A steady parade of world leaders will descend on Manhattan this week for the start of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly, which formally opened on September 17. Many of them will address the General Assembly, although that’s a ritual generally not noted for accomplishing anything of significance.

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in New York this week to talk about women’s rights and trade, he’s giving the General Assembly a pass. He has left the task of speechifying to his foreign minister, John Baird. It is not the first time the prime minister has given the UN a miss. He did the same thing last year and the year before that.

Some former Canadian diplomats and academics are in a lather. They are holding a full court press across the country this week to scold the PM for snubbing the UN. But they should be directing their wrath at the UN, not the prime minister.

The major organs of the UN are dysfunctional beyond belief. The Security Council has dealt poorly with the situation in Syria. Obama’s Hail Mary pass to the Russians to get Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stockpiles still lacks the teeth of an enabling Security Council resolution that would permit the use of force if Syria doesn’t come clean.

Regardless of what happens to the Syria deal, Syrian President Bashar Assad has not been held accountable in any way for using chemical weapons on his own people. No sanction from the UN, or the International Court … or anybody. Assad has been completely absolved by Russia’s fancy footwork.

Assad apparently has given the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons a credible account of his chemical weapons arsenal. But it is early days yet and he has lots of room in the weeks and months ahead to wriggle out of the deal. We should not trust the word of a dictator who has murdered more than 100,000 of his own people and will do anything to stay in power. Nor should we trust the Russians, who continue to block any kind of enforcement resolution in the Security Council.

The deal already seems to be in trouble. On Sunday, Russia’s wily foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had the audacity to accuse the Americans of blackmail: “If Russia does not support a resolution under Chapter 7” he said, “then we will withdraw our support for Syria’s entry into the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This is a complete departure from what I agreed with Secretary of State John Kerry.”

Some of the UN’s defenders take comfort in the fact that the Security Council has made greater use of Chapter VII (use of sanctions and force) provisions in the Charter in enacting its various resolutions in recent years. They also point to the fact that the UN has an unprecedented number of peacekeepers in the field today, more than in the past.

The Security Council has imposed a record number of sanctions on states that have not complied with its resolutions. Scratch the surface, though, and it’s apparent they haven’t been terribly effective. According to some assessments, barely 20 per cent of UN sanctions have had any impact at all and only 10 per cent have actually changed the behaviour of their intended targets. The UN’s disastrous oil-for-food program during Saddam Hussein’s regime showed just how pernicious sanctions can be.

Some also say that UN sanctions can take credit for the new “tone” from Tehran. But it remains to be seen if the tone will turn to substance or is just another ruse to tempt gullible Western governments.

For some mysterious reason, the Security Council also has terminated its working group on sanctions effectiveness and has no apparent plan to revive it soon — if ever.

Claims that Canada isn’t backing the UN are also unfair, given the lopsided picture on who’s actually paying the freight for the international body. In spite of all the criticism directed at the Conservatives, Canada continues to be the 7th largest contributor to the UN’s budget. Our contribution is actually bigger than those of Russia and China — both permanent members of the Security Council who clearly don’t pay their fair share. Russia doesn’t even pay its bills on time.

Japan — the second-biggest contributor to the UN after the United States — gets precious little thanks for its support. Its repeated attempts to secure a permanent seat on the Security Council have gone nowhere.

The same is true of peacekeeping. Asian and African countries — including relatively poor countries like Bangladesh— provide the bulk of UN peacekeepers, while a handful of Western countries, like Canada, foot the bill.

The “reformed” Human Rights Council remains a travesty as dictatorial regimes like Cuba, Iran, Belarus and Russia use the body to criticize countries like Canada for their human rights records.

To the chagrin of the former and current UN secretary generals, the European Union, the United States and Canada, the Council also has spent a disproportionate amount of its time on the Israel-Palestinian issue and condemnatory attacks on Israel instead of dealing with the rest of the world’s human rights problems.

Let’s hope that Minister Baird sets the record straight when he delivers his remarks to the General Assembly on September 30.

Claims that Canada isn’t backing the UN are also unfair, given the lopsided picture on who’s actually paying the freight for the international body.
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