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Of Nuclear Giants and Ethical Infants

Anwaar Hussain, Fountainhead

In the democracy of the dead all men at last are equal. There is neither rank nor station nor prerogative in the republic of the grave. John James Ingalls.

May 18, 2005

The United Nations Organization was set up by the victorious allies at the end of World War II. The founding charter was endorsed by 51 countries. Today 191 states send delegates to the General Assembly.

The opening of 21st century witnessed a severe mauling of this august body. The supposed custodian of world peace, the United Nations was hammered into subservience in the run-up to the Iraq war. The United States and Britain, the Big Two out of the Big Five, trampled upon the world opinion with a rude disdain. Loyalties were bought and sold in plain sight. This brazen demonstration of naked ambitions was openly backed by a crude display of elephantine might. The world stood aghast as a helpless bystander paying an anguished accolade to this vulgar show of unbridled power.

As if the United States was in want of a sledge hammer to bully further the already cowed United Nations, or to terrorize any more the by now sufficiently humbled UN, it went ahead and nominated John Bolton as US Ambassador to the UNO…a man known for affectionately keeping a mock grenade in his office. Whatever the outcome of this nomination, the gesture itself is a ringing declaration of American derision for the organization and the rest of the world. It sends a clear message that the United States will not listen to any one and will pursue its own obsessive agenda in the face of a now-universal opposition.

With Iran and Syria firmly in the Neoconservatives’ crosshairs, and North Korea not a very distant blip on the horizon, this recommendation rings ominous bells nonstop. The world is stunned at the choice of a person who in 1994 asserted that "there is no such thing as the United Nations" and later that "if the UN Secretariat building in New York lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference."

The preamble of the United Nations Charter states categorically that it is determined "to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small…." Accordingly, the purpose of the United Nations is "to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…" Article 2 of chapter-1 of the UN Charter clarifies further that in pursuit of this purpose the "organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its members." Dizzying ideals, if there ever were ones.

Note the lofty words 'equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small' and 'sovereign equality of all its members'. Also please note the veto power of the five permanent powers, the more equal among the equals. Am I the only one seeing the enshrined hypocrisy?

A cursory glance at the UN charter is enough to make out the implied democratic spirit of this eminent body. Without bating an eyelash, though, the founding members went ahead and granted themselves the veto power which is any thing but. With one stroke the five holy cows, the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China arrogated to themselves a status more equal than the rest.

Here are some interesting facts about the veto power usage of the Big Five;

In the 60-year history of the United Nations, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have vetoed more than 250 proposals. Few were for major issues; most were during petty wrangling to block admission of members or nominees to the Security Council. Almost half the number has been cast by the now-faded Russia in its hey days. The United States has invoked its veto power 76 times, usually to ward off condemnations of Israel’s actions.

With the withering away of Russia, the United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to have used its veto power frequently in recent years.

In addition to the 251 public vetoes, the permanent members have cast 43 vetoes during closed sessions of the Security Council to block nominees for UN secretary-general. Beijing has cast a veto only four times since it took China’s Security Council seat in 1972, invariably to enforce its view that it and not Taiwan is the rightful government of the country. France also has used its veto power 18 times, usually in teamwork with the United States and Britain, and only twice on its own, to defend its interests in Indochina and in the Indian Ocean.

For a long time, among other things, two major factors distinguished the Big Five from the rest…the bomb and the ability to project its devastation at longer distances. Ironically, today after 60 years and a thoroughly changed world makeup, the USA, China and the three washed out glories continue to be the permanent five and, therefore, the veto-wielders.

Being an antithesis of the essence of democracy, the veto power of the Big Five desecrates the very soul of the United Nations. An international organization whose members do not have equal rights is anti-democratic, whatever its charter may preach. Only those issues are given universal legality that are blessed by a privileged few, regardless of how the rest of the countries think on these issues. The General Assembly, where the not-so-equals sit, may churn out resolution after resolution; it is the Security Council where these are sanctified to the status of international law. John Bolton was not way far off the mark in his ten-stories-less comment about the United Nations. It is in these ten odd stories that the majority of the General Assembly members have their offices.

On no other issue is this dichotomy more clearly exemplified than in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Innumerable resolutions passed by the General Assembly condemning this or that feature of Israeli policy have been quashed by a US veto, sometimes for the mere tone and tenor of the wording more than for anything else. This misuse of the veto power has alienated the majority of countries. They argue that the right that was originally given to the five to protect international peace and security, was now being used to stop the UNSC from merely expressing concern on conditions in a certain region or from even sending there something as innocuous as a fact-finding committee to look into tension in those areas.

After putting the recently mauled humanity to sleep with the lofty words given in the preamble of the United Nations Charter in the aftermath of the 2nd World War, the Big Five immediately went to work in the shadowy business of peace keeping in certain other regions of the world. Thus the world witnessed the continued American-blessed Israeli occupation of Palestine since 1948, the Korean war of 1950-53, the Vietnam war of 1954-73, the Anglo-French attack on Suez Canal in 1956, the USSR invasion of Hungary in 1956, the USSR invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the United States’ Gulf War of 1990-91, the Russian invasion and occupation of Chechnya in 1990, the United States’ invasion and occupation of Afghanistan since 2001 and the current United States’ invasion and occupation of Iraq since 2003.

For any system to be governed democratically…be it a state, organization, union, group, association, club, collection or an assembly…its constituent elements must enjoy equal status. Democracy is about these elements and the power that they are given to participate in making all policy decisions. It is revoltingly undemocratic that the fortunes of millions of people of the world are given to a few people to decide.

The veto is a creation of powerful nations, without popular legitimacy and authority, and is, therefore, fundamentally undemocratic. The rest of the nations are relegated to mere pawns and also-rans. This philosophy of 'trust me, I know best' is both antiquated and unreasonable. The abuse of the veto power has indeed caused, rather than relieved, numerous problems and conflicts over the past decades. To add insult to the injury, being mere apologies of their former selves, some of these once-powerful nations are no more what they once were.

The long overdue reform of the Security Council is a serious issue of major political and strategic significance for the international community. The membership of the United Nations, which is supposed to work to support democracy, participation, transparency and accountability in the world, must be governed by the same principles in deciding upon the issues relating to the membership and the work of the Security Council. The objective must be the growth of a clearly democratic and truly representative Security Council in which there are no sacred cows.

The UN has been a study in hypocrisy since its founding. All united under one council, except for the big five who are above the law, is as ironic as it is laughable. No reform can be suggested as no reform is possible when the suggestion itself can be vetoed by any of the Big Five.

Only because the five "founding" nations have a veto, they have had an international body that they have been ruthlessly using to push their own agendas and bully other nations into doing what the "collective" wants. One fervently wishes for the day when the real collective does finally wake up. For on that day the Big Five will have to, for once, use their veto power to actually protect themselves from the wrath of that real collective. That will also be the day when the John Boltons of this world will shine in their true luster.

In a world beset by so many conflicts, and the only super power having gone berserk to the extent that it is being seen more as a part of the problem than the solution, it is hard to look for silver lining to the dark clouds of gloom. With the chilling nuclear saber rattling by so many actors on the world stage, and the games that these nuclear giants and ethical infants want to play, we may all end up in John James Ingalls democracy of the dead in not too distant a future…with all men equal at last.

Despite being a military man, General Omar N. Bradley captured the very essence of it all when he said, "The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants."

Copyrights : Anwaar Hussain
Email : eagleeye@emirates.net.ae



:: Article nr. 11842 sent on 19-may-2005 01:47 ECT

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