Delusions of Grandeur: The United Nations and Global Interventionism, edited by Ted Galen Carpenter (Cato Institute, 1997, $15.95)

It would be no exaggeration to say that Canada’s elite loves the United Nations. The spirit of Lester B. Pearson is very much alive in the natural governing party, and none of the increasingly irrelevant opposition parties have even suggested Canada should withdraw from the UN. Our politicians, Foreign Affairs bureaucrats, and foreign policy establishment (the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, and its publication, Behind the Headlines, come to mind) all speak the same buzz-word language of “soft power,” “coherent global architecture,” “human-centred approaches to global challenges,” and “evolving security concerns in a changing global environment.” Canadians who are skeptical of these bland do-gooders might want to take a look at an impressive collection of essays edited by Ted Galen Carpenter, Delusions of Grandeur: The United Nations and Global Interventionism.

Carpenter is himself quite critical of the UN, yet Delusions of Grandeur is scrupulously fair in its selection of essays, and Carpenter acknowledges the organization has done some worthwhile things, such as ending civil wars and bringing democracy to Namibia and El Salvador. He adds, however, that even some of the UN’s strongest defenders admit it suffers from corruption and mismanagement, but less charitable multilateralists have prevented an honest debate on the subject by resorting to smear tactics. A typical example, writes Carpenter, is former National Security Council aide Richard Clarke, who claimed the UN enjoyed overwhelming support among the American people “despite the fact that there is a small vocal minority who believes in black helicopters coming to take their lawn furniture.”

If it is widely read, Delusions of Grandeur could kick-start that badly needed debate. Foreign policy buffs like myself will enjoy essays such as Doug Bandow’s “The United Nations as Peacekeeper and Peacemaker,” in which he argues that peacekeeping missions such as the 1992-93 fiasco in Somalia can in fact become dangerous traps for the West.

After reading these essays, one comes away with a sense that the people who run the UN are not intrinsically evil, but woefully confused about the way the world works, and convinced it needs yet another layer of intrusive government. Readers of The Interim will want to examine Sheldon Richman’s chapter “The United Nations and the Myth of Overpopulation.” Richman does an excellent job of explaining why the $2.5 billion spent by the United Nations Population Fund has largely been a colossal waste of money. Richman argues that overpopulation does not equal underdevelopment (he notes that densely populated Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest places on Earth, while famines have occurred in the sparely populated East African states of Ethiopia and Somalia), and that population pressures generally take care of themselves as countries become wealthier; children are no longer seen as economic assets, so parents decide – freely – to have fewer of them. Sadly, the UNPF has long advocated Soviet-style “demographic goals” and reproductive health programs that all-too often violate the rights of women in developing countries. Richman has China, with its official policy of forced abortions in mind when he writes: “The evidence on the treatment of women by population programs is horrifying ¼ In China and elsewhere, freedom is casually cast aside for the sake of population control.”

Given our weak military and soft-socialist political culture, Canadians have always been more receptive to the UN’s brand of globaloney than our friends to the south. Delusions of Grandeur could be the catalyst for Canadians to start asking tough questions about our foreign policy.