At its 65th General Assembly session last week, the United Nations played host to a speech by the president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But, while the UN gave a platform to a Holocaust-denying leader of a nation that sentences adulterous women to death by stoning while hanging “convicted” homosexuals, one voice was strangely absent: that of Taiwan’s.
Taiwan, a democratic nation of 23 million, has rule of law, religious freedom, and the 20th largest economy in the world (ironically, just behind Iran)—but, it doesn’t have membership in the UN.
Interestingly, at the time of the UN’s creation, Taiwan was occupied by Imperial Japan, which had annexed the island in 1895 after the First Sino-Japanese War. Prior to the 50-year period of Japanese colonization, China had a weak and periodic hold on Taiwan, culminating in a formal renunciation of Chinese sovereignty in 1871.
As an area under the control of Japan at the close of World War II, the people of Taiwan would have ideally held a plebiscite to determine their political future, but the Allies handed Taiwan over to the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek. When the Nationalists lost their war in mainland China to the Communists in 1949, Chiang’s forces retreated to Taiwan with some 2 million refugees.
By 1971, the UN General Assembly, its ranks swollen with decolonized African nations friendly to the Communist regime in Beijing, voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. The Taiwanese government ceased claiming to represent mainland China in 1991 after which it began an effort to seek UN membership—only to be constantly rebuffed by China’s veto.
The UN’s history has been full of such injustices. The UN was founded on June 26, 1945, after the defeat of Nazi Germany but before the defeat of Imperial Japan, the original five permanent members of its 15 member Security Council consisted of WWII’s “Big Five” Allied powers: Nationalist China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Seen as a replacement to the failed League of Nations in 1943, the UN started with lofty pretensions, adopting President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” as part of its initial charter: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
That the UN would make an immediate mockery of its charter by admitting Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union was bad enough. Further insult was added to diplomatic injury when the “nations” of Belarus and Ukraine were given UN membership as well, this, despite that fact that they were not independent nations in any sense of the word in 1945 as they were constituent parts of the former USSR.
Conversely, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) wasn’t granted UN membership until 1973, even though it had been a functioning democracy with rule of law for 24 years and a member of the democratic West’s NATO alliance since 1955.
Today’s UN consists of 192 member states. As in 1945 with the former Soviet Union, many of them make mockery of FDR’s “Four Freedoms.” The UN’s membership includes military dictatorships (Myanmar), absolute monarchies (Brunei), Islamic religious states (Iran), failed states (Somalia), and one-party Communist dynasties (North Korea). Its 47-member Human Rights Council includes China, Cuba, Libya, and Saudi Arabia, hardly beacons of democracy, fair elections, and religious freedom.
Not only are large nations represented in the UN, but tiny ones are as well, many of them relics of feudal history, such as Andorra (pop. 84,000), Liechtenstein (pop. 35,000), Monaco (33,000) and San Marino (30,000). Even the tiny Pacific country of Tuvalu, population 12,373, is a UN member state.
The UN assesses the United States $598 million per year, almost a quarter of the world agency’s budget. This payment buys America membership in a club where less than half of the members grant their citizens full suffrage. Is it any wonder that the UN is so consistently hostile to American principles when 104 of its 192 member governments thumb their noses at representative democracy?
The UN has outlived its usefulness. The majority of member nations mock the UN’s founding charter when they prevent their own citizens from enjoying liberty. Rather than spending taxpayer money to prop up an international body that increasingly appears to loathe democracy, the U.S. should consider forming an alternative international organization where full membership would be contingent on free elections, rule of law, and respect for the rights of the minority. Of course, Taiwan would be invited to be a founding member.
Who knows, perhaps someday Taiwan can vote to welcome a democratic China to full membership in the League of Free Nations.