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The UN - Still Relevant Even if Ineffective

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The UN - Still Relevant Even if Ineffective
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The UN Charter [i] is an international treaty signed by 192 countries and ratified in their national, constitutional and legal processes, for the expressed purpose of maintaining international peace and security. For better or for worse, it’s all we have.

The UN Charter went far beyond the ambit of a static treaty; it established organs and processes, principles and methods to form a living, dynamic institution for the ongoing resolution of conflicts, settlement of disputes and keeping of the peace. The UN offers the promise of a democratic world order, a stable, formal system of international law and the establishment of universally protected human rights.

In a world in which the technological capacity to kill en masse or with high specificity, to observe intrusively or to monitor activity and communications at a collective or individual level, the capacity and potential exists not only for death and destruction, accidental or deliberate on a vast scale or for genocide of targeted groups but also for manipulation and coercion of groups and individuals in ways that most people could not imagine.

We are already accepting, with apparent calm, such notions as “targeted killings” and “collateral damage”, decisions and actions that will result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of children taken by people who think their goals are “worth it”, the use of “smart bombs”, “cluster bombs”, “hellfire missiles” and “daisy cutters”, the murder of civilians in far-off places by the use of remote-controlled drones and the use of weaponry of unimaginable cruelty such as napalm and white phosphorous against soldiers, civilians and even children. It is has long been evident and is regularly affirmed that without some institution that is able to restrain the mentally deranged individuals and corrupt institutions responsible for these things and to prohibit and prevent psychopathic activities of this sort, our species and our planet are in danger. Our only international institution that even comes close to a project plan for salvation is the United Nations; it’s all we have.

What the UN lacks is not relevance but effectiveness.

The Bush Assault

In his December 2002 speech to the UN, G.W. Bush presented what amounted to an ultimatum; either to support (US) military action against Iraq or become irrelevant.

My thesis is that the UN could not “choose” to become irrelevant; the relevance of the UN is already irreversibly established, inherent and self-evident. What is aptly demonstrated both by this statement and by the rogue action of the United States et al under the irresponsible “leadership” of George W Bush is that the UN is ineffective.

The Bush speech triggered, or revitalised, a discussion about the relevance of the UN.

One article by Alan Caruba titled The U.N.: Irrelevant and Malignant posted on the Israel Science and Technology Homepage [ii] rightly points to deficiencies in the democratic arrangements of the UN, but while pointing out that the US with a population of 287M has equal voting power with nations of populations fewer than 0.5M, neglects to mention that China, also on a single vote, has a population in excess of 1.3bn, or that US aid “influences” the votes of smaller countries like Palau. The article similarly alludes to the fact that the real power of the UN is vested in the Security Council, dominated by the five permanent members and highlights the failures of the UN to prevent or halt genocides. However, while making these criticisms the article proposes no solutions, ignores the intended purpose and value of the UN and makes no logical connection between these matters and the argument it seems to be developing for withdrawal of the US from the UN.

Along the way, Caruba, who seems to be confused in his identification with the US or Israel, alleges that the UN has a propensity to “look the other way when a member nation is fighting for its life” (namely Israel, with the usual victim status), but again, without regard for the fact that Israel started all of the five wars he is referring to. He also alleges that the UN is “totally committed” to global government, is anti-Semitic and Socialist (as if Socialism were something to be deplored) and that it’s architects were Soviet agents. On the whole, this is a very silly article full of irrational assertions without any proper development of argument, but it typifies the kind of anti-UN sentiment that seeks to denigrate or erase the institution, with all its universal benefits in order to remove a perceived obstacle to perceived benefits accruing to specific groups.

A second article that presents valid points of argument but draws the wrong conclusion is that titled Inconsistency Has Already Made the UN Irrelevant posted by Sherri Muzher at Media Monitors Network [iii], which refers to UN failure to enforce resolutions concerning Israel. However, she concludes, I believe wrongly, that this ineffectiveness renders the UN irrelevant “The UN has been irrelevant for decades now because of its own inconsistent record.”.

An article by Hal Lindsey titled The incredibly irrelevant United Nations posted at WorldNetDaily.com, which belongs, in my opinion, to the "Looney Christian Right, takes advantage of the UN's terrible record of failures in dealing with genocide. However, again based on a record of ineffectiveness is able to build a case for irrelevance, possibly acceptable to many minds, which concludes "There is a one-world government waiting in the wings. It only awaits the unveiling of its ultimate 'leader' – the Antichrist".

Another article, published in the Canadian Free Press titled The United Nations--irrelevant and dangerous [iv] was written by Tom DeWeese, who is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center, which calls itself a “grassroots, activist think tank” headquartered in Warrenton, Virginia (isn't that about an hour's drive from Arlington?). He opens his article quite bluntly with the statement that “The world is in chaos and, quite frankly, it’s the United Nations’ fault”. He calls the UN a “cesspool of Socialism” and declares “It helps to keep tyrannical dictators in power” (which, is generally agreed, is the job of the CIA). Unfortunately, Mr DeWeese seems not to have read even the preamble of the UN Charter because he believes that “The United Nations’ main purpose is to provide voice and power to irrelevant or vicious nations to counter the United States”, an assertion that relies on the patriotic prejudice of Americans or the illusions of adherents of “virtuous USA” as the world policeman. In another curious assertion he states “Most of the UN’s membership comes from nations controlled either by communist regimes, kingdoms, or mad dictators where American values are either unknown or viewed as a threat”. Communist regimes? I wish!! And on this premise he expresses his concern that “Those same UN members are busy working to implement plans for UN global governance” and he sees a key justification for this concern in the fact that “Already, the UN’s International Criminal Court is in place”.

At the end of this long list of assertions, without having in any way developed an argument, he reaches the conclusion that is the subject of his essay with simply another bold assertion that “The UN is dangerous because its most vocal membership stands in opposition of the American values of controlled representative government, justice, free enterprise, privacy of individuals, and private property rights”.

I would like to ask Mr DeWeese who controls his government and who does it represent? Where is the justice at Guantanamo? Who pays for all this “free” enterprise, the taxpayer? Which individuals in the US have privacy?

[Aside: Whenever I hear Americans talk about the protection of private property rights I am always reminded of a cartoon depicting two homeless men wrapped in their shabby overcoats and warming their hands on a fire outside their makeshift shelters of tea-chests. One says to the other “You know, under Socialism, if you had two houses the government would take one of them off you!”.]

The cause of all this, he says, the thing that makes the UN so dangerous is the “United States’ participation in propping up the circus”. His article was written prior to March 2003 and part of his conclusion was based on the assertion that Iraq was in violation of 17 UN resolution (never mind that Israel has stood in violation of some 60 resolutions for more than 40 years); “Seventeen resolutions should be enough to prove we don’t need to spend another dime playing this game”. Given that no WMD were found in Iraq, which seems to confirm what Hans Blix had said all along – that Iraq had complied with UN demands – I wonder if Mr DeWeese’s views have changed? Or is he still publishing drivel on behalf of the CIA for the consumption of those Americans rendered patriotically ignorant by an embedded, mainstream media?

The United States government never participates in anything unless it is to serve American Interests and it clearly is “propping up” this circus because it’s very useful.

A post-Iraq-invasion article in the American Chronicle titled Has the UN Become Irrelevant? [v] by Greg Reeson is concerned with the contention, in relation to Iranian nuclear development, that “weakness of the United Nations ultimately means UN resolutions can be defied without consequence”. Although rightly addressing the ineffectiveness of the UN (and like others, this article makes no mention of the 60 resolutions ignored by Israel) the article makes the odd leap to the conclusion that in the event of non-enforcement of resolutions pertaining to Iran "it will once again demonstrate to the world that its member nations cannot fulfil its founding purpose" and in this circumstance "It will become, as President Bush warned, irrelevant".

Aside from the flawed conclusion, the article is so full of disinformation (erasing the distinction of Iran’s assertion of its right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes with allegations that Iran is building a weapon) dishonesties (in once again asserting the known falsehood that Ahmadinejad “never misses an opportunity to call for the destruction of Israel” and the usual accusation of Iran as “a leading state sponsor of terrorism”) , misrepresentations (in citing “the lack of transparency provided by the hard-line government and the threat posed by the Iranian regime itself” despite IAEA and CIA assertions to the contrary and the fact that Iran, unlike the US, has not been a hostile aggressor in 300 years), hypocrisy (which positively drips from the article but is probably at a pitch in the statement that “There can be no mistake about Ahmadinejad’s quest for nuclear power and regional influence”).

It’s hard to believe that in asserting claims about being “threatened by a potentially nuclear-armed terrorist regime dedicated to the destruction of the West” the author is unable to see the position of Iran as being “threatened by a nuclear-armed terrorist regime dedicated to the domination of the East”.

It’s the existence of just this sort of propagandist rhetoric, which avoids the frank, open, honest discussion that the UN is intended to facilitate, that undermines the effectiveness of the UN, but at the same time highlights the relevance of the UN as a wider, democratic forum that will promote a more dispassionate assessment of contributions to debate in the resolution of conflict and settlement of disputes.

Kofi Annan under Fire

Kofi Annan, who served as UN Secretary General for 10 years, concluding in December 2006 shared a Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001. His assertion in 2003 that an attack on Iraq without a further Security Council resolution would be contrary to the UN Charter, won him no friends in the Bush Administration. According to Wikipedia, John Boulton, when asked to sum up Annan's years at the UN, responded simply: "I'll pass". And at the conclusion of his term of office the American Heritage Foundation, which purports to provide “leadership” for America, published on it’s website an article by Nile Gardiner (Director of the Margaret Thatcher Centre for Freedom) titled Kofi Annan's Legacy of Failure [vi] which opened with a stinging paragraph to match the title:

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan delivered his swan song today at the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri. It was a thinly veiled parting shot at U.S. foreign policy delivered by an embittered U.N. leader seething with self-righteous indignation and resentment. Annan's Missouri speech will go down in history as one of the most blatant assaults on a U.S. administration by a serving U.N. official”.

It’s noteworthy how often a reference to “self-righteous indignation” appears in an ad hominem response to accusations of immorality or lack of integrity where there is no challenge to the facts of the accusation and no other response is possible.

The article went on to state that:

“Annan's departure from office has not come soon enough. His 10 years in power have been a monumental failure, and he leaves behind an institution whose standing could barely be lower and a legacy that is a testament to mismanagement, corruption, and anti-Americanism.”. Interestingly, the article lambasts Annan for a list of statements and actions that most people outside the US would firmly agree with:

  • That "no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others."
    Dismissed as “condescending remarks”.
  • America's position in the "vanguard of the global human rights movement…can only be maintained if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism. When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends are naturally troubled and confused."
  • That “When power, especially military force, is used, the world will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose-for broadly shared aims-in accordance with broadly accepted norms."
  • That “he suggested that Iraqis were worse off today than they were under Saddam Hussein” which the article claimed “sparked outrage in Baghdad”, reflecting mainstream journalism’s reach as far as the walls of the Green Zone

It also contends “Annan has a long track record of opposition to the U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, as well as to the wider conduct of the global war on terror.” As if to suggest that Annan was a keen supporter of Saddam Hussein and an advocate of terrorism – along with the millions of others who objected!!!

Inevitably, the issues of UN failures in regard to peacekeeping and genocide, sexual abuse by peacekeepers in the Congo and of course, the oil-for-food programme in Iraq, all of them real issues, but all of them raised to denigrate Kofi Annan as personally responsible; allegedly incompetent and corrupt; all of this without any balanced discussion of, or even a reference to UN dependence on the resources supplied by its members or to the universal problem of administrators having all responsibility, no authority.

Not surprisingly, the article quotes John Bolton as having "described the U.N. as hopelessly out of touch and stuck in a Twilight Zone-style 'time warp' “ and goes on to say that "Many Americans would agree with Mr. Bolton" citing results of a Gallup poll in the United States in which 64 percent of respondents said the United Nations was "doing a poor job". This of course, is not surprising, given that Americans see the UN constantly denigrated by Fox News and the likes of Rush Limbaugh and an endless diet of quotations from the likes of John Bolton.

While Kofi Annan supported his Deputy Secretary after making statements critical of some sections of the American media in their misrepresentation of the UN and also made public remarks unhelpful to the American push for an invasion of Iraq the real barrier to a UN-backed invasion was the Security Council, not the General Secretary.

In a BBC interview [vii] after his exit from the UN Kofi Annan was asked “Why didn't you stand up in the UN Security Council and say in 2003: 'This war is illegal without a Security Council resolution'?” to which he responded that he had said in 2003 that it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. The interviewer mentioned accusingly, that “Your aides say that you lost your voice” as if to imply that if only Kofi Annan had been more clear and more vocal the BBC could have stopped the war. The hypocrisy is truly amazing.


The Illegal War

Much was made of Security Council Resolution 1441 by legal sycophants eager to please their political masters with convenient legal cover for their immoral invasion.

This resolution promises “serious consequences” in the event that Iraq should fail to implement Security Council demands to disarm and disclose.

Other legal opinion is that it was up to the Security Council to determine if Iraq had failed to meet its obligations, if “serious consequences” were in order and what these consequences should be – hence the requirement for a further resolution and Kofi Annan’s assertion that an invasion would be illegal with out it.

However, the very fact of an absence of the sought and not obtained UN Security Council Resolution stands as testimony that military action was not endorsed by the UN, regardless of anything in earlier resolutions.

Furthermore, all of the contrivance around legal foundation of UN Resolutions falls to nothing in view of the facts that:

  1. Hans Blix, the UN Chief Weapons Inspector, had repeatedly stated publicly that Iraq was in compliance with its obligations and
  2. Iraq was confirmed in fact, after the invasion, to have been in compliance with UN demands in having no Weapons of Mass Destruction.

It was clear to most observers among the ordinary public in February 2003 that an invasion was going to proceed regardless of what UN weapons inspectors or the Security Council had to say and is now a matter of public record that the Iraq invasion was planned in 2001,.

In the constant pressure for closer scrutiny by the UN inspections team and increasingly pedantic demands regarding what weapons Iraq should relinquish, including a long argument over conventional battlefield missiles with a range of 150 miles; there is evident a very cynical and immoral intention to use the UN processes to disarm Iraq as much as possible, leaving the Iraqi the minimum possible capacity to defend itself prior to the inevitable attack. This goes much further than the accusation by Kofi Annan’s deputy that the US was using the UN “almost by stealth as a diplomatic tool while failing to stand up for it against its domestic critics”, this is more like using the UN as a first-pass operation to disarm the intended victim. Anyone inclined to doubt that the US government would behave in such a sinister manner would do well to read a report of investigation into the sanctions applied to Iraq in the 12 years prior to the invasion of 2003 by Joy Gordon in Harper’s Magazine titled Cool war: Economic sanctions as a weapon of mass destruction [viii]. A more damning catalogue of vicious, vindictive, ruthless contrivance calculated to inflict a maximum of death and sufferings on a population, effected most severely among those most vulnerable – children under five, for purposes of political coercion, far worse than the terrorist bomber, no-one could invent in fiction. Two UN officials, Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, resigned in disgust calling it “sanctions genocide”. An institution open to such abuse can hardly be effective; it clearly needs reform. However, the very fact of existence of a desire to abuse such an institution in this way only highlights the need for it and its relevance.

What is more significant than the illegality of the invasion is its immorality.

So the boorish spectacle of publicly denigrating Kofi Annan is really only theatre for the established process of democracy by deception, part of the routine devaluation of collective, cooperative efforts to maintain international peace and order in favour of the “world policeman” scenario that invests absolute power in the people who own western capitalism and who own and control the United States government.

Kofi Annan’s role as Secretary General was fundamentally an administrative one, which probably accounts for his choice of words, “a very sort of UN bureaucratic thing”, in saying that invasion without a resolution “contravenes the UN Charter” and not himself proceeding to the logical conclusion that it was therefore illegal; leaving that for others to decide for themselves.

Given that the architecture of the UN, its founding charter and various organs, was the subject of an international discussion of some years’ duration we can deduce something of the intention of it’s founders. We have a General Assembly in which all 192 member-countries are equally represented and to which the Charter delivers authority to “discuss any questions or any matters within the scope of the present Charter” and “make recommendations to the Members of the United Nations or to the Security Council”; a measure of moral force and an expression of the broader, democratic will. On the other hand we have a Security Council, which in the five permanent members, gives way to recognition of the practical realities of prevailing military and political power relations of the time and in the rotation of the other ten members seats gives a measure of broader representation in this seat of the true power, executive power, invested in the UN.

If we look at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council we can see the general representation of the world’s religious, ideological and cultural groups (in approximate Millions of population) with the secular socialist and communist societies of the Russian Federation (140) and Peoples’ Republic of China (1,300), mostly Christian Capitalist democracies of The United Kingdom and Northern Ireland (62) and the United States (309), and the humanist, capitalist democracy of France (65), a total of some 1,876 Million of the world’s people – less than a third!

The 1,100 Million mostly Hindu people of the largely capitalist but communist-inclined society of India, the 1,000 Million Africans, and the world’s 1,000 Million Muslims are not permanently represented. Given that the mostly Islamic Middle-East possesses the lion’s share of reserves of the world’s most precious energy resource is so inadequately represented in the primary executive organ of the United Nations it’s hardly surprising that we have elements of the populations of those countries who feel embittered regarding the present arrangements of the “international community” and who are courageously resisting exploitation and abuse by means other than the political and military avenues acceptable to the dominant nations.

In his report to the UN General Assembly, a document titled In Larger Freedom, Kofi Annan’s recommended expansion of the Security Council. Measures to include the member countries that are primary representative of currently un-represented, major religious, ideological, racial and cultural groups would be a major, meaningful step towards world peace and security.

However, if conditions are such that a group of nations can coalesce in a “coalition of the willing”, like a gang of unruly thugs, to entirely bypass the United Nations and its Security Council, improvements in the architecture of the United Nations and its foremost organ, the Security Council will not improve its effectiveness. In the absence of any remedy to this situation we can only expect ultimately to arrive at a very catastrophic situation that serves vividly to illustrate the relevance of the United Nations, perhaps too late.

The legal advice that led to this situation rested on the notion that Security Council resolutions 687 and 1441 of respectively 12 and 2 years prior and explicitly in relation to a different matter (the situation between Iraq and Kuwait) can be taken to represent the position of the United Nations Security Council regarding the present, different situation (alleged support for terrorism, possession of chemical weapons, clandestine pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability and a readiness to attack the UK). The falsity of this contention is clearly self-evident in that a new Security Council resolution explicitly endorsing action to address the current situation could not be obtained. The Security Council clearly did not support invasion. Also, given that UN weapons inspectors had repeatedly asserted that Iraq was in compliance with resolutions 687 and 1441 (and as was demonstrated to be correct after the invasion), there was no justification for action, even based on these dated resolutions.

Still more, reliance on resolution 1441 providing for “serious consequences” in the event of “non compliance” it’s very clear, as has been argued by experts on international law, that it was a matter for the Security Council to decide if Iraq was in fact, “non-compliant” and if so, what the “serious consequences” should be and in the absence of decisions by the Security Council the actions of the “coalition of the willing” obviously amounts to rogue behaviour on the part of irresponsible hooligans.

Still worse, when we come to consider that the motivation for this rogue action taken outside the wishes of the United Nations (at both the General Assembly and Security Council levels) has been clearly shown, by the way the invasion and occupation have unfolded, with the looting of the Iraqi treasury and museums, privatisation of oil resources into foreign ownership, destruction of energy and water and other utilities and institutions and so on, that it was not about liberation of the people, making the country safe for democracy or improving world security against terrorism – all this was ostensible and transparent – but rather, it was to break and dominate the nation, steal its resources and establish strategic political and military advantage in the region for the invaders. These matters compound the magnitude of what is already a serious crime against international law.

Consequences of Failure

The majority of people worldwide were clearly opposed to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In all of the western democracies whose governments have supported and participated in the war this was a reflection of the failure of these democracies to adequately and accountably give expression to the will of their electorates.

What support (or complaisance) does exist in these countries for, not only the war in Iraq but also the war in Afghanistan and the nebulous “war on terror” is principally dependent on the notion of a “virtuous America” worthy and fit for the role of “world policeman”. This is a deception that began with the primary lie of WW2, namely that “the US saved Europe and the world from Hitler and the Third Reich”. But this was almost entirely the achievement of the Soviet Union by its defeat of Operations Barbarossa (1941) and Northern Light (1942), overcoming the Siege of Leningrad and victory in the Battle of Stalingrad and other battles on the occupied Soviet territory. The war on the Eastern Front went on for four years with enormous cost to the Soviet Union. The most recent western estimate of Soviet military deaths is 7 million with some 20 million Soviet civilian lives lost and the cost to the German side being some 4.3 million. Three Soviet armies fought the Battle for Berlin and the Germans finally surrendered to a Soviet commander in May 1945. So while not to denigrate the achievements of the Normandy landings and the battles of the western front it’s the height of deceptive propaganda to assert, imply or otherwise carry off the false impression that the United States “saved Europe and the world from Hitler and the Third Reich”. And yet, I myself was in my mid-forties before I was disavowed of that deception, having, like most people of my age and context, learnt most of my WW2 history from American-dominated television.

These illusions are perpetuated and sustained today by an entertainment media and a news media that contains no less of fiction, full of exaggerated moral angst, superficial moralising and false pretension to reverence for integrity, freedom and democracy, all of which are fed to the American masses to sustain a pitch of patriotic fervour. This propaganda is also selectively dumped on the foreign media market to sustain the illusion worldwide. Concurrently with the “virtuous world policeman” fabrication is the ongoing effort to disparage and discredit the UN, principally with the strategy to equate ineffectiveness with irrelevance.

The corporations that own these news and entertainment media monopolies also own the political parties and government institutions of most western capitalist democracies. For the people who own western capitalism, unrestricted access to and control of the world’s natural resources rests on the political and military domination of the governments and commercial and financial institutions of the world. This can only be achieved by investing all power in the nationalist flagship of capitalism, the US, not by sustaining a democratic international institution based on justice and law that would otherwise give fair voice to all peoples, cultures and ideologies.

A leap from the reality that the UN is lacking in effectiveness to the conclusion that is irrelevant could be an error for humanity that may take centuries to overcome or even prove fatal. We must recognise the relevance of the UN and its consequent importance and we must recognise the necessity to act to improve its effectiveness.

Most of those who, without regard to the inhumanity, murder, suffering, destruction and long-term environmental damage it dispenses, support the rogue behaviour, imperialism and hegemony of the “virtuous superpower” mentality do so believing that they are beneficiaries when in fact, they are misguided victims. Childishly waving flags of patriotic fervour, obsequiously aligning with the superpower, heedlessly serving its instruments, belligerently asserting its spiritual authority, egotistically presuming its racial supremacy or foolishly espousing a Malthusian rationale they recklessly join the parade that marches contrary to their own interests, reduces the size of the pie and relinquishes most of their own slice to the piper who leads the parade.

Humanity has everything to lose with the possible failure of the UN. It’s a highly relevant international institution and as a foundation for international law and order, justice and security and human rights it’s all we have. We need to work together to make it effective. That begins with bringing to book those who abuse it in ways that violate international law.

[i] The UN Charter http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/index.shtml

[ii] Caruba article http://www.science.co.il/arab-israeli-conflict/articles/Caruba-2002-06-15.asp

[iii] Sherri Muzher article: http://www.mediamonitors.net/sherri69.html

[iv] DeWeese article http://www.canadafreepress.com/2003/un091503.htm

[v] Greg Reeson article http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/12315

[vi] Nile Gardiner: http://www.heritage.org/Research/Reports/2006/12/Kofi-Annans-Legacy-of-Failure

[vii] BBC Interview: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6205056.stm

[viii] Joy Gordon article http://www.harpers.org/archive/2002/11/0079384

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