LA Times op-ed falsely attacked "irrelevant" United Nations

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In an April 19 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, conservative law professors Eric A. Posner and John C. Yoo labeled the United Nations "mostly irrelevant" and a "major impediment to multilateral cooperation and international law." Posner and Yoo attacked the U.N. for allegedly impeding key aspects of U.S. foreign policy: Soviet containment, Arab-Israeli peace, and arms control. But they offered no information to support their accusations and ignored key facts that undermine their arguments.

Soviet containment

Posner and Yoo claimed: "In the past, the U.S. accomplished its foreign policy goals by working around the U.N., not through it. Washington's successful anti-Soviet containment policy, implemented with allies as diverse as France, Germany, Turkey and Japan, proceeded independently of the U.N." But on June 27, 1950, the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 83, which called on U.N. member states to assist South Korea in repelling the Soviet-backed invasion by communist North Korea. Access to the former Soviet Union's archives revealed the extent to which the Soviets supported the North Koreans. For example, a 1996 article in the British magazine New Statesman & Society by investigative journalist Paul Lashmar reported that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin "provided munitions and Soviet advisers, who actually wrote the battle plan." Rather than acting as a "major impediment to multilateral cooperation" in the effort to contain this Soviet-supported communist expansion, the resolution prompted 16 nations, including France and Turkey, to contribute more than 39,000 troops to the U.N. force. President Harry Truman cited Resolution 83 in his rationale for committing American air and naval forces to the multinational defense of South Korea.

The U.N. later oversaw the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement, which ended the Korean War and re-established the line of demarcation between North Korea and South Korea. Following the armistice, former U.N. Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld negotiated the release of 15 American airmen captured during the war and held by the Chinese.

Arab-Israeli peace

Posner and Yoo claimed: "U.S.-led efforts to stop British and French seizure of the Suez Canal and to end the Israeli-Arab wars occurred with little help from the U.N." In late October 1956, Israel invaded Egypt, and British and French forces moved quickly to capture the Suez Canal, which Egypt had nationalized. Following the cease-fire, the U.N. General Assembly passed Resolution 1000 calling for the creation of the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) to "secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities in accordance with all the terms of General Assembly Resolution 997." The UNEF was composed of roughly 6,000 international troops, and first landed in the canal area on November 15. According to a U.N. background document on the Suez Canal Crisis, the UNEF, "patrolled the Egypt-Israel armistice demarcation line and the international frontier to the south of the Gaza Strip and brought relative quiet to a long-troubled area." A 1961 U.S. State Department memo gave partial credit for the "temporary calm" in the Middle East to the "5,000-man United Nations Emergency Force in the Gaza Strip." A 2003 "Analysis of United Nations Peacekeeping Efficacy" for the Canadian Department of National Defense cited the UNEF as "an example of a mission successful in limiting casualties." That report also noted: "This deployment helped, for a period, to interrupt hostilities between Egypt and Israel, and prevented the armed intervention of France and the United Kingdom."

As further testament to the importance of the UNEF action in the Suez crisis, Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs Lester Bowles Pearson, who proposed the resolution to create the UNEF, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for this and other peacekeeping forces he organized. In the presentation of the award, the chairman of the Nobel committee praised U.N. action in the Suez crisis as "a victory for the United Nations":

Never, since the end of the last war, has the world situation been darker than during the Suez crisis, and never has the United Nations had a more difficult case to deal with. However, what actually happened has shown that moral force can be a bulwark against aggression and that it is possible to make aggressive forces yield without resorting to power. Therefore, it may well be said that the Suez crisis was a victory for the United Nations and for the man who contributed more than anyone else to save the world at that time.

Nuclear nonproliferation

Posner and Yoo wrote: "Not every U.N.-sponsored treaty has been a failure, but it is notable that the world's most successful treaties -- GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] and the WTO [World Trade Organization], the European Union, arms control agreements and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] -- have had little to do with the U.N." In fact, the U.N. initiated [through General Assembly Resolution 1649 in 1961] the creation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the U.S. State Department praises as "one of the great success stories of arms control." Signed in 1968 and ratified by the United States in 1969, the treaty was intended to prevent the emergence of new nuclear states. John S. Wolf, assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, lauded the NPT in 2004, saying it "remains the cornerstone of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy." In 2002, Jackie Wolcott Sanders, the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and the special representative of the president for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, said that "[t]he NPT has delivered considerable benefits to its parties over the 35 years it has been in force."

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