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There are two United Nations.
The one is a great place, where leaders from around the world can come together and talk about issues like the adults they are. It is a neutral forum, where all are granted equal say, no matter the size or importance of the country. This UN is a complete fantasy.
The other is barely anything at all. It includes among its member nations not only parliamentary democracies, but also human rights abusers mainly concerned with their own power. Because unanimity among the Big 5 (the USA, France, UK, Russia and China) is needed for any action involving the Security Council, things rarely get done, and UN sanctions can be pretty much ignored by all nations great and small. That's okay, though, since the countries like the US that are meant to fund it systematically starve it of funding, so the UN can't do much anyway. On some small scale activities, it can do some good, but any attempts at actual peace-keeping usually fall apart. What should then be a cause for peace and brotherhood instead just becomes another bureaucratic nightmare.
United Nations System
Although the UN's peacekeeping efforts have not always been successful that does not mean the UN is worthless. The United Nations System has become the backbone and funding framework of many international organisations. Such organisations have not only helped millions but are vital invisible parts of modern international trade. Some of the most important ones are:
- Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
- International Maritime Organization (IMO)
- International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
- United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)
- United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
- United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP)
- Universal Postal Union (UPU)
- World Food Programme (WFP)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
Other organizations, such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), while not exactly "specialized agencies" of the UN, are closely related to it.
The UN and conspiracy theories
As an international body, the UN has predictably attracted the attention of conspiracy theorists. Due to conservatives' dislike of the institution, the conspiracy theories tend to come from the far-right wingnut camp, although said theories often cross over into the loony left fringes as well.
UN conspiracism grew out of the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War as liberal internationalists like Woodrow Wilson pushed for an international body that would promote global peace and national self-determination. Opponents of the plan, most notably Wilson's nemesis Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (R-MA), argued that joining the League of Nations would cause the US to become entangled in malignant international politics, that the US might have to commit troops to wars it didn't want to fight, and that the League would infringe on national sovereignty. Despite the fact that the US ultimately failed to join the League of Nations — and that its failure was one of the major causes of World War II — conspiracy theories about world government began to spring up in fringe circles. Often, these were vague murmurings about shadowy international dealings, though some conspiracy theories began to take on racist overtones. Father Coughlin, for example, alleged that the League was a tool of the Jews to prosecute a "sacred war" against the US.
As a side note: One of the few positive things that the League of Nations accomplished was issuing "Nansen Passports," the first internationally recognized form of Refugee Documents for stateless people.
Formation of the UN
Conspiratorial themes about the League of Nations transferred over to the newly formed United Nations during the post-war era. The John Birch Society (JBS) was (and still is) most famous for pushing conspiracy theories about the UN being a front for a communist world take-over. The JBS also implicated the UN in plotting to institute one world religion to supplant Christianity. This was to be done through subtle means, such as a "War on Christmas" in which religious Christmas decorations would be replaced by UN iconography.
The New World Order and other current theories
Current conspiracy theories about the UN usually portray it as the heart of an alleged "New World Order" (NWO), or at least implicate it as a major player in said Order. The UN effectively acts as a Rorschach test for political cranks to project their paranoia onto. Some more recent conspiratorial notions include:
- The UN is in cahoots with [insert favored bogeyman here]. (Popular choices include the Jews, the NWO, communists, environmentalists, "globalists," corporo-fascists, Illuminati, the Catholic Church, Freemasons, Reptoids, Them, etc.).
- The idea of the UN instituting a world religion or the UN being a vehicle for the Antichrist has become a common trope among the rapture ready set. Jack Chick was fond of this one. This idea is also shared to some extent by Jehovah's Witnesses, who consider UN to be the "image of a wild beast" from Revelation 13 and the "disgusting thing that causes desolation" mentioned in Matthew 24:15, which will soon act to destroy all other religions, and finally turn against JWs. The UN has also been accused of being the Harlot being described as "Sitting atop the Nations, Multitudes, Languages, and Tongues"
- The UN has launched smaller projects such as the "North American Union" to gradually erase national borders.
- After the fall of the Soviet Union, the UN increasingly became the target of anti-environmentalist conspiracy theories, primarily the notion of a power-grab using climate change as a cover. This is due to the UN's institution of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to produce consensus reports on climate change. Conspiracies vary from the "softer" side (the UN is simply cooking the books to enrich itself) to the extremely alarmist (the UN is angling for world domination via alleged "junk science" and the machinations of Al Gore). Another element in this view is that the commies infiltrated the environmental movement after the fall of the USSR and are now using the UN as a tool via environmental policy. Christopher Monckton is a proponent of this theory.
- Agenda 21, the most recent UN-related conspiracy theory, also centers on a non-binding environmental agreement. If you want to know more, Glenn Beck wrote the book.
- Mix the second and the fourth conspiracies and you get the idea of that the UN is attempting to enforce a global Earth-worshiping pagan hippie cult where everyone is forced to sing the praises of Gaia.
- Sometimes related to the environmental conspiracy theories (usually global warming) is the idea that concern about overpopulation is being used as a scare tactic to lay the groundwork for a genocide or eugenics scheme to kill off the "useless eaters."
- The UN is under the control of Arab/Muslim states and attempting to (a) enable terrorists, (b) usher in the "global caliphate," (c) subtly insert sharia into the American legal system, or (d) all of the above.
- The UN Arms Trade Treaty is an attempt of an "end run" around the Second Amendment to take away everyone's guns. Just guess the factual accuracy.
- Left-ish circles have their own conspiracy theories. Most common is the claim is that the UN is merely the pawn of the United States and its imperialistic schemes. This sometimes plays into fears about globalization (WTO, duh). This seems to ignore the complete antipathy to the UN and other international organizations that some US administrations have shown in the past. The War in Iraq also demonstrated that the US doesn't need no stinkin' UN to carry out imperialistic schemes.
The UN and liberals
Apparently, many liberals have a very rosy-eyed view of the institution, preferring to see the hypothetical instead of the real. Many liberals counter by pointing out that the UN is the only real international forum in the world, and suggest that if its many critics feel there are problems with the institution they should assist in modernizing it or suggest an alternative world body. We're still waiting.
The UN rebooted
Since the United Nations seems to be a venue where repressive regimes demand to be heard, there's an idea floating around to create a "parallel UN" comprised solely of democracies. Presumably the United States will be invited to join.
There's also the pesky fact that a lot of countries involved in wars are not democracies, so if your goal is to prevent wars, refusing to discuss with them might not help. But giving them a voice in the UN hasn't helped much either.
A UN Parliamentary Assembly?
The idea of a global parliament could be traced to old proposals in the League of Nations, if not further back. Its most recent incarnation, one offering an actual petition anyway, is known as the Campaign for the Establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA). Its aim is to one day set up a UNPA consisting of national parliamentarians and/or directly-elected delegates that would serve a symbolic advisory role until it becomes an influential aspect of the United Nations System, perhaps to the point that it would eventually be elected by the entire world.
On paper, the UNPA would theoretically make the UN less of a bureaucratic nightmare and have more influence in running global affairs, at least once its advocates can get their act together. On the other hand, how it would actually work in practice, how much power it would ultimately have, let alone whether it could be achieved without unleashing a Pandora's Box's worth of issues is another matter entirely.
- Did he bang it?: Nikita Khrushchev and the shoe, The New York Times
- However, the U.S. Congress never allows the U.S. to fall more than two years behind in paying its dues, since that would trigger Article 19 sanctions.
- Director of United Nations System Organizations
- Henry Cabot Lodge on the League of Nations, 12 August 1919,
- Nansen - a man of action and vision, UN High Commissioner for Refugees
- How the Secular Humanist Grinch Didn't Steal Christmas, Salon
- "The Last Generation", Chick Tracts
- The denialist propaganda flick The Great Global Warming Swindle is an archetypal example of this genre.
- Monckton warns of UN climate treaty!
Order 66Agenda 21!
- Patriot Organization ‘Freedom Advocates’ calls Environmentalism a Police State Precursor, Southern Poverty Law Center
- See also E. Calvin Beisner's "Resisting the Green Dragon" campaign.
- See the conspiracy-mongering site "America's Survival" for examples of this brand of lunacy, as well as many others.
- UN Arms Trade Treaty, Snopes
- Alasdair Spark. "Conjuring Order: The New World Order and Conspiracy Theories about Globalization." In The Age of Anxiety, eds. Jane Parish and Martin Parker.
- For example, the appointment of John Bolton, a dunce who had in the past said that destroying five stories of the UN building wouldn't hurt anything, as ambassador to the UN.
- See the Wikipedia article on United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.
- The mere fact that the UNPA petition is for the idea of it says a lot, given the varying interests of those who signed it. Not to mention the differing interpretations of it, whether by well-intentioned delegates, idealists or world federalist advocates.
- As this thought experiment explains.