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.
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."