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Reform of the UN:

Plans to Legitimise the UN as a Tool for US and Big Power Dictate

Workers' Daily Internet Edition: Article Index :

Reform of the UN:
Plans to Legitimise the UN as a Tool for US and Big Power Dictate

A Tale of Two Forums in Worlds Apart

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Reform of the UN:

Plans to Legitimise the UN as a Tool for US and Big Power Dictate

Towards the end of 2004, the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which had been appointed in 2003 by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, published its report entitled "A More Secure World – Our Shared Responsibility". The terms of reference set for the panel required it to examine today's global threats and provide an analysis of future challenges to international peace and security, identify clearly the contribution that collective action can make in addressing these challenges and recommend the changes necessary to ensure effective collective action, including but not limited to a review of the principal organs of the United Nations. It is timely, 60 years after the founding of the UN, particularly given the present international situation, that some serious consideration should be given to the threats to international peace and security and to the role of the UN in confronting these threats.

Unfortunately, however, the report itself reflects the weaknesses which beset this organisation and the urgent need for its renewal on a modern basis if it is to serve the purposes for which it was established.  At its creation in 1945, the UN had 51 member states. Today, this number has grown to 191 but the essential structures remain those of the immediate post war period with a concentration of power in the hands of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council and the marginalisation of the other member states, particularly the oppressed countries. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the fact that permanent security council members like the US and Britain are threatening world peace and security by threatening and unleashing wars of aggression against fellow member states and using their veto wielding power to paralyse the organisation and prevent it from carrying out its responsibilities under its charter. The aggression against Iraq, which the Secretary General himself described as "illegal" being the most recent case in point.

It would have been expected that the high level panel would have addressed this problem in a forthright manner and come forward with ideas on how to confront this threat and defend international peace and security and the very charter of the organisation. Instead, the panel identified six clusters of threats to international peace and security.

These were economic and social threats including poverty, infectious disease and environmental degradation; inter-state conflict; internal conflict, including civil war, genocide and other large scale atrocities; nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism and trans-national crime. In response to these threats, the panel put forward 101 recommendations, which also covered other areas such as the role of sanctions, rules and guidelines for the use of force and reform of the Security Council and general assembly.  At no point, however, did the panel address the pressing need for the abolition of the veto as part and parcel of democratising the organisation.  Consequently, many of the recommendations either have no chance of being realised or far from assisting the organisation to defend its charter and international peace and security actually take it down the road of becoming a vehicle to legitimise colonialism and wars of aggression. For example, recommendation 23 calls on the Security Council to explicitly pledge to take collective action in response to a nuclear attack or threat of such an attack on a non-nuclear weapon state. It is of course widely known that the US openly listed the DPRK as a possible target of a nuclear attack in open violation of its treaty responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. How can the Security Council be expected to take collective action against such a threat in the future as long as the US holds a veto in that body? Given the DPRK's withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty in response to the above situation, recommendation 32 is rather ominous. This states: "A state's notice of withdrawal from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons should prompt immediate verification of its compliance with the treaty, if necessary, mandated by the Security Council..." This is a proposal for the security council to authorise force against states under the banner of "carrying out verification".

Recommendations 13 and 27 hint at a new role for big business within the operations of the UN, which has historically been regarded as an organisation of states. Recommendation 13 states, "The United Nations should work with national authorities, international financial institutions, civil society organisations and the private sector to develop norms governing the management of natural resources for countries emerging from or at risk of conflict". Recommendation 27 calls for States parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention to "without delay return to negotiations for a credible verification protocol, inviting the active participation of the bio-technology industry". In the section on countering the threat of terrorism the proposed definition of terrorism includes no reference to state terrorism, arguing instead that the use of state force against civilians is already regulated by the Geneva Conventions. However, recommendation 43 calls on the Security Council to devise a schedule of pre-determined sanctions for "state non-compliance with the Council's counter terrorism resolutions". With regard to rules governing the UN use of force, recommendation 55 is particularly startling. This reads: "The Panel endorses the emerging norm that there is a collective international responsibility to protect, exercisable by the Security Council authorising military intervention as a last resort, in the event of genocide or other large scale killing, ethnic cleansing or serious violations of humanitarian law which sovereign governments have proved powerless or unwilling to prevent". This is an attempt to wipe out state sovereignty and establish the undemocratic UN Security Council as a kind of world government with ultimate responsibility "for protecting all human beings in all countries". It is, in fact, a licence for unbridled military aggression by the big powers against the world's people under the guise of  "stamping out ethnic cleansing", "preventing genocide and violations of humanitarian law" and so on, while in pursuit of their strategic interests these big powers carry out the very crimes that they are allegedly acting against.

 The United Nations reached a defining moment when the five permanent members of the Security Council could not come to a consensus prior to the US-British aggression against Iraq. As the Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, told the General Assembly on September 24, 2004, "After the aggression on Iraq, there is no United Nations Organisation, understood as a useful and diverse forum, based on the respect for the rights of all and also with guarantees for the small states. It is living through the worst moment of its already forthcoming 60 years. It pales, it pants, it feigns, but it does not work." And this is because the US superpower, with its reliable ally Britain, is totally unwilling to relinquish its privileges and its aim to dominate the entire globe. The High Level Panel has been unable to propose anything but recommendations which legitimise this de facto state of affairs.

The conclusion must be that it is up to the world’s people to mobilise themselves to put a block on the drive to war, aggression and colonialism and to organise to eliminate their source. The peoples and nations who are exploited to the bone by US imperialism and its allies must strengthen their unity and independence in the fight to eliminate the sources of poverty, war and underdevelopment. All attempts to rescue the UN from its impasse by recasting it as an instrument in the service of the US and of Anglo-American "democracy" and values must be vigorously opposed by the working class and people.

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A Tale of Two Forums in Worlds Apart

by Hilmi Toros

Published on January 28, 2005, by the Inter Press Service

PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil – The exclusive mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland has brought together a few select rulers – both economic and political – for a World Economic Forum on "Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices". They have all the luxuries befitting their official status and are ringed by security steel.

The simple river-port city of Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, is hosting some 120,000 members of civil society, or the "ruled", amassed in a World Social Forum under the theme "Another World Is Possible." Some camp in tents at the "Parque Harmonia" or pay as little as five dollars a day to stay with families. There are no metal detectors in sight.

The two forums are being held at the same time but they are set apart by more than distance – thousands of kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean – or by the nature of the weather (Davos is freezing; Porto Alegre is steaming).

The World Economic Forum calls itself "the foremost global community of business, political, intellectual and other leaders of society committed to improving the state of the world."

Meanwhile, the World Social Forum is "an open meeting place for groups and movements of civil society opposed to neo-liberalism and a world dominated by capital or by any form of imperialism."

In Davos, you can hardly get in as potentates discuss "Global Governance Initiative", "strategic corporate philanthropy" or "finding profitable ways to deliver affordable goods and services to the poor."

By contrast, the World Social Forum sees its task as "building a planetary society centred on the human person" and allowing participants to "come together to pursue their thinking, debate ideas democratically, formulate proposals, share their experiences freely, and network for effective action."

In Porto Alegre, you can easily get lost wandering amongst more than 2,500 events scheduled by some 4,000 non-governmental organizations from 112 countries. From dawn to midnight, activities are in progress, ranging from "street debates" to the First World Forum on Information and Communication and an intercontinental movie festival.

Some events are dedicated to indigenous people, black movements and Palestinians. One tent, called "Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Tent", is a show of support for these two countries in their face-off with the United States.

In Davos, British Prime Minister Tony Blair opens a parley that also involves billionaire Bill Gates of Microsoft, chiefs of high-finance banking Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, food giant Nestle, Novartis pharmaceutical company and the New York Stock Exchange among 2,250 participants from 96 countries.

The Davos luminaries also include 20 heads of state or government, 70 cabinet ministers, some labour and religious leaders, as well as a limited number of NGOs.

As a novelty, and somewhat in the spirit of World Social Forums, Davos will have a "Global Town Hall" as an interactive session designed to bring together diverse voices on topics like "Business Perspectives on Multi-stakeholder Partnerships", "Global Corporate Citizenship" and "Mainstreaming Responsible Investment".

Across the Atlantic, the Porto Alegre social fest begins and ends with a Peace March with no particular leader. In between, open and spirited exchanges take place on social, racial, economic, environment, food and health issues.

Perhaps the only known link between the two forums is Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who will attend both events – which some see as a blow to Porte Alegre, while others see him carrying a strong message from civil society to the Davos luminaries.

In fact, veteran observers of world affairs note that, beneath the strong contrasts between the two forums, there also is an undercurrent of the need to seek "partnerships" amongst governments, business and civil society.

Ahead of the formal opening of the two forums, there were "mea culpa" signs from Davos.

"The analysis of 2004 shows that few in either the public or the private sector are doing anywhere near what is necessary to get the world on track to achieve its most important goals," the World Economic Forum announced, adding that "2005 could be the year of change, especially if the formidable energies of private enterprise are harnessed more effectively."

Kate Taylor, director of the World Economic Forum's Global Health Initiative, said: "Too few companies are responding proactively to the social and business threats of HIV/AIDS."

Although 14,000 people contract HIV/AIDS every day, concern among businesses has dropped by 23% in the last 12 months, with most companies (71%) having no policies in place to address the disease, according to an announcement from Davos, while over 65% of the business leaders surveyed could not say or estimate the prevalence of HIV within their own workforce.

In a rare similarity between the two, both forums will have to face the implications of a new element in world politics: the fight against "tyrants" announced by U.S. President George W. Bush, following on "weapons of mass destruction" and "regime change" of his former president father, Bush I (George H.W. Bush).

The U.S.-led "war on global terrorism" has barely gotten a mention in Porto Alegre. While the Davos gathering may link terrorism to global and regional security, the Porto Alegre crowd considers demilitarisation, free trade and debt issues more vital to security.

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