ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 17
Front Page Columns
Inside the glass house

Big powers under attack

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK- The attacks on the United Nations and the politically anachronistic Security Council were stinging -- and mostly on target. The well-aimed attacks came from Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Sudan's Omar Hassan Al-Bashir and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. The milder attacks came from South Africa's Thabo Mbeki and Italy's Romano Prodi -- all either heads of state or heads of government who challenged the credibility of the world body or called for a radical restructuring of the Security Council currently dominated by the five veto-wielding permanent members: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Venezuelan President Chavez holds a Spanish language version of Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance by Noam Chomsky while addressing the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. AP

As this political drama unfolded during the opening week of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly last week, the most unfortunate head of government was Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was ousted from power 24 hours before he was to have addressed the General Assembly. As the Sunday Times political column rightly said last week, African heads of state routinely named all or most of their military chiefs as UN delegates primarily to ensure they were not left behind at home to plot against their revered leader while he was being wined and dined in New York.

Perhaps Thaksin made the supreme mistake of leaving his army chief back home -- and paid a heavy price for it. As a lesson in preventive survival diplomacy, future world leaders presiding over shaky governments have now been warned: they leave home for the UN at their own political peril. It may well be a one-way ride to New York. Leave the return tickets at home. Or abide by a variation of the American Express commercial: Don't leave home without your service chiefs. Unless your brothers or your children are in charge of the chicken coop when you are out of town.

But back at the General Assembly last week, several world leaders challenged the credibility of an organisation which has been abused by the five big powers to protect their own national interests. The worst serial offenders are the US and Britain, both of whom have continued to protect Israel whether it is right or wrong. Meanwhile, all five veto wielding members are nuclear powers, who while publicly calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, are in the process of increasing their own stockpiles by producing second and third generation weapons.

Since most developing nations are dependent on the big powers either for economic or military aid, they usually don't have the courage or the guts to expose the hypocrisy and double standards of the big five at the UN. But the political atmosphere at the UN was far different last week. Iran and Venezuela led the attacks. But both are major oil producing nations floating in rising oil revenues. They are not dependent on US or European handouts.

"If the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom, who are permanent members of the Security Council, commit aggression, occupation and violation of international law, which of the organs of the United Nations can take them to account?," the Iranian president asked. "Can a Council in which they are privileged members address their violations? Has this ever happened before?" he asked. The Iranian president also said that apparently the Security Council can only be used to ensure the security and rights of some of the big powers. "But when the oppressed are decimated under bombardment, the Security Council must remain aloof and not even call for a ceasefire?"

Mugabe was equally hard-hitting when he pointed out that the Security Council "dithered and failed to take timely action to stop the massacres and wanton destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon, all because of the misguided national interests of one superpower", namely the US. He also said the status quo of the Security Council, where a few powerful countries hold the world to ransom, "is no longer tenable."

Chavez was more blunt: "The UN system born after the second world war has collapsed. It is worthless," he said. Chavez called on the Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a committee of world leaders to create a new world body to replace the UN system. He described the killings in Iraq as genocide and held the US and UK responsible for the ongoing tragedy in that country. The US president, like all imperialists, saw extremists everywhere, he said.

Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, whose government is facing genocide charges in Darfur, openly defied the Security Council by saying he will not permit a UN peacekeeping force into his country -- rejecting it "categorically and totally." He wanted the current African Union military force to continue maintaining the peace in his country. Any attempts to send other forces into Sudan, he argued, would be an attempt to re-colonize his country.

Sudan can afford to challenge both the US and the Security Council because it is now fast emerging as a major oil producing nation in Africa.

US President George W. Bush took a more conciliatory stand although he reiterated the charge that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and warned that it "must abandon its nuclear ambitions." However, he said, he was willing to work on "a diplomatic solution" to the Iranian nuclear programme. But the question that remained unanswered came from the Iranian president who asked: "Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generations of nuclear weapons. What do they need these weapons for? Is the development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons designed to promote peace and democracy? Or, are these weapons, in fact, instruments of coercion and threats against other peoples and governments?"

And speaking of threats, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf dropped a bombshell when he told a local TV network that the US had virtually forced him to join the war against terrorism after the September 2001 attacks on the US. Since Pakistan had ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan, Musharraf said that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had given an ultimatum to Pakistan's intelligence director: if you don't cooperate, "be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the stone age."

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