Whenever we say anything good about the United Nations or suggest that the U.N. might be part of a plan for safe, responsible development and use of advanced nanotechnology, we receive shrill comments from readers. Some cast doubts on the efficacy of the U.N., some point to its alleged corruption, and others question its very need for existence.
On the other hand, the U.N. currently is the only functioning pan-national body with the necessary reach (if not the authority) to serve as a platform for organizing cooperative international administration of molecular manufacturing (MM). Whether or not such an administration is needed, desirable, or even possible is still open to debate, of course.
Along these lines, it's interesting to read this opinion about the U.N.:
The United Nations is not a popularly elected world government; it isn't even a collection of well-meaning people who just want peace. It is a group of different agencies with different agendas, some of which are relatively effective and some of which are ineffective or even dangerous. The United Nations provides the relief workers who are coordinating international aid for tsunami victims, and people delivering aid and democracy assistance in Afghanistan. The U.N. umbrella includes critical agencies such as the World Health Organization, whose work to prevent another flu pandemic could save millions of lives.
That's columnist Anne Applebaum writing in the Washington Post. She also says:
Infamously, the United Nations has lately been implicated in a vast and tangled scandal, the oil-for-food scam. It was not the only culprit -- dozens of governments, including ours, knew of, or even cooperated with, smuggling in Iraq -- but unfortunately this corruption is part of a larger pattern. Financial scandals plagued U.N. operations in Cambodia. Trafficking scandals plagued U.N. operations in Kosovo. What the world body spends on pointless conferences and unnecessary publications would feed many, many children in Africa.
I especially like this part:
But if the United Nations isn't good in and of itself, neither is it evil. It is only as good or bad as its employees, all political appointees whose activities are, by ordinary government or business standards, subjected to shockingly little oversight. Unlike, say, the U.S. civil service, or the Japanese bureaucracy, the U.N. bureaucracy is not beholden to a democratic government or even a sovereign government. There is no electorate that can toss the Libyans out of the human rights commissioner's chair, no judicial system that can try corrupt officials. . .
The trouble with many U.N. defenders is that they refuse to see this fundamental problem, and demand a constantly expanding role for the United Nations without explaining how its lack of democratic accountability is to be addressed. The trouble with many U.N. detractors, in Congress and elsewhere, is that they see the corruption and nothing else. But there is a role for U.N. institutions -- in Afghanistan, or in international health -- as long as that role is limited in time and cost.
If a consensus arises in favor of some system of global MM management, then either an existing organization will have to be charged with that duty, or an entirely new body will need to be created. CRN has been unable to identify any existing institution presently capable of performing this critical function. We think something new will be needed, although we can't say for sure yet how -- or even whether -- this can be accomplished. If it cannot, we fear the worst.
You may or not agree with Ms. Applebaum's final conclusion, but her objective appraisal of the U.N.'s usefulness and limitations does illuminate the challenges and pitfalls of developing a wholly new organization.
My point here is not to defend the U.N. but to show that we might have to start somewhere. Learning how the U.N. works (or doesn't work), and what its strengths and flaws are, could help in deciding what sort of pan-national administrative structure would suffice to ensure safe, responsible development and use of advanced nanotechnology.