7 June 2008

Don't mess with the UN

By Marguerite Finn

Have you ever thought about doing away with the United Nations and replacing it with something else? American academic Robert Kagan has just written a book about doing precisely that. In his book entitled The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Kagan proposes the establishment of a "league of democracies" which would bind the European Union, Japan, India, Brazil and Australia to the USA. These states would then work together to keep Russia, China and Iran in check, along with other states not wishing to embrace the 'Western' (market-driven and corporation-led) way of life.

However, the main reason for the establishment of a league of democracies is to by-pass the United Nations.

I am a member of the local branch of the United Nations Association (UNA), which exists to support the UN. This year the branch is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding in 1948 when Norwich was emerging from the horrors of World War II and its citizens were determined to prevent such a catastrophe happening ever again. Today, our branch meets regularly to continue its work of supporting the UN and its agencies. It does so because the pulling together of the 192 states which make up the United Nations and the safeguards built into the framework of international law, mean that for all its faults, the UN remains mankind's best hope for justice and peace. The publication of Robert Kagan's book, coinciding with our 60th anniversary, is a reminder of just how important it is to keep the benefits of the UN in the public eye. Kagan is foreign policy advisor to Senator John Mc Cain, who may well be the next President of the US. Senator McCain has stated that if he becomes President, he will set up the league of democracies within his first year in office.

What is behind all this? For Kagan, McCain and those seeking world domination by the US, the 'Age of Diplomacy' is over and the 'War Without End' has begun. The insidious intent behind the rhetoric is to move away from the idea of sovereign states being protected from outside aggression by international law, to a blanket permission for the so-called democratic league to intervene wherever it wishes in order to impose 'democracy' in the furtherance of its own interests. But who is the enemy? Russia is in the frame again, along with China and any fledgling "autocracies" who might be tempted to see them as models. Kagan says: "the new era, rather than being a time of 'universal values' will be one of growing tensions and sometimes confrontation between the forces of democracy and the forces of autocracy". If they have learnt one lesson from the failure of the Iraq war and loss of US legitimacy in the world's eyes, it seems to be that in order to continue their policies of intervention and pre-emption, the US needs an alliance with like-minded friends acting in concert, in a world viewed as being full of potential aggressors needing to be attacked. This will be of great comfort to the military industrial complex. It causes horror and despair in the rest of us.

This new institution would set up a division in the world between Russia, China, Vietnam, some Middle Eastern countries and others, on the one hand and the league of democracies on the other. It would have no claim to international legality should it become a basis for action and not just a talking shop. The current East-West and North-South divides would widen into chasms threatening to engulf all states on the periphery.

Is this what the world needs? The international community is concentrating on finding ways of coping with climate change, food crises, water shortages, petrol rationing, mass migrations, redundant nuclear weapons and nuclear waste. Any move to circumvent the existing institutions and laws of the United Nations would be suicidal for humanity. The infrastructure is there. It does not have to be reinvented at huge cost – it just needs to be reformed and updated.

One of the strongest challenges to the concept a league of democracies has come from Shashi Tharoor, former UN Under-Secretary General – and in my view, possibly the best Secretary General the UN never had. He says: "One doesn't have to be a starry-eyed devotee of the UN to ask everybody to take a deep breath before the runaway popularity of this idea becomes consensual in Washington. No one disagrees that our international institutions need reform to make them reflect the realities of a post-American world, but that's not where the advocates of an alternative are coming from".