The following was written by Jonathan Skinner, an AID leader based in Göttingen, Germany, and currently working in the Berlin office.

Responding to global criticism of UN transparency, accountability, and effectiveness, Secretary General Kofi Annan announced reform recommendations on Monday March 21. The pressing reforms, as mentioned in The Economist online, include a Security Council overhaul, the creation of a smaller, accountable human-rights council, and a new anti-terror treaty, with a universally accepted definition of terrorism. But what does it all mean for the US?

As stated, the Bush administration has asked to include a “preventative strike” clause to act without Security Council permission. Mr. Annan, with moral justification, refuses to permit preemptive military action, even if for defensive purposes. Granting access to preemptive-style rhetoric and action, needless to say, sets a dangerous precedent that can potentially be abused by rogue nations. However, that has not stopped nations in the past from acting in direct contradiction to UN bylaws. Thus, the question raised by the US is that the UN has no direct action clause and is largely an ineffective body, widely criticized for its bureaucratic bickering and its fruitless attempts at upholding the UN Charter.

Seen as the Achilles’ heel of international law, “self determination” – or sovereignty – prevents any authoritative response or intrusion on the part of the UN into areas of conflict, including the enforcement of policies that take the democratic moral high ground. In effect, sovereignty grants member states a safeguard against any threats of penalty other than economic sanctions, which are, as we have seen in Iraq, ineffective in punishing the real actors of injustice: the government. Rather, citizens receive the burden of a weakened economy and suffer the consequences of government sovereignty. The US, by no means innocent of exploiting this limiting clause, caused much of this stir for reform. And now it seems the most the US may receive is a mild finger shake, not even a slap on the hand. So why would the US support a stronger UN?

As the leading financial provider to the UN, the US has much to gain from a stronger and effective United Nations. Up to this point, the US has acted as the UN’s military, has financed the organization and acted under the UN banner. The US role, although sanctioned by the UN, is often criticized by those it seeks to aid, and recently, by the body which it serves. The US has, however, taken its position as the only world power and, with intentions of promoting human rights and democracy, acted on its own initiative, much to the dismay of many advocates of the UN (in itself a threat to the UN, since its operating arm is primarily American). Far from pursuing a collapse of the UN, the US has returned to multilateral negotiation and supports an operative UN.

Having a UN that can actively assert its democratic ideology, effectively fight poverty and protect human rights would allow the US to save its own capital and military for national concerns (besides, the US will always be protected by its veto power in the Security Council). For all intents and purposes, the US wants the UN to assume its role as the parental figure, so the US can get on with its own life.

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