The Secretary General’s Report on UN ReformsIPSweb
In September 2005, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly discussed Kofi Annan’s report on UN Reforms in its Annual Session.
Policy Perspectives, Vlm, 3 No.1
In September 2005, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly discussed Kofi Annan’s report on UN Reforms in its Annual Session. The report, if adopted as it is, has the potential to bring about a sea change in the spirit and direction of the Charter given to the UN sixty years ago in 1945. If the previous Charter had made the UN somewhat responsive to the aspirations of emerging nations, the revised one appears fully capable of depriving them of their sovereignty and independence. It would subordinate them to a global order orchestrated by those “broadly representative of realities of power in today’s world.” It would pave the way for setting up a Directorate of the sole superpower and ten of its likeminded countries to oversee the 192 UN Members. It is expected that the superpower, joined by the permanent members in the UN Security Council (UNSC), would neutralize China and Russia, as proposed by Annan.
Annan’s report, titled “In larger freedom: Towards development, security and human rights for all,” is an 87-page document divided into six sections (222 paragraphs) and one annexure. In the first section, Introduction: a historic opportunity in 2005 (p. 3), Annan explains – in fact pleads – that “larger freedom” includes “development, security and human rights.” For this, he exhorts “the imperative of collective action” and then stresses that it is “time to decide” (p. 5). This is the Utopia Kofi Annan intends to sell and seems busy in erecting the new system of a global government; he avoids using the term ‘global government’ but evidently means the same.
In the first five pages of his report, there is an impassioned appeal for implementing his recommendations. He identifies three goals for the unstated global government system under the UN label: one, Freedom from Want (Section II); two, Freedom from Fear (Section III) (where he actually means terror); and three, Freedom to Live in Dignity (Section IV). He then elaborates his plan to make the UN the global focal point for all efforts to achieve these aims. Finally, in the Annex, Annan fervently appeals to the heads of the states and the governments to agree to his recommendations quickly as there could be no better time for this collective system to start operation than the present.
In the report’s introduction, Annan claims, “We can halve global poverty, and halt the spread of the major known diseases in the next ten years. We can reduce the prevalence of the violent conflicts and terrorism … [by] forging a set of updated international institutions …” (p. 1)
Kofi Annan’s report stresses sanctimonious ideals without pinning them down to any concrete facts or reality, as if, just by joint deliberations in the United Nations Organization (UNO), the problems he identifies can be halved in a decade or so. This is oversimplification. Global poverty has been caused by extreme imbalance in the level of prosperity of the Third World vis-à-vis the rich world due to the gradual transfer of the resources of the poor countries over two centuries – a process, which is continuing even today. The GDP of the rich countries today stands at 83 percent of the world, leaving only 17 percent for the poor. About a century and a half ago, it was the other way around; the Third World countries had 83 percent and Europe and America, 17 percent. The picture was reversed by various mechanisms. No magic wand can halve global poverty in ten years. Global poverty is due to an unjust economic order. The rich would strongly resist its rectification. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is probably a mechanism whereby the imbalance is likely to be further extenuated[KAK1] .
Many factors are involved in reducing the great imbalances in national incomes of the Third World countries vis-à-vis the rich nations. If the USA cannot sign the Quito Environment Treaty [KAK2] on the plea that it will affect the prosperity of America’s common man because it would mean reducing or drastically controlling industrial production, how can it be expected to accept a redistribution of the GDP, without which the level of global prosperity cannot be raised, nor the problem of environment, so necessary for “the halt of the major known diseases,” resolved. Some of the deadly diseases like AIDS are, in fact, a result of the moral laxity or permissiveness that follows from an extremist conception of human rights, in which promiscuity and homosexuality are acceptable. Legalizing homosexual marriages in the name of human rights is a step towards the encouragement of AIDS, not its control.
Health problems or the spread of major known diseases, again, are issues too deep to be handled by international cooperation alone. Sanitation issues, slum dwellings, lack of clean water, and provision of medicines and medical aid are major headaches of local governments and states, and are rooted in a vicious circle of poverty, poor living conditions and disease. When the specifics of the world’s problems are spelt out, it becomes clear that the issues are too stupendous to be removed quickly. The belief that they can be overcome in such a short span of time can at best be considered a dream or wishful thinking; using fanciful clichés, Annan’s report unrealistically minimizes the magnitude of the problem.
It is regrettable that the report’s 16-Member High Level Panel and 250 experts have tried to sell a dream, a fairy tale, without stating how this dream can come true. All the talk of wages in many countries being less than a dollar a day is no longer news. What would be interesting—but remains beyond comprehension—is how this situation can be rectified without drastically revising the existing world economic order. Indeed, a realistic approach to treating the deep-rooted malaise is missing in Annan’s recommendations.
Annan’s aim of making measurable progress on “peace, security, disarmament, human rights and good governance” is unlikely to be achieved. Incidentally, it is naïve to talk of disarmament when the sole superpower is continually producing, on the basis of formal research, deadlier weapons of mass destruction. As for peace and security, Annan talks of these issues in the abstract and avoids mentioning any of the major issues of peace that require immediate attention. The nearest he comes to concrete discussion is: “And of course none of the proposals advanced here obviate the need for urgent action this year to make progress in resolving protracted conflicts that threaten regional and global stability” (p. 4). However, he does not mention a single conflict like Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq, or Afghanistan. What is his justification for this?
‘The imperative of collective action’—the central theme of Annan’s ‘Reforms’—is the right phrase used for the wrong purpose. Who can disagree with the idea? It is the main purpose of the UN. But this innocent phrase is a veil for establishing a kind of world government and, ipso facto, a trio: a UNSC dominated by the superpower and its associates; the UN as the platform; and all other powers as the objects. This is the real intention underlying phrases such as “the only universal body with a mandate” (referring to the UN) and “forging a set of updated international institutions.” Under such high-sounding terms as Freedom from want, Freedom from fear, and Freedom to live in dignity, Annan’s recommendations would reduce member states to the status of subordinate agencies of the powers dominating the UNSC.
In this respect, Annan’s Reforms are in conflict with the existing UNO Charter of 1945. The charter made the UNO an organization of sovereign equal states, which had come together on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation. The Charter states, “The organization is based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its members.”• Today, Kofi Annan is moving away from the existing Charter when he says: “Our organization was built for a different era…not all our current practices are adapted to the needs of the day” (p. 57). The very title, “Reforms in larger freedom,” implies that he is trying to take away the ‘lesser’ freedoms of sovereignty and equality. What Kofi Annan is aiming at is a new so-called United Nations with a framework for World Government in which the world would be governed in the name of the UN by the dictate of the Big Powers and their second-fiddle allies like India, Japan, Brazil and Germany. Thus, instead of cooperation, which is the spirit of the existing Charter, Annan wants the UN to be controlled by a new group of powers, which according to him truly reflect the “geopolitical realities of today.” All other nations of the world shall have to lose sovereignty. It is to be noted that Annan praises China and India for “the most dramatic reduction in extreme poverty in the last 25 years,” omitting to mention even better examples of the Asian Tigers, which had improved the people’s living standards in a limited region in the south much before India did.
It is difficult to understand what can be done by “forging international institutions” for the goals identified by Annan. These problems require social weal[KAK3] , improved standards of sanitation, and development of social habits, which are hard to achieve all of a sudden. The responsibility for these reforms lies with the national governments. Although international institutions and organizations can play a very useful role in providing the latest knowledge about the problems, they cannot substitute for responsibilities that lie with the national governments. The motivation for improvement and exhortation for change of sanitation or lifestyle can come only from a national government, more so if it is a representative government.
What do human rights mean without independence? One of the first human rights is freedom. Who will decide what the human right is in a certain situation, for example in the massacre of Falluja, and the humiliation of the prisoners of Abu Gharaib or Guantanamo Bay, described by some human rights organizations as the new Gulag? Kofi Annan implies that the Big Powers could violate the human rights with impunity, and sermonizes that they be respected by the weaker and the smaller states.
Kofi Annan shows no concern for the political freedom of people under occupation or for those struggling for self-determination for over half a century now. In fact, it is the snatching away of their freedom that is fuelling and fanning terrorism today. There are two sides to the coin: denial of the right of self-determination to a people, and the resultant terrorism. Annan mentions only one side of it. He does not mention the causes once, but delves in depth in the manifestations and the effects. The questions of liberation struggles or the right of self-determination of the people of Kashmir, Palestine, and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have no mention in his report. It looks as if Kofi Annan considers UNSC Resolutions on such conflicts as outdated. Thus, he has dropped the curtain on the raging conflicts and, by implication, believes that they are of no concern at international fora.
The report has the following to say about transnational terrorism: “It is time to set aside the debate on so-called state terrorism. The use of force by states is already thoroughly regulated under international law” (p. 35). The word ‘regulated’ implies that international law is being implemented where it is violated in a normal manner. Is this so? Is it being applied in a normal manner? By whom? The International Court of Justice? One wishes that the so-called international law could be seen to be a reality. Where was it implemented? In Kashmir? Palestine? Iraq? When the victims see their own abodes destroyed and their people killed or maimed mercilessly, their cities reduced to rubble, and the bottom knocked out of their lives, they do take direct action against injustice, as is human nature. Such atrocities are the breeding and recruiting grounds of terrorists. Kofi Annan does not address the problem and instead wants the people under occupation to bear stoically all atrocities, such as those in Falluja and Abu Gharaib.
If the so-called recommendation is to qualify anything, it should not apply to ‘state terrorism’ but to international law, which exists on paper, but has no teeth of its own. When it gets a denture from some Western power, it bites. It was in the Nuremberg Trials in 1946 that the international law was implemented in letter and spirit for the first and the last time. Since then the victor on the vanquished has selectively applied it[KAK4] . Who will apply it, for example, on the Coalition Forces in Iraq, or on the Indian Army in Kashmir?
The crux of the issue is how to eradicate the root cause of terrorism. The report has given no thought to this aspect. Its recommendations are reactionary and rigid, and serve to legitimize the occupiers’ atrocities. In this way, Annan seems to legitimize the pursuit of the aggressive policies of the US, India, and Israel in the occupied areas. While themselves pursuing the most aggressive militaristic policies, the occupying powers preach to the rest of the world that there can be no military solution to any problem and ask that problems be solved by dialogue.
As regards recommendations to expand the UN Security Council, Annan says a “change in the Council’s composition is needed to make it more representative of the international community as a whole.” And then he lays down the criteria for the proposed new permanent members as countries that: (a) represent “geopolitical realities of the world”; (b) contribute the most to the UN financially, militarily and diplomatically in terms of UN’s assessed budget; (c) are more representative of the developing world; (d) do not impair the effectiveness of the Council; and (e) would increase the democratic and accountable nature of the body (pp. 60-61).
In today’s one-superpower world, with China and Russia as somewhat countervailing powers, if someone suggests that the addition of, say, India, Japan, Germany and Brazil to the UNSC is going to change the geopolitical realities of the world, he is being naive. Moreover, if the UNSC is to be remodelled, the suggestions should be made on the basis of new economic realities, particularly of the developing world, of the oil belt, the Association of South East Asian Nations [KAK5] (ASEAN), New Economic Order, etc., and not on extraneous considerations of financial, military, and diplomatic contributions to the UN. The UN records show that it is the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the former Socialist world that contributed the most to the UN diplomatically. ‘Militarily’ is a dangerous word, smacking of imperialist adventurism, unless it means peace keeping functions, which have so far proceeded satisfactorily. As regards UN budgets, they are inordinately bloated, there is considerable moon shining[KAK6] in UN jobs, and the UN needs to learn to live within its means.
The two other conditions need be taken separately. One, what does Annan mean that new UNSC members “should not impair effectiveness of the Council.” This is mysterious terminology. It seems to refer to some countries that differ with the powers that be on their policies.
Similarly, the words “they should increase democratic and accountable nature of the organization” is quite meaningless unless veto power, which enshrines dictatorship in the Council, is abolished. There had been a universal demand for eliminating the veto and making the UNSC and General Assembly democratic. The General Assembly is nothing more than a wailing wall as its resolutions are not binding, and even UNSC Resolutions are not binding unless they are taken under Chapter VII of the Charter. Thus, the UN, with all these limitations on majority votes, is itself undemocratic. One might say, Physician heal thyself. Reorganization of the UN is not a matter of increasing numbers while retaining the same system. Increasing the number of UNSC members would be a charade; it is the undemocratic system that needs to be discarded.
In sum, Kofi Annan’s report suffers from a lack of sympathy for the problems of the Third World. It is regrettable that a man from Africa should be so unsympathetic to struggles for liberation.
• Charter of the United Nations, Chapter 1 “Purposes and Principles”, Article 2, No. 1. (Available: http://www.un.org/aboutun/charter/chapter1.htm)
[KAK1]Please confirm that this is the intended word. It implies that WTO is being used to justify the imbalance (as opposed to deepening/extending the imbalance)
[KAK4]Not clear. Its application has been selective?