The United Nations has never been known as a supporter of human liberty. Even most of its defenders concede the substantial hypocrisy of its imposing sanctions on South Africa for practicing apartheid while ignoring such perturbations of world peace as the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Yet most Americans have continued to give lip service to the U.N. as the "best hope for peace" in an admittedly less-than-perfect world.
The past few months have seen a sudden change in this tacit acceptance. The actions of the recently-ended session of the General Assembly have given even staunch U.N. supporters pause. To recap briefly, the General Assembly, dominated by its Third World majority of 100 states,
• Recognized the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization as the equivalent of a state;
• Suspended South Africa from membership;
• Barred Israel from UNESCO participation;
• Passed an incredibly collectivist "Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States."
As if this weren't enough, the Chinese delegation, supported by about two dozen others (including Japan) is attempting to revise the U.N. charter to do away with the Security Council veto power—currently the only protection afforded to the United States against unlimited majority domination by the Third World delegations.
Reaction to these moves has been swift and far-reaching. U.S. Ambassador John Scali delivered a blistering attack on the "tyranny of the majority," only to be answered in kind by Third World representatives. Over 80 of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate protested the Assembly recognition of the PLO, and called into question continued U.S. support of the U.N. Retiring Senator Peter Dominick, in his farewell address, called for U.S. withdrawal from the General Assembly. Congress so far has halted all new payments to UNESCO, refused to support U.S. participation in a new U.N. development fund, and came close—for the first time in 29 years—to reducing U.S. payments to the various U.N. special funds.
Public reaction also reflected the changed mood. Sales of UNICEF Christmas cards dropped significantly, the U.N. Association reported many anxious queries, and a Harris poll showed that the U.N. was viewed positively by less than 50 percent of the public, even before the PLO incident. "If more Americans knew what was going on here," one U.S. delegate reported, "they would be even more discouraged about the U.N."
Thus, events have presented us with a unique opportunity to focus critical attention on the U.N. What was "unthinkable" when Barry Goldwater suggested it a decade ago is suddenly very much within the realm of possibility: U.S. withdrawal, in part or completely, from the U.N.
Many "realists" will argue that despite the distasteful rhetoric we must endure from that body, it is in the interest of the U.S. to remain in the U.N., so as to keep it a viable force for world peace. This argument presumes (a) that "world peace" is invariably of primary value, (b) that the U.N. is an important force for world peace, and (c) that U.S. presence is essential to keeping the organization viable. Each of these assumptions is open to question. Due to the collectivist philosophies of most of its members (only 30 of the 138 even have a free press), "peace" tends to be viewed by the U.N. as more important than freedom—a value judgment with which many Americans would disagree. Further, it is doubtful that U.N. actions contribute much to world peace. Recent events in southern Africa presaging a new detente among Rhodesia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa had little to do with the years-long U.N. boycotts of Rhodesia and South Africa. Rather, they resulted from coldly rational calculations of self-interest and self-preservation by the governments of the two white-ruled states, in light of Portugal's decision to pull out of Mozambique. It is power and national interests that motivate states (and always has), not debating societies and appeals to higher values. Finally, is U.S. membership essential to the U.N.'s continued existence? The real meaning of this question involves the U.N.'s finances. It is true that the U.S. still provides 25 percent of the U.N.'s basic operating budget (down from as much as 50 percent in the early years), but the new-found wealth of the Third World Arab states could easily substitute for the half-billion dollar per year U.S. contribution.
It seems clear, then, that there is no compelling reason for the U.S. to retain its current membership status in the U.N. In real-world terms, however, the question to be faced is: what is the best way to disengage so as to make the most of the opportunity? There are two objectives to be served by such disengagement. The first, and foremost, is to take a clear-cut moral stand in favor of liberty and against the hypocrisy, deceit, and coercion that increasingly characterize the U.N. The second objective is to free American taxpayers from a half-billion dollar a year burden.
There appear to be three principal policy options (other than resignedly accepting the status quo). The first (and unfortunately the most likely, because least radical) is to selectively withhold contributions from certain U.N. activities, in retaliation for particularly odious U.N. actions. This policy is already being tested, with the predictable result of increased vilification of the U.S. as a blackmailer and bully. Another aspect of this moderate policy would be to get the U.N. to move its headquarters out of the U.S.—perhaps to Uganda, as suggested recently by that country's dictator, Idi Amin—and thereby reduce its impact on the U.S. This compromising policy would accomplish neither of the two objectives stated above.
A second option is the one advocated by Sen. Dominick: U.S. withdrawal from the General Assembly only. This approach has the advantage of refusing to sanction the General Assembly circus, while retaining the U.S. veto power in the Security Council, as a safeguard against dangerous U.N. actions. It would, however, require the U.S. to continue paying its annual assessment, thereby failing to achieve the second policy objective. American taxpayers would still be financing a propaganda organization promoting international political and economic interventionism.
The third option, of course, is to quit the U.N. altogether. This approach would make the moral point absolutely clear-cut: the U.S. wants no part of an organization based on collectivism and hypocrisy. Let them take their resolutions, programs, charters, declarations, and boycotts and shove them! Since the U.N. really has only symbolic value anyway, the loss of the U.S. veto would be inconsequential. Such a decision would not cause international havoc; it would merely upset a lot of pompous pretensions.
It is precisely because of the symbolic value involved that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations. In its earlier, isolationist days, the United States served as a symbol to the rest of the world: a land of freedom and individualism. America did not try to buy respect by solving the world's problems for it; it was respected for what it was, for the example it set by keeping its own house in order.
Today there is one major nation that, while not perfect, does keep its house in order. It stays strictly out of other nations' affairs, protects individual rights within its borders, provides a laissez-faire climate for business, respects absolutely the privacy of financial dealings, and backs its currency with gold and silver. Switzerland is an example for all the world…and it does not belong to the United Nations. The U.S. would do well to profit by its example.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "The U.N.".