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Disengage and Obstruct: The UN-of-Values and the Human Rights Council


Kenneth Anderson


American University - Washington College of Law; Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace; Brookings Institution - Governance Studies

April 17, 2012

LIVING WITH THE UN: AMERICAN RESPONSIBILITIES AND INTERNATIONAL ORDER, pp. 207-256, Hoover Institution Press/Stanford University, 2012
American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2012-17

Abstract:     
The following is a sample chapter from a book on US-UN relations, "Living with the UN." The book offers an analysis of policies available to the United States in its dealings with the United Nations, and offers "heuristics" of engagement to guide US dealings with different parts and functions of the UN. These policy rules of thumb are framed around a larger (mostly sharply critical, particularly in this chapter) analysis of "multilateral engagement" that is presented earlier in the book and which is a combination of analysis specific to US-UN relations and to US foreign policy generally. This book breaks US-UN relations down by function, and argues that whether to engage, and the form of engagement, depends upon particular UN functions. "Living with the UN" thus has chapters addressing the main UN activities - security, development, and values (particularly human rights).

This sample chapter (chapter 7) addresses what the book calls the "UN-of-Values," with particular emphasis on human rights and the main body of UN activity around human rights, the Human Rights Council. As the chapter's subtitle says, the fundamental US attitude toward the HRC ought to be to disengage and, indeed, obstruct; it argues that the Obama administration's signature effort to engage with the HRC has been a profound mistake. This argument is set at a "strategic" level, however. Rather than framing this policy around particular incidents in which US engagement with the HRC has been a mistake, this chapter offers instead a strategic and long-run policy vision that emphasizes the larger evolution of human rights as the "apex" value of the United Nations since the 1990s and even earlier.

The larger aim of the chapter, while critiquing the Obama administration's mistaken engagement with the HRC, is to show the general trajectory of UN "values" and the actors that "own" them, from organs of the UN to "global civil society." The UN and associated international community is headed, the chapter asserts, toward an ever-more-accommodating canon of human rights, on the one hand, rights to fit all "progressive" social agendas, while simultaneously ideologically underwriting the group identity agendas of "global religious communalism," at the expense of individual rights, on the other. Progressive liberal internationalism, at the UN's values forums, and quite apart from the well-understood, on-going phenomenon of the worst actors capturing the UN's values forums, is being gradually transformed into something like "multicultural internationalism." The Obama administration, through its desire to find compromises especially on issues of free expression in UN forums, abets that process. Meanwhile, the current weaknesses exhibited by the United States suggests that the universalism of the human rights movement shelters, ironically, under the loose hegemony of the United States as the leading democratic sovereign, and if that hegemony weakens in favor of a multipolar world, human rights universalism is the loser, not the winner.

(This chapter is available as an open-source sample from the book. The book itself is a brief, high-altitude policy essay, deliberately lightly footnoted and using secondary sources generally available to general readers, rather than a dense academic monograph. The Hoover Institution Press has made the book available through Amazon and other online sellers at a reduced price - $10-13, to make it inexpensive for course adoptions in international law and organizations, international relations, and political science, possibly as a "contrarian" critique of the usual views of human rights, current US views of multilateral engagement, and the UN.)

Number of Pages in PDF File: 50

Keywords: Hoover Institution, United Nations, UN, human rights, hegemony, Human Rights Council, HRC, multilateralism, engagement, multilateral engagement, liberal internationalism, democracy, sovereignty, constitution, free expression

JEL Classification: K33

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Date posted: April 15, 2012 ; Last revised: May 3, 2012

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Kenneth, Disengage and Obstruct: The UN-of-Values and the Human Rights Council (April 17, 2012). LIVING WITH THE UN: AMERICAN RESPONSIBILITIES AND INTERNATIONAL ORDER, pp. 207-256, Hoover Institution Press/Stanford University, 2012; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2012-17. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2039746

Contact Information

Kenneth Anderson (Contact Author)
American University - Washington College of Law ( email )
4801 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
United States
Stanford University - The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace
Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States
Brookings Institution - Governance Studies
1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
United States
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