Monday, May 29, 2006

Ever hopeful

The China View news agency tells us that the
“Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) urged UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to support Lebanon and put an end to Syrian interference”,
as reported in one of the local newspapers.

Syria, according to this appeal, continues to attack Lebanese troops, invade parts of Lebanese territory, arm Palestinian terrorists for carrying out proxy attacks and carry out smuggling (presumably of arms).

The letter went to GenSec Kofi Annan (father of Kojo), the Security Council, the Interanational Socialist Party, the European Union and other international human rights organizations.

Naturally enough, Syria is denying all accusations, though it has issued an arrest warrant, which, as the Lebanese appeal points out, violates international law, against the leader of the party, Walid Jumblatt.

The warrant was relayed to Beirut via Interpol and is demanding Mr Jumblatt’s extradition to face a military court in Syria on charges of “slander and inciting hatred against Damascus”.

What is so touching about this story is the faith Lebanese politicians seem to place in the tranzis. Their assumption that organizations that have shown themselves ready to negotiate with and fawn on terrorist organizations and dictatorships will lift a finger to defend Lebanon’s freedom and sovereignty.

Possibly, the PSP does not actually believe this but is trying to use every method to bring the situation to the world’s attention. The problems between Syria and Lebanon seem to be relegated below the ever growing Palestinian ones. Even so, the ploy has been less than totally successful. If it were not for the Chinese news agency …

To prove that the situation in Lebanon is volatile, we had (some) news of an attack with Katyusha rockets on northern Israel by Hesbollah and Palestinian Jihad groups. The subsequent “skirmishes” seem to have been resolved by UN negotiators.

(In Lebanon they seemed to behave better than in East Timor where all “non-essential” UN staff has been ordered to leave after renewed fighting had broken out. The Australians have remained and will soon be reinforced by other troops. One wonders who those “non-essential” staff was and why they were there.)

Meanwhile, our own Prime Minister has been sounding off about UN reform, a subject that has become the great political filler. As it happens, my colleague managed to find the only interesting story that came out of the Bush-Blair summit. I have been left to pick up a few remaining pieces, the most interesting of which is Blair’s speech at Georgetown University.

The speech seems to have been vintage Blair with lots of feel-good factors thrown in, a little bit of statesmanship – we cannot pull out of Iraq immediately, we know we have made mistakes but the world must unite in helping Iraq to build up its democracy – and a few rather tame ideas for supposed reform.

Blair, as we know, has always been rather enamoured of transnational organizations interfering a good deal more than they do, already. The long, painful and, ultimately, disastrous trek through the UN before the war in Iraq had been his idea with President Bush going along somewhat reluctantly.

So, having Blair pontificating about the need to reform the UN and other transnational organizations is not particularly surprising. Some newspapers round the world have suggested that he saw the speech as an interview for his next job, SecGen of the United Nations. (Well, Cherie should love that – all those freebies.)

But what did he actually suggest? Expanding the Security Council to include India, Japan, Germany, a Latin American and an African country is not a spectacularly good idea if you want the organization to work. Those of us who think that the UN has had it and the sooner it dies the better, would find the expansion of the Security Council extremely helpful: the bigger it is the more likely is it to get bogged down on every decision. But one must assume that Prime Minister Blair does not actually intend that.

The speech also suggested that the SecGen should be given greater powers over his personnel so that the UN can be made into an effective organization that reacted rapidly to world problems.

For the world, as Mr Blair presciently pointed out, has changed since the days the UN was set up. In fact, it has changed since most of the transnational organizations were set up and they should all be reformed. (One wonders if he feels that the EU belongs to a different era as well.)

The IMF and the World Bank, possibly, should be merged and even if they are not, “there is a powerful case for reform”.

“He also suggested that an international uranium bank held by the International Atomic Energy Agency should supply fuel to all countries with a nuclear energy program.”
In other words, there was very little new in his speech, even though it seems to have caught the journalists’ attention all over the world. As the Times put it in its editorial:

“The Prime Minister’s larger theme, one that has come to define him as a politician, is that the world must urgently get to grips with the consequences of interdependence (globalisation is not a word Labour politicians care much to use). When turmoil can spread like wildfire and even the powerful United States can be affected “at breakneck speed and fundamentally” by events beyond its shores, politicians need to understand that “the rule book of international politics has been torn up” and “traditional views of national interest” are perilously out of date.

“Intervention, far beyond our borders” will often be required. For such necessary activism to be acceptable, ways must be found to involve “the international community” in joint strategies to tackle global problems and promote democracy. This means much more than military action, and includes supporting a greater flow of information and education initiatives.”
Does this speech really matter? Well, yes and no. It could be that Mr Blair is looking for another job, not being all that interested in sitting at home and writing his memoirs whenever he or the electorate finally decides that he must go. And, of course, he has always mouthed platitudes about the need for international co-operation and well-meaning interventionism led by transnational bodies.

Other reactions, like the ones in Indian newspapers limited themselves to concentrating on what matters to them – a seat on the Security Council (though why any self-respecting country should want one, I cannot even imagine).

Then there is the Chinese reaction. China is vehemently opposed to Japan acquiring a seat on the Security Council and is equally vehemently opposed to a US-Japanese sponsored suggestion of a reform in payments into the UN kitty. At present China and Russia, both rather large and with permanent seats on the Security Council pay considerably less than Japan does, a state of affairs, they would obviously like to continue.

It was, therefore, interesting to read an article in the Chinese business newspaper, published in Hong Kong, the Standard, which managed to attack Blair without mentioning the real problem: his support for Japan acquiring a permanent seat on that Council.

According to Toby Harnden and Patrick Hennessy (familiar and unChinese names) Blair had been forced by the White House to water down his speech. Their evidence for this is somewhat tenuous and seems to consist of whispers from various officials who had briefed journalists in one way while the speech went differently.

There seems little of any importance that he might have said if Karl Rove or whoever had not locked him up and threatened to make him listen to endless repeats of David Cameron on Desert Island Discs if he did not do as he was told. Can’t blame the man for giving in.

“He also backed away from a planned demand for a major change in the running of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Blair had intended to spell out a plan for Europe and the United States to give up their exclusive rights to install their own nationals as heads of the bank and the IMF respectively. This would help persuade smaller nations to give up their effective right to choose the United Nations secretary general, in favor of a move to install a leading international figure. Instead, Blair's speech glossed over the issues, merely citing a "powerful case for reform."

Another planned section was intended to take a tough line on global warming and the Kyoto Treaty, which Washington still has not signed. In the event, Blair merely claimed: "We must act on climate change," but did not go into detail. At this point, as a mobile phone rang in the audience, he even made a joke about American interference. "I hope that's not the White House telling me they don't agree with that," he said. "They act very quickly, these guys."”
It seems Blair still knows how to play his audience. Or his speech writers do. But, as it happens, none of that is sinister. He has been known to go “soft” on Kyoto before. In any case, anyone who is not obsessed with the idea of Al Gore becoming President would have realized that the Kyoto signatories have not reduced their emission and there are serious and growing scientific doubts being cast on that agreement and the whole notion that global warming is getting worse or being caused necessarily by human behaviour.

As for China, it did not sign up to Kyoto and has no intention of doing so or of closing down any of its newly opened coal stations. No doubt Al Gore will add a few thousand more air miles and fly his private plane to Beijing to remind them of their duty. Or maybe not.

The really frustrating part of all this burbling, whether by politicians or journalists, is that all of it represents a lost opportunity. The world has changed and is changing very rapidly and some decisions need to be taken as to how we shall deal with those changes. Every speech, every article, every paper that prattles on about reform of existing transnational organizations avoids those hard discussions and decisions.

Somehow it does not surprise me that Tony Blair should make one of those speeches of avoidance.


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