Flaws in UN's moral authority on democracy

by Thalif Deen

New York, June 22 -- Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali says the United Nations has little moral authority to preach democracy to the outside world when it is not fully practising it in its own backyard.

Boutros-Ghali, the UN's chief executive from 1992-1996, argues that although the world body is an organisation with 185 sovereign states, it is now increasingly dominated by a single major power - the United States.

"At the bottom, there is a democratic system, and at the top is an authoritarian system," says Boutros-Ghali, who is in New York to promote his new book on the stormy US-UN relations during his five-year tenure.

In the book, titled "Unvanquished: a US-UN Saga", Boutros-Ghali says that the way the United Nations was marginalised during the Kosovo crisis does not augur well for the world body.

He maintains the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), led by the US took action against Yugoslavia without any authorisation from the only international body mandated to declare war: the UN Security Council.

As Boutros-Ghali perceives it, the world body now faces two major political problems.

First, the existence of a single remaining superpower in a post- Cold War era. "This is a reality. There is nothing that could be done without the United States."

The second problem, he says, is that the other major countries at the UN are not eager to play any significant role in international affairs. "They believe it is better for them to follow the superpower," he told IPS.

Boutros-Ghali also notes that over the last few years the United Nations has spent millions of dollars to promote multi-party democracy in Third World countries. Since 1992, the United Nations has provided electoral assistance to more than 75 countries, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been involved in most.

In 1994-1995, UNDP earmarked only about 14% of its resources for good governance. Currently, more than 35% of UNDP's annual budget of about $900 million goes to promote democracy. These include UNDP support for free elections, rule of law, accountable national assemblies, a strong judiciary, a free press, a vibrant private sector and a role for civil society.

"But national democracy has no value unless there is international democracy," the former UN chief argues.

The United Nations, he says, is the only forum that can promote democracy at the international level. "It is therefore essential for major actors and also non-state actors such as non- governmental organisations (NGOs) to participate in the exercise."

Boutros-Ghali's comments come at a time when the US and Britain continue to oppose the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq despite overwhelming support for it - both inside and outside the United Nations.

Of the five permanent members of the Security Council, namely France, Russia and China, have indicated willingness to end sanctions against Iraq. But the US and UK have threatened to veto any such move.

In his book, Boutros-Ghali provides evidence of how Washington continues to manipulate the world body to its own advantage and to protect its own interests.

When there was a proposal to relieve the sufferings of the Iraqi people through a temporary suspension of the embargo under an "Oil for Food" deal, the US dragged its feet because it was a presidential election year. The White House feared that the Iraqi issue could get embroiled in domestic politics, he says. (IPS)

The above article by the Inter Press Service appeared in the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).