Sunday, January 02, 2005

Would you like fries with that?

According to the New York Times With $2 Billion Donated, U.N. Now Needs Help to Deliver Aid.

"The military and civil defense assets that many countries are providing us are as valuable as cash or gold would be today because it makes us move with the assistance and it makes us get there in the race against the clock."

Mr. Egeland said the food and medical relief that was arriving in thousands of shipments was running into "logistical constraints" caused by overloaded airports and other bottlenecks. He gave a list of equipment needs drawn up in a telephone conference meeting on Friday with representatives of the United States-led core group of nations that also includes Australia, India and Japan. Those needs included helicopters and ships able to carry them, air-traffic-control units, landing craft, trucks, cargo planes, base camps for the aid workers, fuel storage and water treatment units, generators and medical kits.

The material and logistical infrastructure was largely provided by national contributions, chiefly from the "United States-led core group of nations" which had earlier been criticized by former British International Development Secretary Clare Short as an attempt to undermine the United Nations relief effort.

United States President George Bush was tonight accused of trying to undermine the United Nations by setting up a rival coalition to coordinate relief following the Asian tsunami disaster. The president has announced that the US, Japan, India and Australia would coordinate the world’s response.

But former International Development Secretary Clare Short said that role should be left to the UN. “I think this initiative from America to set up four countries claiming to coordinate sounds like yet another attempt to undermine the UN when it is the best system we have got and the one that needs building up,” she said. “Only really the UN can do that job,” she told BBC Radio Four’s PM programme. “It is the only body that has the moral authority.”

But that was last week. Now that the faucet has been opened a little too wide for the UN to cope, the World Body needs help in delivering the assistance that is piling up at ports and airfieldsj. It will be forthcoming. In return, the core group has been amply rewarded by a nod of acknowledgement from the United Nations. But there is no question who the UN regards as leading with its unique legitimacy and moral authority. At a press conference given by Kofi Annan at UN headquarters on December 30, 2004, the Secretary General answered this question at in an exchange with reporters.

Q: Could you give us an indication: there is a core group, there is the United Nations, there is a whole bunch of different groups coordinating - who is taking the leadership role on the humanitarian side of this? ...

Kofi Annan: Thank you for the question. In fact, I did speak to Secretary of State Powell yesterday as the announcement was made, and we have also spoken this morning. The core group will support the United Nations effort. ...  It is clear that their purpose is to work with us and to support the United Nations effort, and we are going to make it a truly international effort.

Q: Given the magnitude of this disaster, shouldn't the United Nations, rather the United States, have taken the lead in establishing a coalition of donor and affected countries to deal with this disaster? ...

Kofi Annan:  First of all, on the question of how we pool the international community together, I think it is important that an initiative has been taken. We ourselves were discussing our possible initiative, but I applaud what has been done by the United States Government, by the United States Administration and President Bush. As I have said, we have spoken to other countries which are also going to join the group, and that group will be in support of the efforts that the United Nations is leading. So, we are very satisfied with that.

Within the struggle against the effects of a natural disaster is the barely concealed struggle for political supremacy between the national and the international. Once the principle of subsidiarity has been rejected in favor of subordination no matter how far in front of the UN a member nation gets it will always remain behind. Just as the uttermost battlefield skirmisher in the age of crowned heads was still in principle the King's Man, by analogy American food transported on US bottoms, delivered by Marines remains the UN's, according to a certain point of view. A national effort subordinated to international effort. Hence the issue of what livery relief bags are to wear assumes serious proportions. Historically, the packaging of forces in the field reflected the alignments of power within the society. A commentator on the history of the Foot Guards recalls:

First in England, and later on the continent, there developed the practice of raising armies with a system that came to be known as "livery and maintenance." Such a feudal system encouraged local lords to raise their own armies. Maintenance was the medieval term for the money payment made to the soldier. Livery referred to a coat of distinctive color and design that indicated who the soldier was fighting for.

After the Wars of the Roses, King Henry VII (1485-1509) could not afford to take the chance of an uprising, so he restrained his nobles' old abilities to raise private armies. In 1487 he had a law enacted against livery and maintenance and in 1504 codified existing statutes against "retaining", to prevent the nobles keeping independent forces.

The alternative view regards subordination as contingent on consent; and accountability enforced by the possibility that consent can be withdrawn.  But where "legitimacy" and "moral authority" is asserted independently of consent  it begins to resemble the Divine Right of Kings, and with such mandates any disagreements necessarily take the form of defiance. The Boston Tea Party occurred because there was no possibility of negotiating what color the tax was to wear or who was to levy it. Asking the question was itself unacceptable.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. ... The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.

The stage was set for wrangling between the US and the UN. The proponents of the United Nations have argued that the key issue dividing it from America is legitimacy. They would be right.