THE distinction of serving in the United Nations today is that you may well be the last of the tribe of UN ambassadors. We have two UN ambassadors, by the way; one in Geneva who answers all human rights and labor concerns and there’s me in New York addressing largely the geopolitical questions like should the UN vote to go to war with the United States in Iraq.
Donald Trump’s ignorant contempt for the UN, backed by his appointment to the State Department of the rabidly anti-N former US ambassador to the UN, Bolton—and the fact that without the United States in the UN there is no United Nations—brings that possibility closer to reality. Russia and China are not morally fit to lead the world body. They are, as I have said, and Obama repeated in his farewell speech “just big countries picking on the small.” While America at her worst has behaved like that, at her best she is an idea with a mission of service to mankind.
Oddly, the dissolution of the UN is not as oddball a position as it sounds and as the notion surely is today. It was deep wisdom when the UN and the North Atlantic Alliance or NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) were formed after World War II.
The maker of modern American strategy, George F. Kennan, opposed both. In his famous Long Telegram signed just “X”—though everyone knew it was he, Kennan said that the Soviet Union would collapse on itself from the growing weight of its self-contradictions—taking the notion from Marx no less as a kind of backhanded compliment. All the free world had to do was wait, he counseled.
But formal alliances like NATO, with member countries flush against the borders of the Soviet Union—and the United Nations member countries all over the world, which was seen as beholden to America—would make the Russians feel surrounded. That feeling, warned Kennan, a keen student of Russian history, always unleashes Russian aggression.
In the event that did not happen. The UN became a talk shop where hostile super powers could talk off their anger rather than pour it all into a real war.
Kennan took back his low regard for the UN toward the end of his life but time proved he was right about NATO. The end of the Soviet Union led to a pacific federation, which turned aggressive when NATO resumed adding adjacent former East Bloc countries, along with fragments of the broken Soviet Union. That tightened the encirclement of Russia right against her basic borders. Hence Putin today and his ongoing attempt to re-conquer Georgia, Ukraine, the Baltic states, and the rest of it. So Trump may get his wish since this time America is backing off from any global mission. But his notion is not without intellectual foundation. Interesting times.
Kennan’s original proposal after World War II demonstrated Russian military ferocity against all odds—Russia bore the brunt of crushing Nazi Germany because it takes one totalitarian to know another, implied a world divided into spheres of influence. The U.S. sphere was everything west of West Berlin across the Atlantic Ocean, the Latin American continent, across the Pacific to possibly Japan but certainly the Philippines as its anchor. The rest could go to hell or Communism. Kennan famously opposed the Vietnam War not for any sentimental reasons but simply because Vietnam was inconsequential. The Communist monolith in Asia, left to its devices, would split from the Soviet Union as even Communist China was starting to do and as Tito in Yugoslavia openly declared. But with the U.S. today withdrawing from Asia, that would place all of us over here under China. A slave empire like the old American South in its day.