Guest Writings
04/10/04 Beheading the UN by Satya Sagar

In every standard Bollywood movie there comes a scene that never fails to work up the audience into a frenzy of excitement and applause. The hero, after being whipped black and blue by the villain and his henchmen, finally wipes the blood off his chin and starts kicking ass like he invented the concept.

Kofi Annan, bless his timid soul, is no Amitabh Bachchan or Shah Rukh Khan. And yet there he was on the BBC showing spunk and daring worthy of a Hindi movie hero by calling the US War on Iraq 'illegal'. And as if that belated show of bravery was not enough, also pulling up the Superpower at the UN General Assembly for its 'disgraceful abuse' of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Gharib. (whistle, whistle !)

Of course, the villain George Bush Jr. and his villainous men were hopping mad at this most 'UNservile' behaviour. 'Cut his funds, nip his pension, shoot him' – I could hear the leaders of the White and Western world bark over their hot lines- Washington to London to Canberra.

For all the slavish behavior displayed all this while by the body he presides over Kofi Annan had shown them that, once in a while, he could also be 'No More Mr Nice Guy' if he wants to.

Is this then a sign that the much-maligned United Nations is finally standing up and yearning to be heard amidst the din and disaster of America's colonial war on Iraq and Afghanistan ? Do we dare hope that an organization born over the graves of millions dead from the Second World War and meant to uphold global norms is at last beginning to do its job? Can this be the turning point when the UN stands up to US Imperialism and tells it where to get off?

From the evidence we have on hand the answers don't give much ground for optimism. For all we know, maybe Kofi is a Bollywood actor after all and having said some fighting lines will pack up and move on to the next show. After all he has let the world down before- from Rwanda to Kosovo to Baghdad- by behaving more like a slave of dominant western powers than the international civil servant he is supposed to be.

And besides what's the point in Kofi's fulminations when the organization he heads has over the years gone from being hallowed to hollowed, only shape and no substance, not even sound leave alone fury. All of which has made it all that easier for US Imperialism to abduct and decapitate the UN – in what was the very first act of their colonial invasion of Iraq. So what we have of the UN now is just the head floating around, occasionally wagging its tongue, while the rest of the corpse is nowhere to be found.

How did this institution, with its historic mandate to end all wars and promote peace and development around the world, come to such a sorry pass?

There are many reasons for the demise of the United Nations as a credible institution. The primary blame of course lies with the Allies who emerged victorious in the Second World War and fashioned the UN to suit their own long-term interests. The concept of a veto, reserved for the exclusive use of a few select countries, was sadly a continuation of the colonial logic of 'might is right' that had led to both the World Wars of the last century. Imposed on the global community for the past six decades the veto has destroyed the credibility of the UN as a genuinely democratic platform where every country, big or small, has an equal voice.

With the demise of the Soviet Union, whatever little space smaller and weaker nations had to maneuver between the two Superpowers, was also lost thus damaging the UN system further. Threatened, bribed or brushed aside the 'lesser' nations of the world have all, one by one, surrendered their rights to Uncle Sam- the sole surviving Bully on the Global Block.

Papa Bush's Gulf War One was the first ruthless demonstration of the ambition of US elites to establish a unipolar world- where they and only THEY would decide the fate of everything on Earth. It is the hubris created by the father that has led Little Bush. to attempt the brazen colonial conquest of Iraq and probably in the near future of other countries in the oil-rich middle-east.

There were other factors too hastening the decline of the UN. Chief among them has been the rise of the World Bank, the IMF and WTO as global institutional power centers deciding the economic life and death of numerous developing nations. Aggressively promoted by successive US regimes this evil troika has undermined the UN system completely- for a political body without control over the money purse is like music without instruments, a tiger with no claws- why it is like Uncle Kofi himself !

Here mention must also be made of the emergence of large multinational corporations that today wield more power globally than even entire blocs of developing nations. With several times the turnover of entire countries these corporations have become a law unto themselves on the world stage and are completely outside the control of both nation-states and the UN that is supposed to represent their collective will.

But if it were just about the villainy of US Imperialism the story of the rise and fall of the UN would be far too staid and simplistic. Tragically, complicit in the hostage-taking and beheading of the world body are also the governments of nations whose citizens would stand to benefit most from the establishment of a genuinely transparent and democratic UN system.

The sad fact is that most of the UN's member governments, usually run by small political elites and rarely representing the true interests of their people, have never had the conviction or courage to collectively oppose the emasculation of the only institution that gives them a voice in global affairs. While each individual Prime Minister or President from Asia, Africa or Latin America behaves like a prize bull back home – when it comes to raising their voices at the General Assembly they turn into domesticated cattle before the cowboys of the Western world.

Worse still there are those nations that, instead of helping change the UN to the entire globe's benefit, want to break ranks and beg or bribe their way into the ranks of the Security Council's permanent members.

I am referring of course to the very vulture-like attempts by a host of countries- Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, angling for a perch from where to peck at the decaying corpse of the UN's credibility. They all got together at the recent UN General Assembly to jointly promote their ambitions of getting a permanent seat on the Security Council.

A permanent seat for what? To get a ringside view of a Colin 'Cheeseburger' Powell lying through his teeth about WMDs in Iraq? So that a freshly constituted 'Perm Nine' can pretend to be more important on the world stage than Exxon-Mobil, Texaco-Chevron or even Haliburton and Bechtel ? Or is this all a routine to jack up the bribes these 'very important' countries get for turning a blind eye to the predations of US and British Imperialism around the globe?

Besides, what really is the criteria to become a 'permanent' member of the UN Security Council? Population size? Per capita income? Expenditure on importing armaments? The number of gold medals they won at the Olympic games? Number of holy cows owned-or what?

The truth simply is that in our day and age there should be absolutely no room for privileging a few rich and powerful countries greater powers in the UN than their poorer and weaker counterparts. But look inside each member nation of the UN and that is what you find- the strong dictating to the weak, the rich to the poor- so how can one change an organization that is but a sum of all its faulty parts?

Before I get all too cynical or sound like I am let me say that with all its problems the UN system is certainly the only existing structure we have right now to arrive at peaceful solutions to global problems-not just of war and conflict but also poverty, disease and underdevelopment. The world cannot afford to give up on the UN just because US Imperialism holds it captive or whimsically uses and abuses it according to its needs. Doing so would be giving in to the worst form of international terrorism- for whatever it is worth the UN needs a serious rescue operation.

Here are a few things that I think need to be done to restore the credibility of the UN system and enhance its ability to perform the historical tasks it was created for:

a) There needs to be an immediate follow-up on Kofi Annan's statement that the US and British invasion of Iraq was illegal as per international law. The implications are grave and the US and its allies must be held accountable for every single death occurring from the illegal invasion. Given the number of deaths that have already occurred in Iraq there is no doubt that what we are witnessing in Iraq is nothing short of a crime against humanity. Even if it is only a few members of the UN that are willing to join together and challenge US Imperialism their efforts would be crucial to save the global from slipping into total chaos where only might is right and no laws of any kind apply.

b) While abolishing the concept of the veto would be the best thing to do another way of making the UN system more democratic is to give permanent security council membership to regional blocs like EU, ASEAN, OAU, SAARC and the African Union. Let the members of each regional bloc sort out among themselves how to best to represent their collective interests. The UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, despite their geographical separation, can be clubbed into one regional bloc, since they anyway represent one nation masquerading as five.

c) The World Bank, IMF and WTO need to be brought under the control of the UN General Assembly with the national representation on their boards in proportion to the population of individual member countries. .

d) The membership of the UN should be expanded to include global civil society organizations that will serve as a counterbalance to the domination of the system by governments as well as the multinational corporations they usually serve.

e) The UN headquarters needs to be urgently moved out of the US, which has been rightly dubbed the worst host any international institution can ever have. I would not go to the extent of saying relocate it in Pyongyang- one place where the US would have no influence at all- but there are plenty of alternatives available. Alternatives that can prove that the US is not indispensable to the existence or functioning of the UN system and which in fact will allow it to prosper and thrive in a way it never really has from its velvet prison in New York.

Satya Sagar is a writer, journalist, videomaker based in Thailand. He can be contacted at

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