A review of Kofi Annan’s recent UN reform proposals and a look at the US National Intelligence Council’s recent report ‘Mapping the Global Future’ from its ‘Global Vision 2020’ project which points to the emergence of a new Caliphate.
Reforming the UN – What Difference Will it Make?
Talk of UN reform intensified following the US led invasion of Iraq. Some feared that the marginalisation of the body might render it absolute and expose the world to a new era of unchecked power and conflict. Kofi Annan has recently presented member states with a proposed reform package that he hopes will meet the challenges. Previous attempts at reform may yet haunt his proposals but for global peace and security, talk of UN reform is arguably the wrong debate.
On Monday 21st March 2005, Kofi Annan presented his proposed UN reforms to a gathering of the 191 member General Assembly. Dubbed by some as the most extensive and far-reaching changes to the UN since its inception, Kofi Annan attempted to address some of the biggest challenges to have recently confronted the UN, now in the year of its sixtieth anniversary. Kofi Annan’s proposals, which will be voted on later this year and will need a two thirds majority in the General Assembly to be passed, came after his “High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change”, set-up in November 2003 to urgently investigate UN reform, presented their conclusions in a report titled “A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility” in December 2004.
Kofi Annan set-up his 16 member panel, constituted from as many countries, after the future relevance of the UN came under serious scrutiny in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Having been unable to prevent the US from occupying Iraq, the UN was accused of serious failures if not incompetence by both the advocates of war – for failing to sanction the use of force against a potential threat – and those opposed to war, for not restraining US unilateralism. Annan’s own words summed up talk of the UN’s prospects at the time, when in his annual report to the General Assembly in 2003 he said, “Rarely have such dire forecasts been made about the UN…We have reached a fork in the road…a moment no less decisive than 1945 itself, when the UN was founded.” Some of Annan’s key proposals for reform include the expansion of the UN Security Council to 24 members with the possibility of 6 new non-veto carrying permanent members, an ‘agreed’ definition of terrorism to ensure that Chechens and Palestinians can’t get away with calling themselves ‘liberators’ or ‘freedom fighters’, and the acceptance of pre-emptive strikes under certain circumstances although not against ‘latent’ threats.
Talk of UN reform is not new however. Boutros-Ghali’s 1992 report ‘An Agenda for Peace’ addressed similar questions at the end of the Cold War. Working groups set up following his report also looked into Security Council expansion and the UN’s bureaucracy and financing; issues taken on by his successor Kofi Annan. In over thirteen years, the only serious changes to the UN have been those that tinker with the edges, targeted at making the institution more efficient, financially sustainable and better at handling its budget (although in the light of oil-for-food corruption allegations, this remains questionable). None of the changes have dealt with the essence of the UN as an institution at the cornerstone of international relations; changes have been mostly confined to operational efficiency. Debates over the expansion of the permanent members of the UN Security Council have long continued without agreement as national interests have forced nation states into deadlock; China has opposed Japan’s admission, Pakistan has opposed India’s admission and Italy has not always supported has opposed German accession if it is left out as a result and so the debate wrangles on. The working group set up after Boutros-Ghali’s report to investigate Security Council expansion simply gave up in the mid-nineties.
Even if one were to leave aside previous deadlocks, if the UN assembly votes to pass Kofi Annan’s reform package, agrees on the members of the expanded Security Council members and their powers as well as other changes and alterations to the UN, what change would that really herald? Not much. The UN will still support a two tier international system: a Security Council and a General Assembly. It will still institutionally enshrine the power of the powerful and legalise their dominance over other countries. The change will only identify and put the emerging global powers into its top tier and afford them the privileges that go with being on the Security Council, with or without the veto. The privileges for the victors of the Second World War, who comprise the current permanent seats on the Security Council will certainly not diminish; they will keep their permanent seats and their veto, – the veto possibly exclusively stillwill not be extended to new permanent members. The use of the veto has long been a contentious issue particularly for the developing world and the history of its use over the UN’s history has given rise to many a claim of the UN being a front for the national interests of its most powerful, permanent members, particularly the US. The US over a period of thirty years has used the veto on more occasions than all other permanent member states put together; it has used the veto thirty times in favour of just one country – Israel – and its threat of the use of its veto has prevented numerous resolutions ever coming to the table. But ultimately the UN is just what it says it is – an assembly of nation states. Nations will act according to their national interest and those with global ambitions will seek to project those interests internationally; and so enshrining some nations over others through committees with privileged power such as the Security Council affords pre-eminence to some national interests and while subjugating others. That speaks of an inherent flaw, not a mild irritation, in the UN structure and Annan’s reform proposals won’t fundamentally change this reality.
The event that prompted Annan to accelerate talk of UN reform and set up his panel of experts was the US led invasion of Iraq. , the discussion The panel around which grappled with a rather strange dichotomy: how to make the UN more relevant to the US. It is strange because of the consequences of its logic. To make the UN relevant to the US is to make it more attractive for the US to work within – not outside – the UN system. Yet as many advocates argue there will be times when the UN may have to restrain an increasingly belligerent US; something the US and its partisan political elite will vehemently oppose. What does that mean for both the UN and the US? Either it supports reforming the UN in a manner that will encourage the US to pursue its interests through the UN framework – giving credibility to claims that it is powerless in the face of the interests of its most powerful member states – or for the US to adapt and to treat the UN and the international system with more respect than it did during its invasion of Iraq. There is arguably truth in both the UN and the US needing to make changes, of the UN responding to changing times and exhibiting flexibility or the US recognising that unilateralism is not always the best option as the case of Iraq has demonstrated. But it is the former not the latter which is paradoxical; that the UN has to be altered in some way to accommodate US interests. The discussion Annan has introduced around pre-emption still doesn’t go far enough for some US hardliners and would probably still have failed to legalise the US invasion of Iraq. However the re-invigoration of the UN reform debate and some of its substance is certainly geared towards attracting the US. This, however, leaves us with the same problem; that while the actions of some countries who contravene the UN charter attract force and sanction, those of others signal talk of reforming the UN itself.
US Secretary of State at the time of the UN’s establishment, Cordell Hull, hailed it as the key to “the fulfilment of humanity’s highest aspirations”. The preamble to the UN charter declares that the UN was “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and so any talk of reform should ideally centre on making the UN more capable of achieving just that. The UN has failed to prevent numerous wars and conflicts since its inception: the Economist counts 680 inter-state wars up until 1989 that passed with impunity and failures in Somalia, Rwanda, Kosovo, the Congo and indeed Iraq all come to mind in the decade since. But can the grand objectives of achieving world peace and security ever be left to an institution? In the UN’s defence, its architects tasked it with a responsibility an institution alone can never achieve. The talk should not be about reforming institutions, but re-examining values – the values and political philosophies that nations adopt and which drive foreign policy decisions determine whether war is fought and for what reason. Wars and conflicts have been waged in the name of fascism, nationalism, communism, spreading freedom and democracy and economic interests. The situation has often been exacerbated by foreign policies built on utility that have acted to advance interests at the expense of others. Nationalism and the interests of nation states have arguably brought about deadlock at the UN, rendering it an “ineffective, irrelevant debating society” as George Bush memorably labelled it. This has led to a stand off over the Security Council’s expansion and to numerous other conflicts as national interest has led to border disputes and tensions and regional arms races. Reforming the UN therefore will not bring about the prospect of peace until the causes of conflict are analysed and addressed and talk of alternative values entertained. An institution can at best provide arbitration between two warring or conflicting nations, treating nations as equals. The UN, however, cannot be said to be even doing that.
Are there any alternatives though? It is often difficult to imagine a world without a UN. It has featured in global political debate for at least two generations – well over a half a century – and so talk of alternatives is often hard to entertain. According to Kofi Annan there is nothing – nor is there going to be anything – better than the UN: “Let’s not imagine that, if we fail to make good use of it [the UN], we will find any more effective instrument”. Tony Blair argued that if the UN did not exist it would simply be reinvented. There is some truth in both but only if we are trapped in institution centric thinking, that for global peace we are in need of a global institution. In that context, talk of alternatives is to talk of an alternative institution in which case it is true that there will probably be nothing more elaborately structured than the UN. That may well be part of its failing: short of world government, where nation states disappear and the world comes under one authority driven by common values, no institution will be able to escape the traumas, divisive debates and confrontations that have hampered the UN. But then we are back to the assumption that for world peace and security we are in need of institutions, talk of which as mentioned earlier may well miss the point: What we are in need of is nothing short of a paradigm shift in international relations. That is a big undertaking, but we can at least endeavour to mark out how it may be characterised.