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A 'concert of democracies'

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The United Nations never ceases to disappoint its supporters, or confirm the worst suspicions of its critics. The latest examples include its failure to stop the slaughter in Syria and inability to dissuade Iran from developing nuclear weapons. These and a host of other U.N. debacles help explain why there’s growing support for a new way to organize and legitimize international action. Noting that the United Nations has become “hopelessly paralyzed by the split between autocratic and democratic members,” the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan has written about the need for “a concert of democracies” that would enable liberal democracies – like the United States – to “protect their interests and defend their principles.” Similarly, Ivo Daalder, President Barack Obama’s NATO ambassador, has called on “the world’s established democracies” to come together in “a single institution dedicated to joint action.” The U.N. is not such an organization. Before the failures in Syria and Iran came Bosnia, Kosovo, Georgia, Iraq and North Korea. Indeed, North Korea is the poster child of U.N. fecklessness. After a decade-plus of violating resolutions related to weapons proliferation and nuclear technology, North Korea was allowed to chair the U.N. Conference on Disarmament. Worse, after North Korea shelled a South Korean island and sank a South Korean ship, the U.N. condemned the aggression but refused to name – let alone punish – the aggressor. Even the U.N.’s “successes,” such as the humanitarian effort in Somalia and the creation of safe havens in Bosnia, ultimately succumbed to bureaucratic inertia and moral relativism. Most U.N. failures can be traced to systemic problems inside the U.N. Security Council, where obstructionist members use their veto power to play diplomatic games, rather than play the leadership roles they were fortunate to be granted at the end of World War II. As Daalder puts it, the U.N. is “an institution beholden to its least-cooperative members.”

In some cases, the United States has acted without U.N. approval (Kosovo in 1999 and Iraq in 2003), but in most cases the United States and its allies allow the obstructionists to win. The result: threats to security metastasize in places like Iran and North Korea; innocents die in the Balkans and Africa; thugs brutalize the forgotten corners of the world. Those who point to Libya as a U.N. success story should remember that Moscow and Beijing argued vociferously that they had not authorized what the NATO-led coalition ultimately did—namely, toppling Gaddafi. In fact, Moscow has cited what happened in Libya to justify its opposition to any similar resolution for Syria. The Russians are also blocking efforts to sanction Iranian oil exports. 
A concert of democracies, proponents argue, would bypass this sort of obstruction. It would also confer international legitimacy onto U.S.-led military interventions, which is important to U.S. allies. The outlines of a concert of democratic powers may be coming into focus. In 2000, several democratic countries quietly formed the Community of Democracies. The organization’s governing council enfolds 25 countries, including the United States, Canada, Poland, Italy, Japan, India and South Korea. Not a bad start. But the democracies are not just sitting around a conference table. In fact, ad hoc partnerships of democratic powers are actively engaged on the global stage: • The Kosovo war was authorized not by the UN Security Council, but by NATO. • Similarly, the Iraq war was prosecuted by a coalition of the willing – 27 nations in all, the vast majority of them liberal democracies – that acted without explicit U.N. approval. • The U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative enfolds dozens of seafaring democratic powers that collaborate to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, by force if necessary. Such a concert would not be without its limitations, of course. After all, the diplomatic trainwreck at the U.N. before the Iraq war was the result of friction between two democracies: the United States and France. But like an extra tool in the toolbox, an invitation-only community of liberal democracies could serve a helpful purpose when conscience or interest compels America and its allies to intervene in the world’s danger zones. Advocates of the concert-of-democracies idea are in good company. Historian Paul Johnson notes that after World War I, French leaders desired not the League of Nations, but rather “a mutual security alliance” of like-minded nations. “They recognized that a universal system, to which all powers belonged irrespective of their record ... was nonsense.” In 1992, as Bosnia descended and the U.N. dawdled, former President Ronald Reagan envisioned “an army of conscience” to prevent such disasters. “Just as the world’s democracies banded together to advance the cause of freedom in the face of totalitarianism,” he asked, “might we not now unite to impose civilized standards of behavior on those who flout every measure of human decency?” Sounding prescient given today’s nuclear challenges, he predicted that this partnership of democracies might need “to undertake military action ... to prevent the spread of nuclear knowledge and weapons to terrorists and hostile states.” Winston Churchill, a founding father of the United Nations, worried that some governments would use the U.N. to make mischief rather than promote U.N. principles. “We must make sure that its work is fruitful, that it is a reality and not a sham, that it is a force for action, and not merely a frothing of words,” he said of the U.N. in 1946. Almost 70 years later, we still haven’t succeeded. Perhaps it’s time to try something new.

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Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinsekin on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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On this day of national tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we honor the memory, the vision, and the service of one of the greatest Americans in my lifetime.

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Reprehensible Behavior Is a Risk of Combat, Experts Say

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Reprehensible behavior, combat veterans and military experts say, is an ever-present risk when troops in their teens and early 20s are thrown into nerve-racking battle for months at a time.

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To revive a post

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The story of Bennett-Wells Post 1780 in Buffalo, N.Y., is not uncommon for many American Legion posts across the country. A post is formed by newly returned and enthusiastic veterans, prospers for a time and then starts to decline as its founding generation retires or passes on, and attracting a new cohort of veterans proves difficult. Sometimes, the post is able to replenish itself and goes on to a continued period of vitality. Other times, however, such efforts just don’t come together, and the post either disappears or becomes a shell of its past. Post 1780 First Vice Commander Sandi Williams is determined to not let her post become a statistic. An eight-year member of the Legion, Williams is in charge of recruiting new members; she conceived and headed a membership drive that began in February 2011. The choice of February – Black History Month – was by design. Although Post 1780 has and welcomes white members, the majority of its membership is black, and its history is intimately linked to the black community in Buffalo. The post was formed in 1954 by World War II and Korean War veterans, and was named for two black soldiers who died in World War II: Pvt. James Bennett and 2nd Lt. Johnson Wells. Its home is on the city’s east side, where black residents have lived since the 1820s, but in much larger numbers after World War I. The black community there formed cultural and civic organs of its own, in response to segregation. By 1954, the area boasted a history of its own hotels and nightclubs, a theater, a cab company and several newspapers, as well as thriving chapters of the Negro Businessmen’s League, the American Colored Workmen League and others. Post 1780 fit well into this tradition of a community active in its own behalf. The post still does so today, through benefits assistance for veterans, sponsoring a Boy Scout troop and more. But it has had to make do with fewer and fewer members. Time has taken its toll – according to Williams, “the majority of Post 1780 members are elderly, and many are no longer able to participate in events.” New members have trickled in over the years, but not at the needed replacement rate for the continued growth. So Williams drew up plans for a concerted membership drive, choosing Black History Month because “there were a lot of community events going on, so I thought that it would be a good time to recruit for members.” A kickoff event was held in late February at a local library branch. Just prior to the event, Williams convinced The Buffalo News to run an article on the post and its plans. Post leadership was on hand to answer questions, and a nurse practitioner was brought in to give health advice. Over the next several months, the drive continued with post members going out into the community, but in August, no appreciable increase could be seen. Undeterred, Williams pressed forward with the drive, and at the end of October announced that a few new members had signed up, one of them a transfer from New York’s department headquarters post. Her next idea involved Buffalo’s Veterans Day celebration. Post 1780 marched in the city parade on Nov. 12, and Williams printed flyers with the post’s contact information and meeting times to hand out to veterans attending the parade. She also invited nonmember veterans to march with them; and recruited at Auxiliary Unit 1780’s Veterans Day free spaghetti dinner for veterans and their families. So while there has been some success with the membership drive, Williams isn’t satisfied yet. “I’m not giving up.” she said. “I continue recruiting on a daily basis,” she said. Williams credits Erie County Commander Bill Miskell for providing much in the way of both membership materials and encouragement. It may be that it will take a while for Post 1780 to re-cement itself in the next-generation-community’s consciousness as a veterans – and community – service organization. But Williams is willing to work to make that happen. Laura Edwards is assistant editor of The American Legion Magazine. Several membership materials are available through National Headquarters or online, from membership team training materials to the Legion’s “Why You Should Belong Booklet.” For more information, email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or go online to www.legion.org/membership or www.legion.org/publications.

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New Law Change Increases Insurance Coverage for Veterans

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Some Veterans covered under the Veterans Group Life Insurance program (VGLI) now have the opportunity to increase their coverage to the current maximum coverage under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program.

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