In a week in which the U.N. Security Council once again demonstrated its impotence by failing to halt the massacre of monks in Burma and the U.N. General Assembly became a pretext for a strutting performance by the Iranian president, Senator McCain refreshed his ideas for a more effective international body: what he calls "the League of Democracies."
The Arizona senator, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination, has voiced increasing frustration with the shortcomings of the United Nations and its inability through the intransigence of two Security Council members, China and Russia to tackle a succession of major international political disasters. He has worried aloud that the world body will be inadequate to the task of heading off the threat to Israel and the Western world posed by a nuclear-equipped Iran, not least in the Islamist state's capacity to provide terrorists such as Hezbollah with a nuclear weapon.
Mr. McCain has spoken out against the persistent procrastination by China and its client state Sudan to allow an international force to stop the genocide in Darfur. And he has said he is appalled by this week's inadequate and belated response by the U.N. Security Council, and the obfuscating role that China has played, in preventing the current slaughter of monks and pro-democracy demonstrators in Rangoon, the Burmese capital.
The news from Burma has deeply disturbed him. He has a portrait of the democratically elected Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, in his Senate office, the only non-family member whose portrait he displays there. In the absence of a properly functioning world peace body, Mr. McCain says he is conscious of feeling powerless in the face of a preventable horror, just as he felt "shame" at the impotence of America to prevent the genocide in Rwanda.
Asked what America should be doing to intervene on behalf of the democracy movement in Burma, the senator told The New York Sun yesterday, "I think we should pressure the ASEAN states," the 10-member state mutual assistance organization of Southeast Asia. "They were the ones who said that they could take" the Burma military junta "in and it would all turn out all right. Well, they should condemn the junta and throw them out of ASEAN."
The Bush administration should use its considerable influence with the leaders of China to bring Burma, their client state, to heel, he said. "The Chinese have eventually responded to pressure on Darfur. We need to tell them to do the same over the terrible events in Burma," he said.
To Mr. McCain, the days of the United Nations as anything other than a refugee and humanitarian emergency organization are numbered. "There are some things they do very well," he said, but he went on to deride "the so-called U.N. Human Rights Commission," which he said is made up of regimes that perpetrate some of the most flagrant human rights abuses in the world.
He told members of the Hudson Institute meeting at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York yesterday that he believes the only reason the United Nations has any value at all as the gambler said when explaining why he played in a poker school, knowing it was crooked "because it is the only game in town."
Instead, he told a questioner, America should champion a new League of Democracies, a notion he first proposed earlier this year in a little-noticed address to members of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He described his League of Democracies as "like-minded nations working together in the cause of peace."
"It could act where the U.N. fails to act, to relieve human suffering in places like Darfur. It could join to fight the AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa and fashion better policies to confront the crisis of our environment," he told the Hoover audience. "It could bring concerted pressure to bear on tyrants in Burma or Zimbabwe, with or without Moscow's and Beijing's approval. It could unite to impose sanctions on Iran and thwart its nuclear ambitions. It could provide support to struggling democracies in Ukraine and Serbia and help countries like Thailand back on the path to democracy."
"This League of Democracies would not supplant the United Nations or other international organizations," he said. "It would complement them. But it would be the one organization where the world's democracies could come together to discuss problems and solutions on the basis of shared principles and a common vision of the future."
Mr. McCain has promised that if he is elected president, within his first year he will call a summit of the world's democracies "to seek the views of my democratic counterparts and begin exploring the practical steps necessary to realize this vision."