Monday, January 24, 2005

Everybody's doing it

Things have come to a pretty pass. Here we have John Bercow, the ultra-bouncy Conservative MP, currently, I believe, out of the Shadow Cabinet but in the past spokesman on aid and international development, attacking, yes, actually attacking the UN. Blimey. What have we started?

Well, no, I suppose, we did not exactly start this but this blog has been in the forefront of the attacks on the UN and all other unaccountable and self-perpetuating, self-satisfied transnational organization (the dreaded tranzis, as they were named by David Carr, the libertarian lawyer and prolific contributor to Samizdata).

The Spectator article is particularly apposite, not because of the recently announced plans for the reform of the UN, which is its theme, but because another piece of news in the Sunday Telegraph tells us that a second UN official – so far unnamed publicly – is being accused of taking money from Saddam Hussein in the food for oil scandal. The minnow, Iraqi born American businessman, Samir Vincent, is out to get the perches.

Mr Bercow writes more in sorrow than in anger, as befits a statesman in training, but he does make some very good points. Starting with the clear inadequacies of the UN in the post-tsunami period, he shakes his head metaphorically over the fall of this “once great body”.

To prove this rather peculiar description he refers back to the UN Millennium Declaration, which called it “the indispensable common house of the entire human family”. I suppose somebody out there might know what that means but even they might query the word indispensable.

Let us not forget, furthermore, that the declaration was written post-Rwanda, post-Bosnia, post-numerous other appalling failures, some of which Mr Bercow lists in his article.

To be fair, he does, after giving a list of sins of omission, points to those of commission, namely the ridiculousness of an organization proclaiming itself as the conscience of the world, having the sort of members that it does have.
“The report laments the fact that the UN General Assembly ‘has lost vitality and often fails to focus effectively on the most compelling issues of the day’.That’s all well and good, but it is hardly the stuff to make tyrants quake in their boots. Surely the priority should be to enforce the Charter and kick out those states which repeatedly flout it? Article 4 of the Charter refers to the
need for a ‘common standard of achievement of human rights by all peoples’. Article 6 makes it clear that a state which persistently violates the principles of the Charter may be expelled from the organisation. In the 1970s South Africa was expelled. In the 1990s Liberia, Haiti, Cambodia and Sierra Leone were shown the door. In 2005 Burma, Sudan, North Korea, Zimbabwe and Uzbekistan, to name but five bestial oppressors, are still full members of the club. If the UN seeks respect from the world, it must show respect for itself. It must stop appeasing rogue states and start confronting them. If that means parting company with a large number of its members which are either not democracies in the Western sense of the term, or are not democracies in any sense at all, so be it.”
The report also, apparently, finds that the UN’s Human Rights Commission does not command sufficient respect in the world. Indeed not, one might think, chaired by Libya and having members like Sudan or Zimbabwe. That, it seems, is not the problem. Well, we do not quite know what is the problem, but, whatever it is, it will be solved by putting all the UN members on the Commission. A discussion between the representatives of North Korea and Zimbabwe on the finer points of human rights legislation would be well worth hearing.

In the meantime Kofi Annan (father of Kojo, of food for oil scandal fame) has done what the leader of every bemired international organization does to clean the Augean stables: he has appointed a British civil servant, Mark Malloch Brown, currenly head of the UN Development Programme, to be his chief of staff. I suppose this tendency could be seen as a compliment to the British civil service.

Mr Malloch Brown has been making various rather chatty statements about how he sees the UN developing:
“It’s a trade-off between security and development. A legitimate international security system has to address poor people’s security threat, not just rich people’s. While the US and some of its European allies may see terrorism and rogue states as the principal threat, for poor people it’s poverty and AIDS. Unless you can show a total system that addresses that constituency’s needs as well as rich people’s, you will continue to have a Security Council whose legitimacy is not accepted, whose authority is compromised.”
Well, well, well. Now we know why British civil servants are so highly valued. They can use language that is clear and specific and still obfuscate everything; they can make pronouncements that sound wise and politic and mean absolutely nothing.

To start with, what kind of legitimacy does the Security Council have in most parts of the world and how does it enforce its authority? And while we are on the subject, the word “constituency” is a tad misleading. No election or process of accountability is involved, as I understand it.

It seems, the UN is to be a kind of universal Santa Claus, bringing peace and happiness, love and healing to all, according to their needs and desires. How, precisely, is it going to solve poverty and AIDS? I know there is that paper, demanding that aid to Africa be doubled, but does anybody really believe that is going to solve anything?

Then again, there is this question of the different fears and worries. I don’t know where Mr Malloch Brown has been all this time, but most of us have noted that terrorists do not discriminate between rich and poor – all are grist to their mill. And rogue states are usually severely oppressive ones, which make the poor suffer and poverty increase. What makes him think, these are not problems for the poor?

Mr Brown points to three areas that will require his and Mr Annan’s attention in 2005:

Management reivtalization and personnel change that has already started; changing the cultural and business outlook, adding accountability to the UN’s management system; and thirdly, there is the “vision thing”.

So far, the “vision thing” seems to be changes in the management and the running of the organization on a somewhat larger scale: enlarging the Security Council, calling on industrialized countries to increase financial support, i.e. give more aid, to the tyrants of the developing countries … woops … sorry to the developing countries and …. errm …. that seems to be it.

Mr Malloch Brown seems reluctant to tackle the main problem, touched on by Mr Bercow in his article: just precisely how is the UN to implement any of its supposed principles when the majority of its members do not acknowledge them or, even, understand them.

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