The Economist recounts the turmoil the U.N. is now going through trying to elect a new secretary-general.
Aside from the usual bickering and reciprocal blocking of candidates among the five nations with veto power, voices from inside the organization have recently revealed other problems, including the “colossal mismanagement” of peacekeeping budgets and a “sclerotic personnel system.” On the one hand, it is clear that these latter issues arise from the bureaucratic nature of the organization, which is bound to prove impossible to manage in an efficient manner. However, the broader problem the U.N. and its secretary-general are confronted with is one of credibility, after having missed almost every opportunity to provide a resolution to conflicts across the world over the last decades, from Rwanda to Sudan and Sri Lanka. While some other international organisations such as the IMF and the World Bank retain some (misguided) popular trust, the United Nations appears to almost all discerning eyes as a grand-scale failed endeavor.
It’s easy to assume that bureaucracy has single-handedly brought the U.N. down, but a more nuanced explanation can be found in Mises’s writings, which provide us with insights into the ideological foundations on which the U.N.—and its interwar predecessor, the League of Nations—were established. Mises (1943a, 1943b) writes:
The noble-minded founders of the League of Nations… were right in their idea that autocratic governments are warlike, while democratic nations cannot derive any profit from conquest and therefore cling to peace. But what President Wilson and his collaborators did not see was that this is valid only within a system of private ownership of the means of production, free enterprise, and unhampered market economy. Where there is no economic freedom things are entirely different.
Ours is not an age of laissez fare, laissez passer, but an age of economic nationalism. All governments are eager to promote the well-being of their citizens or of some groups of their citizens by inflicting harm upon foreigners. Foreign goods are excluded from the domestic market or only permitted after the payment of an import duty. Foreign labor is barred from competition on the domestic labor market. Foreign capital is liable to confiscation. This economic nationalism must needs result in war, whenever those injured believe that they are strong enough to brush away, by armed violent action, the measures detrimental to their own welfare. […] Economic nationalism is the corollary of the present-day domestic policies of government interference with business and of national planning as free trade was the complement of domestic economic freedom.
Mises’s explanation pinpoints the cause for the international mismanagement of conflicts within and among nations of the world, including economic and armed disputes alike. It was true in 1943 for the League of Nations, but it also explains the mere decorative role the U.N. is clinging to in 2016. According to Mises (1943b), all such international experiments in peace and collaboration will fail “because it is vain to aim at peaceful cooperation among nations fighting one another unswervingly in the economic sphere.”
In other words, international peace is not to be accomplished through a top-down plan devised by a “clever, tough, yet idealistic” secretary-general of the U.N. as The Economist suggests. But with a sweeping, bottom-up liberalization of economic activity.