UN mechanism obligating or even sanctioning the use of force. We also plan to cut off financing options for the starving country … except those that pertain to humanitarian or development needs. Of course, money is fungible and the government has shown a real willingness to spend on arms in the past while letting its people eat grass, so why we think this tactic won’t just produce more humanitarian and development needs … which in turn will be met … is beyond me.
In all the articles on these developments, the usual suspects at think tanks and in the diplomatic community say all this matters because this time the Russians and the Chinese are really pissed off. Yes, maybe. But apparently not pissed off enough to actually collaborate in the production of anything that might actually change North Korean behavior. (Their approach, written on the package every North Korean bomb comes seems to have been lifted from a shampoo bottle: Threaten…negotiate/buy time for program development…win aid packages…repeat as necessary.) How was it all described by that UN expert from Stratford-on-Avon? “A lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (They didn’t call it the Globe Theater for nothing.)
Oh yeah, by the way, I’m still in India. I’m writing this while periodically looking up to watch the small fishing boats come into the Back Bay from the Arabian Sea. Great people, great meetings, great food and yes, if you must ask, I do keep my mouth closed in the shower to avoid becoming the host to any local bacteria (with whom I have had bad experiences in the past.)
Also, for the record, on the broader point of this blog, despite my being a very big fan of this wonderful country and a big supporter of it having a much bigger role on the international stage and in America’s foreign policy priorities, I don’t like the nuke deal we cut with them either. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, the world’s complacency on proliferation will produce one or more of the great tragedies of the century ahead. (As in the North Korea case, the international community has developed and seems to be sticking to a three-speed plan on proliferation these days: cooperate with proliferators, cut them a lot slack or cut them a little slack. Just in case you wanted to know what was responsible for that ticking sound you hear…)
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