Let us propose a thought experiment – suppose you were assembling a Neighborhood Watch party specifically designed to find and stop locals from using drugs. Would you elect someone as a member who makes an open secret of the fact that their basement is stuffed with cocaine?
If you’re the United Nations, the answer is apparently, “Of course, why on earth not?” Except instead of stopping individual people from using drugs, this particular neighborhood watch is meant to prevent countries from developing weapons, and instead of cocaine, in Iran’s case it’s a potential cache of nuclear weapons that is being (poorly) hidden. CNS News reports:
Iran has been chosen as a member of the “bureau” overseeing a month-long United Nations conference in New York aimed at finalizing a controversial global “arms trade treaty.”[...]
“This is like choosing Bernie Madoff to police fraud on the stock market,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a non-governmental monitoring group based in Geneva, which drew attention to Iran’s elevation to the conference bureau.
UN Watch is urging U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the move:
“He should remind the conference that the Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its prohibited nuclear program, and that Iran continues to defy the international community through illegal arms shipments to the murderous Assad regime,” Neuer said.[...]
Iran’s election went unremarked until Iranian media trumpeted the development at the weekend, with Tehran Times reporting that Iran “is assisting the president of the Arms Trade Treaty Conference in the general conduct of the business of the conference” while the Iranian Students’ News Agency said that Iran “was elected as the deputy of Arms Trade Treaty conference.”
Iran Daily and the official IRNA news agency went further, both claiming that “some 193 participating countries unanimously voted in favor of Iran.” In fact, according to the conference website bureau members are chosen by their respective geographic groups, not voted on by the plenary.
Iran’s record on arms control is, needless to say, problematic in multiple ways. Even leaving aside the country’s thinly veiled nuclear ambitions, it is demonstrably true that Iran has been sending weapons to a variety of regimes considered hostile to United States interests abroad, Syria being chief among them. This is notable not only because it goes against the United States’ interests, but because it goes against a specific branch of international law which states that weapons may not be sold to facilitate human rights violations – a branch of international law which Iran would be tasked with enforcing in the event that it did sit on this particular body.
The idea that Iran can, in any meaningful sense, police other countries’ arms shipping practices in this way would be funny if the election process weren’t so clearly broken. As stated above, Iran was elected by other countries within its region, rather than by the entirety of the UN. Cynics might argue that this wouldn’t have made much of a difference, given that the UN might have been tempted to vote for Iran simply as a show of typical anti-Western sentiment, but we’re not so sure this is the case. There are less dangerous ways for the UN to scare its enemies.
However, Iran was apparently elected only by countries from its “region,” which suggests a highly problematic attitude on the part of those countries regarding the legitimacy of the body they technically have agreed to participate in. The only silver lining in this case is that Iran is just one vote on the committee in question, the others being South Korea, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Mexico, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Australia, Switzerland and Netherlands. Most of those countries will, we hope, be able to check the toxic influence of one poorly chosen peer.