THE UN-UNITED NATIONS (I)
March 1, 2004
The time has come to revisit the basis upon which membership in these bodies is determined. The UN must consider suspending or expelling members states which have failed in their obligation to the organization and violated the basic principles of the Charter.
(Foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham)
Mr. Koffi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations has been invited to address the Canadian Parliament this spring. This is the first time a UN chief spokesman has been asked to speak at this forum.
While announcing this event, Prime Minister Paul Martin explained that Canada spends a lot of time on our relationship with the United States. But he believes that our future well-being and prosperity and that of our children depend “fundamentally “on our ties with the rest of the world. Speaking at the recent World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the Prime Minister said that “no country has as great an opportunity and responsibility to make this [the future restructuring of international relations] happen as does Canada.”
Considering the current tension about the role of the United States and the United Nations, the timing of Mr. Annan’s speech to the Canadian Parliament speaks volumes. It reiterates that the current Liberal government wants to chart a course independent of its neighbour to the south.
Is that a good policy choice? Your answer depends very much on what you think of the United Nations, which in turn depends on the side you choose in the now raging controversy of multilateralism versus unilateralism.
A House Divided
This is of course a complicated matter that requires far more detail than I can bring to it in a few brief articles. Besides, who can fully comprehend the convoluted ways the nations interact, given the disparity of power, wealth and influence among them, conflicting ideologies, the wrongs and rights of the past, long-festering grievances, hypocrisy, deception, and hatred and criminality on a scale that staggers the mind.
It cannot be denied that the United Nations has the potential to do much good and has done some of that. In fact, many look to the UN as the hope of the world. Is that a realistic expectation? After more than half a century of existence, its faults and failures are all too evident. It has two serious if not fatal defects.
The first is that all member states, whether democratic or ruled by tyrants, are considered equal. This means that many UN members are in violation of the very principles and purposes they are pledged to uphold.
The second is that the conflicting ideologies of the UN member nations severely hamstring its effectiveness. One way to get around that obstacle is to resort to doublespeak and deception. This must be behind the statement of Kurt Waldheim, UN Secretary-General from 1972-81, who described the UN as a mechanism for “lying in support of peace.” Inevitably, the UN lacks an essential requirement, namely, integrity. Sadly, its entire history provides ample proof for this statement. Time has only exacerbated that reality.
It seemed such a good idea in 1945. The League of Nations was no more, expired on the killing fields of World War II. Something had to be done to prevent the unspeakable horrors that had devastated Europe and wiped out millions. “Never again” was the watchword.
And so the United Nations was born with high hopes for a new dawn. Clever idealists designed a new way for managing the world. There was one major problem; membership was open to all. And so they came, all duly signing on for the lofty goals outlined in the UN Charter: Here is a sampling of what they signed on to:
“We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
“To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
“To establish conditions under which justice and respect for obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained….”
The Purposes and Principles of the UN similarly brim with good intentions. Here are a few excerpts:
“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace,…
“To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,…”
“To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for the fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.”
What happens when a member state, as many do, blatantly violates these enumerated lofty principles in the treatment of its own citizens? Such states can hide behind article 2,7:
“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”
Duplicity and Incompetence
The UN has performed some very useful services such as providing humanitarian aid to starving and suffering people, and overseeing large-scale immunization programs in Third World countries. In some cases it helped to maintain the peace in volatile parts of the world, although its so-called peace keeping role has been greatly overrated - especially by the Canadian elite.
The UN has been an abject failure in situations were the need was not for peacekeeping but for determined military action.
One of the most tragic instances of failure occurred in 1994 in Rwanda where despite the UN’s presence, machete-wielding, crazed Hutus slaughtered 800,000 Tutsi tribe members and moderate Hutus.
The Canadian General Romeo Dallaire pleaded with UN headquarters for more soldiers and resources. But his urgent warnings of a coming genocide fell on deaf ears. Deprived of a sufficient number of well-trained and disciplined soldiers, the general was forced to watch helplessly as little children and women were hacked to death. This experience left him an embittered and emotionally scarred person. (For a detailed description of this horrendous crime, see Romeo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil: The failure of Humanity in Rwanda.)
In a significant way the UN has become a platform for regimes that have no intention to do what the UN charter so grandly proclaims. It has served as a bully pulpit to beat up on the West and to accuse it of having enriched itself by robbing the poor nations. Perhaps most destructively, Third World tyrants and their allies have used their UN connections and influence to whitewash the cruel oppression of their own people.
The accusers of the West have some powerful ammunition. The colonization of the non-western world is not exclusively, yet to a large extent a story of exploitation and, at best, patronization. After World War II, de-colonization was completed in mere decades. Tragically, it often did not bring the kind of freedom and prosperity that was anticipated. On the contrary, in many newly independent countries, oppression and suffering is still the daily lot of millions.
Who is to blame, and how can these deplorable conditions be rectified? This is where the enemies of the West have a field day. It’s your fault, they say, because you stole our resources. And you owe us an admission of guilt and restitution. This is pay-back time.
These accusations against the rich nations acquired a lot of momentum by the popularity of Marx’s ideas, especially in the universities. The merging of de-colonization and class conflict ideology turned out to be a potent weapon on behalf of the impoverished Third World. Many pundits in the West, guilt-ridden by the accusations of the Third World and finding in Marxism a framework to understand the world, adopted an attitude of alienation and even contempt toward their own culture. Some have diagnosed this as a suicidal impulse of the prosperous but morally and spiritually adrift West (See James Burnham, Suicide of the West).
It is in this confluence of vast historical changes that Marxist ideology found a ready outlet at the United Nations. Defenders of the West and its virtues, such as open societies, the rule of law, a free press and free institutions, again and again were put on the defensive. What made matters worse is that many people in the West, especially among its elite, are ambiguous and conflicted about the worth of their own society.
Think in this context about the Cold War between the free nations and the Soviet Union, as that found expression at the Security Council and other agencies of the United Nations. Many on the ideological Left were convinced that the United States and the Soviet Union were morally equivalent, at best.
The same idea of moral equivalence is still at work in the current conflict between the free nations and those ruled by tyrants as that is played out at the UN. All members have the same rights and privileges. What is worse, the high-sounding proclamations of the UN provide immunity for tyrants. The confusion multiplies when scoundrels insist that the real conflict is between the rich West and the poor countries mired in destitution and hopelessness.
Think Zimbabwe whose thuggish president defends himself by blaming Britain and the rest of the free world for the destruction and suffering his policies have inflicted on a defenceless people. Once an exporter of food, Zimbabwe citizens are now starving. Tragically, there are many more instances of such cruelty and hypocrisy that plague the UN, which was begun with such high ideals and glowing proclamations
Next time: More about the struggle between the democratic West and the non-free nations within what some have dubbed a house of cards. Are they right?