Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order
K. Anderson, LIVING WITH THE UN: AMERICAN RESPONSIBILITIES AND INTERNATIONAL ORDER, Hoover Institution Press/Stanford University, 2012
121 Pages Posted: 27 May 2012 Last revised: 30 Oct 2012
Date Written: April 17, 2012
This book offers a policy essay on how the United States should deal with the United Nations over the long term; this submission is a sample, comprised of the book's first three chapters. The book's overall policy frame is that the United States and the United Nations offer sometimes complementary, sometimes cooperating, and sometimes competitive legitimacies, based around claims of authority in global governance. The problem for the US is to establish - with respect to discrete parts of the UN and its many agencies, organs, and functions - what ideals and interests it has at stake, and whether in their pursuit it will seek to leverage its own legitimacy (based in its loose role as global hegemon and provider of fundamental global public goods), that of the UN (based around claims of universality, only weakly enforced), or both - always with respect to particular aspects of the UN.
As a policy message for the US political system, it means two fundamental things: American conservatives need to understand that the UN is not going anywhere; it is a permanent feature of the international landscape, and they have to elaborate policy heuristics to deal with that permanence. American liberals, by contrast, need to understand that the UN is not going anywhere; they need to understand that the UN is, an institution that has grown up and reached its full potential, which is to say, not very much at all. The UN is what it is; and it will neither disappear nor fulfill any grand dream of liberal internationalist global governance.
The book sharply challenges the Obama administration's much-touted diplomacy, based around rubrics of "multilateral engagement," and argues that at least during the first two years of the Obama administration, this was functionally language to announce American hegemonic decline, and what the book calls "withdrawal into multilateralism" - unilateral hegemonic withdrawal under cover of "multilateral engagement." The later Obama years have seen some reversal of these policies, as the costs to the US as well as to allies in backing away from hegemony become clear in matters ranging from security to the global economy. The book notes that the deliberately ambiguous language on which the Obama administration has relied in its declarations of multilateral engagement have made it more difficult for friends, allies, and enemies alike to get a clear signal from the administration.
Within that broad framework, the book sets out general heuristics for dealing with distinct functions of the UN - security, internal UN management, international development, and values and human rights issues. The responses differ according to activity and function, ranging from always engage at the Security Council, containment of the General Assembly, and disengagement and obstruction of the main vehicle of UN values, the Human Rights Council. A more efficient and effective UN, the book argues, will also be a more anti-American UN, and while there are many tasks that the US wants to see the UN perform well, such as peacekeeping and peace-building, there are many that the US should obstruct and oppose, and institutional organs that it should seek only to contain. The book is strongly critical of both the Obama administration and the United Nations itself, and generally adopts a centrist-conservative framework for elaborating US policy.
This is a brief policy essay, aimed at a general rather than scholarly audience, and it is limited in footnotes and citations. These sample chapters include the table of contents, an introductory chapter setting out the order of discussion, and then chapters on the fundamental puzzle of the UN's persistence over time, the conceptual problems of "multilateral engagement," and the competing legitimacies offered by the United States and the United Nations. The book has been modestly priced by the publisher to make it readily available for classroom use as an accompanying critical text in international law, international relations, and political science.
Keywords: United Nations, UN, global governance, liberal internationalism, sovereignty, peacekeeping, collective security, hegemony, multilateralism, multilateral engagement, decline, security, consensus, Security Council, Human Rights Council, General Assembly
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation