If you want salt, pepper and lashings of vinegar after reading Kofi Annan's memoirs of his time as the United Nations' secretary-general, Kenneth Anderson's “Living with the UN: American responsibilities and international order” is one heavily-seasoned option.
Anderson, a law professor and visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, spears the UN with his pen, and provides plenty of lapidary summaries of its flaws. The UN is a dysfunctional, unreformable body paralysed by collective-action problems and tainted by antipathy to Israel that nonetheless seduces many with its social projects and the prospect of global governance. For those seduced, “the chronic promise of tomorrow provides a reason to put up with chronic failures of today”.
Not that Anderson wants to correct those failures. “The stasis that afflicts the United Nations is very often not a bad thing.” Why? Because a more effective UN would “almost certainly be...more effectively anti-American”.
His concern is to find a prescription to make it less effectively anti-American, not by changing the UN but by adjusting the US's approach. His prescription? The US should always engage with the Security Council, engage sometimes with the UN's secretariat, engage “in parallel” with its development work and obstruct, inter alia, the Human Rights Council.
It is a book written with zest – a surfeit of it. Ultimately, it becomes an overlong exploration of one dimension, too prone to push views without enough labour put into convincing the reader. “Perhaps even the Obama administration grows tired of its own global catharsis, prostration and confession of unilateral guilt, followed by assertions of faux modest claims of multilateralism”; the danger with this pitch of tone is that readers become tired.
The result is not a demolition of the UN but rather a mirror of one strain of conservative US thinking. It expounds, clearly, on many of the UN's weaknesses. More clearly still, it shows one intellectual wind swelling anti-UN feeling in the US, the UN's biggest paymaster.
Living with the UN: American responsibilities and international order
By Kenneth Anderson, Hoover Institution Press, 2012, 273 pages, €19