Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Kofi just wants to be friends

According to Kofi, the U.S. and the U.N. need to find a way to put their differences behind them because, "The United States needs the United Nations and the United Nations needs the United States". Sorry Kofi, but that's not really true. The U.N. needs the United States; for the U.S. the U.N. is just a 'nice to have'. You might make the case that collectively the world needs the U.N. (or at least something like it), but the U.S.? And the U.S. isn't alone. Does Canada need the U.N. (except to make ourselves feel important, that is?)? Does Sweden? Does Germany? Does Australia? No. These countries are functioning democratic states unlikely to be facing a war at home any time soon. The U.N. could disappear tomorrow and it would make no appreciable differences in the way these states are run. Who does need the U.N? Most of Africa, huge swathes of Asia and the Middle East. But it needs a functioning U.N. It needs a U.N. not run by a man who thinks that the biggest problem the organisation faces is U.S. power.

I haven't jumped on the boot Kofi over the oil-for-food-scandal bandwagon, because frankly I don't think it's the worst thing he's done. What was his response when Romeo Dallaire (a greater Canadian than Tommy Douglas) warned the U.N. that Hutu extremists were about to start slaughtering Tutsis? "We wish to stress that the overriding consideration is the need to avoid entering into a course of action that might lead to the use of force and unanticipated repercussions." 800,000 dead are pretty unfortunate (if not necessarily unanticipated) repercussions I would say. So you see, he shouldn't have been given the job in the first place, but given the current state of the U.N., it's not inappropriate that he is their leader.

The fact of the matter is that the U.N. can have all the attempts at reform that it wants, but what it really needs is a change of attitude. It needs to start with the understanding that a good chunk of the world is a horrible place run by horrible leaders who care very little for their own citizens, not to mention the citizens of other countries. Because not speaking unkind truths doesn't make them less so. It needs to have alternate solutions when America wants to do things that other countries don't agree with. Because frankly, the "more time" arguement that the rest of the world was offering before the Iraq war sounded to me like a child who wanted to stay up past her bedtime, not a reasonable response to a belligerent state. And I keep hearing that Sudan is going to stop slaughtering citizens in Darfur (that's right mainstream media, it's not just a war between rebels and government with citizens in the middle, it's a genocide) and we just need to believe them. Why? What is the reason that we must remain optimistic at all costs? Start from the assumption that undemocratic states will lie to you and go from there.

All states are not equal. There, I said it. The states that follow the U.N. Declaration on Human Rights can be on the Commission on Human Rights, everyone else stays home. I know that it is basically just a debating society and that it has no power (an argument put forth by far too many well-meaning people as a reason why it doesn't really matter). But, first of all, perhaps it should be something more than a glorified debating club, because don't human rights actually matter? Secondly, perhaps it is just a little offensive to people being abused by their governments that those very same governments are sat on the Human Rights Commission. Granted those rotting in jail for opposing a corrupt regime probably have bigger things to worry about, but need we add insult to injury? Not that the Human Rights Commission won't sometimes take a stand, they do occasionally kick out rogue states like the U.S. I mean, who am I to judge? Maybe Sudan and Syria really do bring something to Human Rights dialogue. Maybe, for example, we shouldn't be taking it as a given that humans have rights. Something to consider?

Kofi Annan is the perfect leader for the current U.N. He takes credit for everything that goes right (like when they successfully feed people who escape genocides) and blames the member states when anything goes wrong (basically, the state of the world). Now, there is some truth to the argument that the mess of the world is the fault of the member states. But if your argument is that the U.N. is no greater than the sum of its members, then what is the point?

When Kofi says that the oil-for-food scandal has 'cast a shadow' over the United Nations he is entirely wrong. It has shone a bright light on the reality that is the United Nations. As it currently stands, the UN is nothing more than a body that allows corrupt states who don't believe in the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to gain legitimacy by being in the club. Until states that are honestly dedicated to these values are willing to join together and say that they are not going to pretend any longer that Saudi Arabia is the same as Denmark, then the UN doesn't matter. The U.S. shouldn't have to pretend that it does just because it sounds nice and doesn't offend. Because I've read the Declaration, and I'm pretty sure that not offending isn't in there. Maybe I'll give it another look. Perhaps Kofi should too.

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