UN - In Larger Freedom
March 21, 2005 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Kofi Annan has issued his recommendations for tackling poverty and promoting security and human rights, incorporating the greatest alterations to the UN and Security Council in history.
posted by Pretty_Generic (23 comments total)

 
Still no mention of cutting the security council veto rights for the big five.
Of course there never could be, because none of the big five would allow that to happen and it would be a great way for all proposed reforms to be dismissed out of hand as unacceptable by association.

Fingers crossed that some of this sensible thinking goes through, but a proportion of it seems tailored to remedy specific weaknesses, exploited recently, which the perpetrators would rather view as features of the organisation not faults.
No names.
posted by NinjaPirate at 6:07 AM on March 21, 2005


See also Annan Lays Out Sweeping Changes to U.N. and Annan to Offer Plans for Change in U.N. Structure [NY Times, reg. req.]. Though the first article calls the proposal the "most sweeping changes to the United Nations since it was founded," it does read to me to be more like what NinjaPirate says, a fairly focused series of reforms to promote human rights more vigorously and to fight terrorism. I didn't see anything in there about greater internal accountability, which is also a need of course.
posted by LarryC at 6:20 AM on March 21, 2005


Echoing NinjaPiriate...

The S.C. veto rights are where all power in the U.N. lies (what little power remains in the U.N. at all following the unilateral invasion of Iraq).

Hopefully these changes have some positive effect, but the U.N. is only as meaningful and relevant as the 5 permanent members of the S.C. (the U.S. particularly) want it to be, and right now, it doesn't seem as if the U.S. wants the U.N. to be very relevant at all.
posted by thirdparty at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2005


it doesn't seem as if the U.S. wants the U.N. to be very relevant at all.

That is true, if only because the UN decided that it didn't want to be the US's bitch. With regards to Iraq, I'm not sure how much power the UN is supposed to have lost recently, but only in the sense that the UN never really had much concrete power anyway. When a country decides that it will do A there's really nothing the UN can do to prevent it from doing so.

I expect this report to be greeted with indifference in Washington. John Bolton's appointment to the UN post is a lot like injecting a syringe-full of HIV virus culture into a live body. The man is clearly there to take down the UN. Frankly I'm a little shocked that the whole UN operation hasn't moved to Geneva by now, as it is in clearly hostile territory.
posted by clevershark at 6:47 AM on March 21, 2005


what ninjapirate said.

thirdparty, i think the US is desperate that the UN work and be relevant - but only insofar that the UN is a vassal of the US state department.

recognizing this and fully aware of the enormous sums of money used to bribe nations for their support in the days leading up to the iraq war what kofi annan has done is propose to increase the number of votes the US has to buy, spreading the wealth and increasing the cost.
posted by three blind mice at 7:10 AM on March 21, 2005


tbm - If you think the Bush government wants the UN to be relevant, how do you explain the Bolton nomination? This is a man who once claimed "the UN doesn't exist." He's certainly there for a reason, but I don't think that reason is to increase the viability of the institution...
posted by thirdparty at 7:36 AM on March 21, 2005


There's a press conference now on Channel 2.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 7:44 AM on March 21, 2005


clevershark: "That is true, if only because the UN decided that it didn't want to be the US's bitch."

None of this is really very surprising; it's just the reality of politics in the world. Large, powerful nations-- like the United States-- seek to continue to consolidate their power. Smaller, less powerful countries-- like those in Europe-- seek to use every nontraditional leverage to increase their own power. Thus, the UN, a body where a host of smaller, less powerful countries, mostly in northern Europe, have a voice that they wouldn't have otherwise, finds itself being used as a leverage against the United States. Of course this voice is often sentimental; it is the voice of democratic power, and it seeks to control through public relations. And of course the United States fights against this power; every nation that has a chance to be very powerful on its own, outside of coalition, does so or faces annihilation. It's just the way of politics.
posted by koeselitz at 9:27 AM on March 21, 2005


Well, right-wing politics.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 9:34 AM on March 21, 2005


Whoaaa, apparently Kofi is all about wacky font size usage.
posted by blacklite at 9:54 AM on March 21, 2005


Pretty_ Generic: "Well, right-wing politics."

It's been that way for a long time. Europe can't blame the U.S. for trying to be the most powerful nation on the planet, and the U. S. can't blame Europe for using the UN to try to leverage power away from the U.S.

This is an interesting move for Mr. Annan, though.
posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on March 21, 2005


Anyway, on a slightly more serious note, I wish the UN was more relevant, more powerful, and more active, but I don't think it's going to happen.

I think if anything the best multinational organization for countries to aspire to join and that can probably get things done (or will be able to, eventually) is the EU.

How many reforms have been initiated in neighbouring countries because they want to be in the EU? That's a sign of power right there.

I still can't figure out how to get Canada in the EU though.
posted by blacklite at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2005


The UN will never remove veto rights from the security counsel. Because if they did, the US would withdraw from the UN immediately. Shortly thereafter, the UN would cease to exist on any level other than possibly a humanitarian relief level.

That analysis avoids the tricky question of whether the US could veto the removal of veto rights...
posted by dios at 10:46 AM on March 21, 2005


More so, the United Nations would never remove the veto rights from the "big five" on the Security Counsel, as the veto is the last bit of major international power that some of the so-called "big five" have.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:01 AM on March 21, 2005


One other thing: there has always been a critique of the US's involvement in the UN that it is unconstitutional for the US to be apart of the UN. The US Constitution says that it is the supreme law of the land. If the US didn't have veto power at the UN, then the US Constitution wouldn't be the supreme law of the land. We would be subject to the authority of the UN, and Congress would not be permitted to sign on to such an organization. So one could argue that the veto power of the US is the only thing that keeps the US in the UN. And without the US, the UN would effectively collapse.
posted by dios at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2005


The US is a controlling interest in the UN because it it the largest contributor to UN funding. The UN currently claims to be operating in financial crisis with the US leading debts to the Regular Budget by $241m of the $357m total owed. The US claims here that they are still by far the largest contributing nation, that they paid $341m to the regular budget and over $3 billion total.

Perhaps if the UN restructred its funding to become more independant, they could operate without the SC vetos. Much like corporate-controlled media today however, they cannot step on the hand that feeds them, so until they eliminate that gigantic US funding, they will always be the US's bitch.
posted by sophist at 1:32 PM on March 21, 2005


dios, I've never understood why some so-called conservatives want to undermine the rule of law in international affairs by claiming that our involvement in the UN is somehow unconstitutional. The US can sign on to treaties and they become the law of our land. But the Supreme Court has said clearly that the Constitution gives Congress the power to violate or remove the US from international legal commitments if they want to.

The UN permament members' veto power, by the way, cannot be changed without a unanimous vote of those members so, it seems unlikely to happen.
posted by Cassford at 2:12 PM on March 21, 2005


Having started this mournful tone, I'd also like to say that I wholeheartedly support the efforts being made to work for a fairer, more accountable United Nations.

As a body established to ensure international communication and the peace of the world at large, it has too often being used as a foil for the more powerful nations and then as a scapegoat for the aggrieved weaker countries. In a world increasingly ruled by the far less noble touch of institutions like the IMF, attempts to reassert the worth of dialog over that of military might and economic exploitation are worth every chance they get.

I believe these proposed reforms are certainly movements in the right direction to protect the interests and liberty of ordinary people across the world.
posted by NinjaPirate at 2:28 PM on March 21, 2005


dios: The US Constitution says that it is the supreme law of the land. If the US didn't have veto power at the UN, then the US Constitution wouldn't be the supreme law of the land. We would be subject to the authority of the UN, and Congress would not be permitted to sign on to such an organization.

I believe this interpretation is unnecessary at best and tendentious at worst. Article VI, Clause 2 states: "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." Thus, the federal constitution, its statutes, and federal treaties are all "the supreme Law of the land." So this clause in itself does not assert the primacy of the U.S. Constitution over treaty obligations, or vice versa.

It's a moot point though, since the rest of the clause makes clear what all those federal laws and treaties are superior to: "... and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Article VI, Clause 2 does not unambiguously state that the federal constitution or any of the institutions which it defines are above any federal treaty. Rather, it states that federal law (and treaties) supercede state law, and that all judges must take federal law into account.

Any notion that the Constitution is forever superior to all federal treaties is entirely the product of legal and cultural tradition, and does not naturally and inexorably spring from the text. There are in fact areas of law where federal treaty obligations trump federal constitutional directives - I am thinking here of treaties giving members of certain Indian tribes fishing and hunting rights in perpetuity even in protected areas, which contravenes the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. There may be others. All I am saying is that the United Nations Treaty would not violate the Constitution, even if it were treated as "the supreme Law of the land."

As an aside: I find it absurd that the loss of veto power in the Security Council is being floated as a loss of sovereignty for the United States. Every nation-state is sovereign, and chooses its own destiny; the U.N. Security Council functions mainly as a way of channeling and legitimizing (and thus, theoretically minimizing) warfare among states, nothing more. There are 191 member states in the United Nations; is it seriously argued that 186 of them are no longer sovereign, but are now vassals of the UN Security Council?
posted by skoosh at 2:54 PM on March 21, 2005


skoosh: "As an aside: I find it absurd that the loss of veto power in the Security Council is being floated as a loss of sovereignty for the United States. Every nation-state is sovereign, and chooses its own destiny; the U.N. Security Council functions mainly as a way of channeling and legitimizing (and thus, theoretically minimizing) warfare among states, nothing more. There are 191 member states in the United Nations; is it seriously argued that 186 of them are no longer sovereign, but are now vassals of the UN Security Council?"

As an aside, that's the most reasonable way of putting it managed so far in this thread. I can't think of a better way of saying it. Thanks.

posted by koeselitz at 5:54 PM on March 21, 2005


END US FUNDING TO THE UN N O W.
posted by ParisParamus at 6:32 PM on March 21, 2005


dios: That analysis avoids the tricky question of whether the US could veto the removal of veto rights...

In accordance with Article 108 of the United Nations Charter:
Amendments to the present Charter shall come into force for all Members of the United Nations when they have been adopted by a vote of two thirds of the members of the General Assembly and ratified in accordance with their respective constitutional processes by two thirds of the Members of the United Nations, including all the permanent members of the Security Council.
Two-thirds of the General Assembly can recommend changes to the Charter (such as revocation of veto rights), but in order to come into effect, the US Senate would have to oblige.

Opening up the Charter for revision leads to the dilemma of 'can open and worms everwhere' though... which is why even common sense changes like removal of the 'enemy states' clauses (Articles 53 and 107) referring to Germany and Japan; and updating the nomenclature of the permanent members of the Security Council (Republic of China People's Republic of China and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Russian Federation) haven't been undertaken. There have been three successful rounds of amendments to the Charter, all referring to the (numerical) expansions of the Security Council and Economic and Social Council between 1965 and 1973 - not any substantive/contentious issues.
posted by SenshiNeko at 7:06 PM on March 21, 2005


Well, as I keep telling those on the right, The UN is not a world government. And as I keep telling those on the left, The UN is not a world government. The first speaks to unrealistic fears; the second to unrealistic hopes. Kofi Annan is not the world's mayor; he's more like the world's city manager. The true power is not wielded from the Secretary-General's office. If the UN is to be a useful instrument for its Member States, says the report, and that's the most salient way to think of the organization. So I'd rather not discuss the impossible or unlikely, but rather the quality of the reforms at hand, their necessity, and their chances for success.

The first three parts of the report deal generally with broader goals for the UN over the next several years, and they make it clear that the UN does much more than deliberations in the Security Council -- from WHO to UNESCO to UNDP, there's a great deal done under the aegis of the UN all over the world that has nothing to do with "security". The body is badly in need of a shot in the arm and a refocusing of its efforts where it can do the most good; those trying to turn it into something it is not, and almost by definition cannot be, have done the UN a disservice and distracted it from its true mission.

Freedom from Want
The goals under this section are essentially economic, and some good measuring sticks are proposed, by which actual progress can be assessed. There's a proposal for a formal floor for development assistance budget of 0.7% of GNI, but this is probably too high, as only a few wealthy Northern countries contribute that much already, and most are quite a bit below it (the US is around 0.1%). There is, however, a good measure for defining debt sustainability, and the idea that focusing on "quick wins" is a good one, as it means more money will be spent on visibly effective programs (there may be some efforts that suffer).

Freedom from fear
Here there is an attempt to define a UN role in the war on terror outside of national military action. There indeed should be a "Geneva convention" equivalent that defines terrorism and condemns a broad series of behaviors, but this is a multi-year effort at best. At a time when proliferation appears to be increasing, the IAEA is proposed a tighter ruleset. And the idea that Peacebuilding should be a major UN effort is an excellent step forward. After Cambodia, the UN knew it had a broken recovery process for failed states; with Afghanistan and other countries on its plate, the UN must improve here. The adoption of a desire by the Assembly that the Security Council have guidelines for its authorization of force is long overdue, but will probably end in a toothless compromise.

Dignity
A commitment to the rule of law is critical. The UN as a pragmatic body has not always been a driving force in this area. The ongoing embarassment of its human rights bodies has to be changed. There is a reasonable explanation for making, say, Libya a full-fledged member of such a body, but too often this has been less an apprenticeship than a whitewash.

And the UN could use a good commitment to democracy, which despite appearances it has never really had (the body itself is undemocratic in key ways, and it wasn't until the last 10 years even that democratic states constituted a majority of its membership). This particular failure lies at the root of conservative antipathy to the UN, and is the reason that sovereignty issues scare the heck out of the fringe right. It won't repair that relationship but it may permit some breathing room, especially if some PNAC-type thinkers get desk jobs on the committee.

UN reform
Saying the General Assembly should speed up and apply itself to major issues is a belated, but much-needed, spanking. The Assembly has long favored running the clock on pointless speechifying about ho-hum questions such as the bored and ceremonial passing of resolutions against Israel. The report indicates Security Council reform is up to the Security Council itself, but politely requests that something be done. Finally, proposing Secretariat reform -- including a wholesale housecleaning through a "staff buy-out" -- is key to the success of everything else. Appointment to the UN Secretariat is perhaps the most notorious goldbricking job in diplomacy, save certain embassies to the Vatican City; at least the USSR's guys were working spies (truthfully, that's the role most of these people play anyway, but spying on the US is slightly more respectable than spying on the UN). It commits Annan's legacy to this report and has as good a chance as anything else to make a difference.

In short, I think some of the proposals could have been sronger, but again Annan is just the city manager; he can only suggest. It takes the deliberative bodies themselves to enact actual reform. We'll have to see how that goes. What's being proposed, though, are all good directions to take, ideas that could re-energize the body and allow it to measure its do-goodery in concrete terms, which in turn will prompt more judicious examination of what it actually does and where and for whom. The UN, believe it or not, has blind spots galore, and this will make some of them very visible, but the win will be an improved, more transparent, and more accountable world body -- something closer to the liberal's idealized UN.
posted by dhartung at 10:49 PM on March 21, 2005


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