The United States looks increasingly set to carry out an attack against Syria. Britain, France and Germany appear to endorse it. At the sidelines, the United Nations looks on, hands tied by Security Council paralysis. If a majority of the Permanent 5 decide to act, absent a Security Council mandate, it would be a devastating indictment of the UN’s mission to address the world’s gravest crises.
Of course, action without UN approval is nothing new, and criticism of the intergovernmental body is frequent – many were sounding the death knell 11 years ago during the Bush administration. In an address to the General Assembly, President Bush forcefully argued that the UN faced irrelevance if it was unable to take action against Iraq, asking, “will the United Nations serve its purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?” The remarks started a debate over the United Nations as a whole, with the Bush administration arguing that the Security Council proved its obsolescence when it did not authorize the Iraq war.
Despite that disregard for the UN, the Bush administration’s ineptitude in acquiring widespread support for Iraq meant that the ‘irrelevance’ argument failed to gain traction outside of the United States. In fact, the Bush Administration’s snub of the international body damaged the image of the United States far more than the UN. International opinion of the U.S. soured quickly over the course of the next decade. The UN’s caution was ultimately vindicated by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, even as the Bush administration was increasingly seen as bad for global peace and security. Continue reading