Thursday, December 02, 2004

"All Your Base Belong to Us"

A panel constituted by the United Nations to examine institutional changes necessary for it to cope with the crisis occasioned by international terrorism, failing states and its inability to direct the response of the United States has put forward its key recommendations. The BBC summarizes the background to the panel's work: The UN's "relevance has been brought into question not only by the Iraq war, when it was in the final analysis ignored by the United States. Before that, we had Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia and others where it failed to act in time, and now we have Darfur." The International Herald Tribune's report reaches substantially the same conclusion about the underlying issues the UN panel was intended to address. The world organization was facing two intractable problems: international terrorism and the United States, not necessarily in that order.

The report addressed six specific and interconnected threats to international peace: "interstate conflict, civil war, economic and social threats, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and organized international crime."  ... Though the bitter dispute over whether to go to war in Iraq was a principal reason for the institutional crisis at the United Nations that persuaded Annan to appoint the panel, the official said members did not discuss it.

The UN admitted that a new class of problems had arisen which earlier diplomatic structures could not adequately address. In an oblique reference to September 11 and potential nuclear September 11s, the IHT reported that the panel's "members had come to a sharp new appreciation of the menace of nuclear and chemical agents and how easily they could be infiltrated into Western societies" despite the earlier tendency among some panel members to criticize the "United States for exaggerating the threat of terrorism and seeking what they called 'perfect security'." The object of reform was to make any unilateral action -- such as by the United States -- unnecessary by creating working institutions within the UN to act decisively. The first step in creating that quality of 'decisiveness' was to widen the grounds under which the UN could authorize interventions in the internal affairs of individual countries, but only at the price of reserving that power to itself.

The Panel Members
Anand Panyarachun (Thailand)
Robert Badinter (France)
Joao Clemente Baena Soares (Brazil)
Gro Harlem Brundtland (Norway)
Mary Chinery-Hesse (Ghana)
Gareth Evans (Australia)
Lord David Hannay (United Kingdom)
Enrique Iglesias (Uruguay)
Amre Moussa (Egypt)
Satish Nambiar (India)
Sadako Ogata (Japan)
Yevgenii Primakov (Russia)
Qian Qichen (China)
Nafis Sadik (Pakistan)
Salim Ahmed Salim (Tanzania)
Brent Scowcroft (United States)

"Addressing the critical issue of the legitimacy of the use of force, a source of crippling tension at the United Nations last year when the United States was seeking Security Council authorization to go to war in Iraq, the panel said it found no reason to amend the charter's Article 51, which restricts the use of force to countries that have been attacked. The report said the language did not constitute, as some have asserted, a demand that nations wait to be attacked. And it said that many countries had exercised the right to attack when they had felt threatened. But it acknowledged that a new problem had risen because of the nature of terrorist attacks 'where the threat is not imminent but still claimed to be real: for example, the acquisition, with allegedly hostile intent, of nuclear weapons-making capability.'

It said that if the arguments for "anticipatory self-defense" in such cases were good ones, they should be put to the Security Council, which would have the power to authorize military action under guidelines including the seriousness of the threat, the proportionality of the response, the exhaustion of all alternatives and the balance of consequences. Apparently in anticipation of objections from Washington over that requirement, the report said, 'For those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.'"

An Associated Press article in the Guardian laid out the competing plans for Security Council expansion.

Former Thai Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun, who chaired the panel, said members were divided over expanding the 15-nation Security Council - now dominated by post-World War II powers - an issue has challenged the world body's 191 member states for more than a decade. The panel therefore presented two options: One would add six new permanent members and the other would create a new tier of eight semi-permanent members two each from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas.

Panel members agreed that only the current five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - should retain veto power. Seeking more influence over global decisions, Brazil, Germany, India and Japan joined forces in September to lobby for permanent seats. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Wednesday that new permanent members should have veto power. South Africa and Nigeria are the top candidates for one African seat and Egypt is pushing for the other, insisting that Arab nations must be permanently represented on the council, diplomats said.

In essence the panel has recommended that the United Nations address the challenge to its legitimacy by taking on more powers, first by strengthening the interventionary powers of the Security Council, second by disallowing or severely restricting unilateral international military action. The niggling day to day atrocities of most member nations would be de minimis to these restrictions; even the unilateral military actions of most members of the Security Council, such as localized interventions in Africa or Central Asia for example, would hardly restricted by these these provisos. These reforms are for all practical purposes directed squarely at the United States, as they were in fact, intended to be.


Here's a roundup of reactions from different publications. For some the UN restructuring proposals represent an opportunity to rein in the United States. For others, they represent a chance to socially re-engineer the world on the American dime. Still other countries see themselves as acceding to Great Power status, which means a veto on the only permissible military action -- and hence on any military action they may disapprove of. Others see it as a step towards creating a new international order, one with that most important of sovereign attributes: a monopoly on the legal use of force.

Structurally the proposals will collectively enhance the power of every major country that is not America; which does not imply malevolence, but is simply a recognition of the appeal that a multipolar world has to medium-sized countries over a unipolar one.

Washington Post Service

The 16-member panel, appointed by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said in a long-awaited report that only the U.N. Security Council has the legal standing to authorize such a "preventive war."

The findings reflect persistent international unease over last year's U.S. invasion without an explicit council endorsement, noting, ''There is little evident international acceptance of the idea of security being best preserved by a balance of power, or by any single -- even benignly motivated -- superpower.'' It recommends the establishment of five guidelines that must be met before force can be legitimately used, including a determination that force is used as a last resort and that the threat is serious.


A high-level panel report on revamping the United Nations has endorsed a critical proposal Canada has been pushing for years that requires countries to intervene early to protect people from mass killings and gross abuses. ... Interventions would be carried out by multinational peacekeeping forces or troops as dictated by the Security Council with the aim of preventing the kind of catastrophes that occurred in Rwanda and Kosovo. Countries would also be responsible for helping troubled states rebuild their infrastructure, governments, court systems and police.

Times of India

A UN panel's recommendation to expand the Security Council to accommodate new aspirants without giving them veto power is not acceptable to India, diplomatic sources in New York said.  ... "The issue of veto is crucial. A Security Council seat without a veto essentially retains the old system. It should be veto for all (SC members) or the veto will have to be done away with," a diplomat involved in the matter said.

Japan Times

Japan is "determined to further fulfill its responsibilities by becoming a permanent Security Council member," Machimura said, adding that Japan's basic position is reflected in the panel's report. ... But in a separate news conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said he was dissatisfied because neither of the options gives veto power to new permanent members. "It is basic that all permanent members of the Security Council have the same powers," Hosoda said. "It is an issue that should be solved as part of an entire package."

The Guardian

Mr Blair said the report offered a basis for the UN to unite again after the divisions of the past few years. He welcomed proposals for the international community to agree a "responsibility to protect" populations in the case of genocide or breaches of humanitarian law - something that would make it easier in future to take pre-emptive military action. The report said the dangers confronting the world today could not be dealt with by any state acting alone - even a superpower like the US.