THE UNITED NATIONS….Writing the post below (about reconstructing Iraq) reminded me that I get asked a lot why I think we should continue to take the United Nations seriously. The UN does indeed have a lot of problems, some of them inherent in any international organization, but regardless of this there are only a few options for how we can conduct both the war on terrorism and our broader relations with the world. If I can be simplistic for a moment, the options are these:

  • On our own. This is a nonstarter: America may be the most powerful country in the world, but we are not omnipotent and we simply can’t reach our goals without help. In fact, this path would almost certainly lead to ever increasing hostility from the rest of the world and the eventual marginalization of American interests.

  • Ad hoc bilateral relations. This seems to be the primary strategy of the Bush administration and it might work for a short time. In the end, though, our partners will quickly realize that we are interested in them only as long as they support our positions, and no one is going to be willing to support all our positions all the time. Thus, before long, the alliances will break down unless the U.S. is willing to compromise, and if we’re willing to compromise why not keep the international organizations in the first place? There’s a lot of useful infrastructure there that can’t be duplicated by bilateral alliances.

  • A new international organization to replace the UN. This sounds good in bull sessions, but in the real world it’s just not going to happen. This option is hardly worth discussing.

  • The United Nations. The only option left.

So that’s it. Despite its myriad problems, my view is that the UN is the best of a bunch of difficult choices. It’s only one piece of the total foreign relations picture, but it’s an important one that can be steadily improved if we stick with it.

I’m certainly open to opposing arguments on this, as long as they are rooted in the real world and don’t assume that the United States is completely unchallengeable, so feel free to take your best shots. Comments are only a link away!