Who says the United Nations is better than NATO?

Richard Perle
International Herald Tribune

I am very troubled at the idea that the United Nations is the sole legitimizing institution when it comes to the use of force. Why the United Nations? Is the United Nations better able to confirm legitimacy than, say, a coalition of liberal democracies?

Does the addition of members of the UN like China, for example, or Syria add legitimacy to what otherwise might be the collective policy of countries that share our values? I don't think so. It's a dangerous trend to consider that the United Nations, which includes a very large number of nasty regimes, is somehow better able to confirm legitimacy than other institutions like the European Union or NATO.

The UN is in grave danger of going the way of the League of Nations, by failing to rise to an obvious challenge - the expulsion of the inspectors, the violation of a dozen different resolutions.

Votes are bought and sold at the UN. It is an institution that I once heard Helmut Schmidt refer to as a "sandbox for the Third World." That's a patronizing view of it - but it has not yet reached the point where anyone would be wise to rely on its ability to protect the interests of any one of us.

I hear it said that the UN is imperfect but it's the only one we've got. It seems to me that if you've got a fire extinguisher that you know won't work, you don't approach a fire with it because it's the only one you've got. You find another way to put out the fire! The UN has its role, but the mistake is in relying on the UN to do things that the UN cannot do.

Why is the United Nations a greater source of legitimacy than NATO? NATO has every capacity to become a legitimizing international institution with respect to the use of force because it is composed of liberal democracies that have exhibited since its inception an absence of self-aggrandizement and a responsible effort to bring about peace and stability. Why shouldn't NATO be as legitimate as the UN, which happens to contain a lot of dictatorships?

Richard Perle, during Trilateral debate in Prague