Category Archives: United Nations

Civilize ‘Em with a Krag?

America is now involved in its third foreign entanglement of the twenty-first century. Our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq has been mixed, showing that we’re remarkably capable in some tasks and dismally inept in others. Federal debt and deficit may decide how much foreign policy we can sustain, but if we are able to resolve the budget concerns, we do have to consider what conflicts are likely.

The war that we were ready to fight from the late 40s through the 90s was a total war. It would have involved tanks and fighter jets for a few hours, but we all knew that it would get settled with nuclear weapons. That kind of war is still possible, as the nuclear-armed powers haven’t gone away, but barring accident, it’s unlikely. The strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) means that two nations with a lot of nukes will grumble at each other, but generally remain polite.

Some will suggest nuclear disarmament. While that’s a laudable goal, it’s unrealistic. The technology for making nuclear weapons is widely known. Anyone with the uranium and no concern for longevity can build one in the basement. With a little more skill, such bombs can be churned out with minimal difficulty. There’s no going back from that, and as long as one nation has nuclear weapons, several others will have to have them as well.

But a nuclear world war is much less likely than the kind of war that we’ve seen in the last several decades. These days, the typical conflict is with bothersome little countries that seek to annoy the rest of us. Iraq is a good example of this. Saddam kept interfering with his neighbors and threatening more distant nations. Removing his regime proved to be astonishingly easy. What we saw is that America has a military that can defeat most countries around the world within a month of fighting. That’s our skill.

What happened afterward was a disaster. We don’t know how to occupy a country. We thought we did, but our experience in Germany and Japan at the end of the Second World War doesn’t really apply. In those two situations, we had spent years beating them into abject submission. We were then able to build them back up in our image. That kind of war can never happen again because it was a war against an equal, and our military equals today are in the previous category.

With all of this in mind, what kind of military force do we need in the future? I suggest a three-part force. The first two parts we already have. We need a nuclear force–including bombers, submarines, and missiles–to defend against total war. We need an expeditionary force that can sweep away any minor nation’s government and military, when such action is indicated.

The third force is an occupation force. It will have the training and equipment to act as a police department, civil services sector, better business bureau, and other such offices. The problems of occupation are insurrection, corruption, and tribal interests. The force that I’m picturing must be able to deal with all of those.

Americans, as a rule, don’t like the idea of occupying other countries. We objected to the British, and Southerners objected to Reconstruction. I don’t mean here that we ought to go around taking over small nations just for the enjoyment of it. The trouble is that a few of those will insist on being disagreeable. If we leave them alone, they fester and make more noise (something like children).

This essay is an exercise in realism. That being the case, I have to acknowledge that we’re likely heading into a period in which we can only afford to take care of ourselves, if that. But somebody has to take this role. The United Nations, being run by festering little nations, can’t. The Chinese don’t want the job. The Russians and the British are tired after years of managing empires.

Sacrebleu, I guess that leaves us with the French, if not us. Come on, Americans, get our act together.


The title of this piece comes from a song of the Spanish-American War:

Underneath our starry flag, civilize ’em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes.

The Krag is the Krag-Jorgensen rifle, America’s first smokeless powder longarm adopted by the Army.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

The events of this year across the Arab world have been thrilling to those of us who love liberty. First Tunisia, then Egypt. Bahrain is teetering. Algeria and Saudi Arabia are rumbling. But the country de jour is Libya. Gaddafi insists that he won’t go quietly, although I predict that he’ll sneak out like the snivelling cur that he is. Or at least he’ll try.

That being said, there are a few points that we at a distance ought to note:

1. Gaddafi is a parasite on his country, but he’d fit right in on American television. He belongs to a type that includes such illustrious figures as Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez–fun from a distance, but terrible bores when dealing with them as leaders. According to a news report, when he visited Italy, he gave a speech in which he claimed that the word “democracy” comes from the Arabic word for chair, and thus, the world will only be democratic when everyone sits down.

Yup, that man needs his own talk show.

2. The thugs that have been hired to staff the Libyan army are referred to as elite units in American news reports. This is damnably wrong. There is nothing elite about strafing unarmed protestors. The hired goons may be trained in the arts of criminality, but let’s call them by their right names. Of course, speaking correctly about them often requires words that cannot be spoken on our airwaves, but this may be a time to allow an exemption to the rules.

3. But the main point here is that there’s little that we can do, beyond cheering on the Libyan people and giving them our friendship once they win. The Security Council of the United Nations condemned Gaddafi’s actions yesterday (22 February 2011), but did not enact a no-fly zone over Libya to keep his airforce from attacking the protestors.

Of course, if the United Nations were anything other than a stage for tinhorn dictators to thunder and whine, we’d likely have to overthrow it. Intervention is expensive and difficult, requiring a level of dedication that we usually lack, and many times it achieves little, especially since getting other permanent members of the Council to agree with us takes far too long. The Libyans are finally doing their human duty, and I hope that this wave will spread across the globe. As with any great wave, we can’t stop it and we can’t shape it. All we can do is work with the world as it is after the flow subsides.

Subcontinental Subversion

Today (8 November 2010), President Obama proposed that India get a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.  Part of me wants to get worked up about this, but I can’t.

The current permanent members are the United States, Great Britain, France, China, and Russia.  Does anyone else see the problem here?  Each one of the five have veto power over substantive resolutions.  Is there any subject of significance on which all five of those countries can agree?

The United Nations is divided into two parts, one a clumsy and bureaucratic humanitarian aid agency and the other a political talk shop.  Occasionally, the aid part of the operation does some good, but on the whole, the United Nations reminds me of the label, GNDN, that was to be found on some of the pipes in the Enterprise sets from the original Star Trek series.  The joke among the set designers was that the letters meant, “Goes Nowhere and Does Nothing.”  Of course, the United Nations goes many places, but the effect is the same, minus a good deal of waste.

That being the case, give India a seat.  I doubt that the proposal could get past the objections of China, but imagine that it does.  Pakistan will then want a seat of its own.  Then Iran will want one.  Then Brazil.  And on and on and on.  The result of this will be that nothing will ever get agreed, and the world can dispose of this waste of time and resources.