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Why the UN Resolution is Awesome

posted Jul 4, 2012, 3:15 PM by Anthony Severin
This past year at Baylor, I met people from all over the world. Spain. Singapore. Nepal. Mexico. Germany, and more. In a passing conversation with one of my friends from China, she said she didn't think her national government was intrusive at all. Hearing this as an American, I was appalled! How could she not believe her government to be a horrid, corrupt tyrannical regime that's eating away at the common people's meager profits? In short, she has different values than I do. Having grown up in a communistic and Confucianistic society, she has a culturally different perspective on what "good government" consists of. This example is a microcosm of what happens in the UN every day. The UN was created to be a forum where the global community could make decisions, develop consensus, and highlight the areas in which discord was present. You're probably thinking something along the lines of: "Everything you just said was meaningless. It's just talk." You're right. The UN is mostly talk. There is little the UN can do which is legally binding, much less legally enforceable. But there are only two options to persuade someone: communication or force. The UN was created as a forum for communication so that we don't have to use force. 

So, why then should we care about debating it? In rejection of the traditional baptist-preacher style three-point sermon, I have two points:

First, the UN is the best thing we've got for doing good things in the world. The Secretary General is often regarded as a mere puppet with no real authority or substance. Maybe. Consider, for instance, the genocide in Darfur.

In 2004, the Darfur conflict began to develop into a full-blown crisis. Sudan was "allowing" (you should read this as "aiding and abetting") the Janjaweed in their attempt to eradicate large numbers of Sudanese people, who fled to nearby Chad. Sudan was not admitting humanitarian aid workers into the country and was not cooperating with international pressure. Then, on late June of 2004, the Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in Sudan. Three days into during Annan's visit, Sudan agreed to open up to humanitarian aid workers and signed an agreement with specific terms to alleviate the genocide. The story does not end there, however. Thirty days later, after the agreement was not met, the UN Security Council voted
The ICJ is the International Court of Justice
Pictured: Voldemort.
unanimously to place sanctions on Sudan and the Janjaweed. Of course, the genocide would go on to continue for years (and still to this day is hardly a place free of danger), but the key point is this: up unto Annan's visit, the UNSC did nothing. After Annan's agreement, the story was different. His visit was able to galvanize a previously ambivalent UNSC into action. His action and diplomacy would later lead to a cease-fire in 2007 and the insertion of 27,000 peacekeepers which led to clear improvement in the situation.

You're probably saying "yeah, that was three years later." And you're right-- it took the UN three years before it sent peacekeepers to stop a relatively clear case of genocide. But without the UN, there would've been no framework for intervention besides unilateral intervention by a superpower (which, in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, would be politically impossible) and the Sudanese crisis assuredly would've been much worse. There is no actor so well balanced as the United Nations to both accomplish a mission and respect national sovereignty. Like it or not, the UN is a vitally important actor in today's world, however slow and ineffective it may be. 

That's where this year's resolution comes in. You have the opportunity to enter into constructive discourse regarding this organization. The way in which we reform the organization will decide who has power and what they can do with that power. Pretty much everyone agrees that the UN needs reforming. But few agree on the manner in which we should do it. Innovative solutions discovered and discussed by debaters such as yourselves which will determine the future discourse on the UN, decide what conflicts the global community intervenes in, and how much we should value ideas like national sovereignty when genocide and other atrocities are taking place. In short, the UN does a lot of cool stuff and presents a lot of fun moral dilemmas which will challenge how you think and how you perceive the world.

Further reading on Sudan:

(As an addendum, the Secretary General has been called "the secular pope," which is fairly accurate. In this case, he doesn't have physical power so much as moral authority which can persuade. For additional reading, you may want to check out the third link. It's a book, but the Google preview gives you a pretty good defense of the label.)

Second, this resolution has nothing to do with the United States. In past years, cases could be impacted to liberty, freedom, economic prosperity, environmental protection, and the like. None of that is going to cut it under this resolution. This resolution is going to force you to impact your arguments to the people which your policy change will effect. You can't just say "this is good because it's democratic." Guess what? Much of the world isn't democratic. Much of the world doesn't care for capitalism. Some of the world doesn't care for basic human rights. Your arguments must recognize that not

It's like a large, expensive coffeeshop. Lots of
conversation, no real work gets done, right?
everyone operates off of the same value set, and show how your values are beneficial to those people.. If you're arguing about development programs, you're going to have to show me that your plan makes people better off-- not just that it encourages a value set that has benefited the U.S. You must learn to predict the actions of the major players in the international scene. Will China retaliate if the UN somehow manages to place Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council? How will India feel being used as a counterweight against China and Russia? Will Russian and the United States go rogue if the UN asserts control over the legal status of claims to the Moon, Mars, orbital slots and beyond? Answering these questions requires both the knowledge of the incentives that drive the respective countries, as well as an understanding of how you can propose a policy change (or argue against a policy change) to utilize those incentives in a positive manner.

This resolution should give you the understanding that foreign countries are real. America is one of the few places that you can live and never have to think about other countries. Studying  the international political scene will give you a revolutionary perspective on everything from interpersonal relations to domestic politics. Think American values are important? You can't just appeal to "freedom" and "liberty" and persuade someone in the UN, and any reform you propose must take other values into account. Similarly, throughout life you will meet people whose values do not line up with your own. You will meet people in business and social environments where you must understand how to make those values heard while still promoting your own. Such is the challenge with the UN. The diversity of ideas is the strength of the UN, but it must espouse the right ideas to be a success. It's up to you this coming year to propose changes which will be successful at the balancing act.

Further reading on the UN and its development:

I look forward to a fun summer of coaching and running debate workshops. Let me know if you've got any questions at Though it should be fixed now, I recently realized that my email was dropping some incoming messages. So, if you didn't get a response, please feel free to send again.