Global Trends by Martin
Monday 5 Sept 2005
US move stirs up a storm at UN
The world was shocked last
week at how Hurricane Katrina turned an American city into a chaotic mess.
In New York, another hurricane was sweeping the United Nations as a United
States proposal put at risk a UN Summit that will start on 14 September.
The world watched last week
with disbelief as the American city of New Orleans was lashed by a hurricane,
floods, destruction of homes and finally anarchy as looting and violence
took over the city.
The headlines in last Saturday’s
edition of The Star was apt: “War Zone, USA.”
The surprise was not with the
hurricane as there was ample warning. It was that the world’s richest
and most technologically advanced country did not anticipate the scale
of the disaster, and that its response was so slow or non-existent even
as the crisis developed.
Over 20,000 victims made it
to the Convention Centre, so it should have been easy to get to them.
But for days they had no food or drink, the toilets overflowed, and dead
bodies were floating or laid out on the roads.
No wonder the city’s mayor
had sharp words on the federal government’s lack of response (“I’m pissed
off!” he said).
And many American critics pointed
to how President Bush’s administration had its priorities wrong, sending
so many troops and spending so many billions in Iraq, but not being able
to send food and rescue teams for hurricane victims or police to keep
the peace in its own homeland.
But if Hurricane Katrina was
causing havoc in the US states in the South, another hurricane was sweeping
through New York in the North.
This hurricane was man-made,
and it took effect at the United Nations. It was generated by the US,
which proposed 750 amendments to a draft UN document that 180 heads of
governments are to sign up to in a Summit meeting on 14-16 September.
The UN Summit, long in preparation,
is supposed to adopt a historic reform of the UN. Its declaration was
to advance the UN’s development and environment role, commit rich countries
to do more for developing countries, clarify the UN’s role in peace and
security and reform the Security Council.
The UN secretariat and the
UN member states as well as NGOs have spent more than a year of painful
efforts to prepare for the Summit -- including convening of commissions,
issuing of a secretary general’s report, and diplomatic wrangling over
two drafts of the Summit declaration.
The draft Declaration has already
been criticized as not being strong enough on development issues. Developing
countries are also concerned that it may give way too much for powerful
countries to selectively interfere militarily in countries under the umbrella
of “responsibility to protect.”
There is controversy whether
the Human Rights Commissions should be turned into a “Human Rights Council”.
And no agreement on how the
Security Council should be reformed. Should India, Brazil, Japan, Germany
be made permanent members? What about Africa? Should the new permanent
members get veto rights (as Africa demands), or should the veto power
of the Big Five be restricted?
These raging controversies
were like pinpricks when the US came up with its bombshell. It proposed
750 changes to the 36-page draft, just three weeks before the Summit.
There is little time left to consider such a radical overhaul of an already
heavily disputed draft.
The US move has sent the UN
talks into “turmoil”, according to the Washington Post.
The US move came just after
its new US Ambassador, John Bolton, assumed his post. He is well-known
for his anti-UN views.
Among the shocking changes
demanded by the US is the removal of any mention of the Millennium Development
Goals (MDGs), which has been the UN’s flagship concept and project in
the past five years.
is a pledge by countries to halve poverty and hunger, cut child mortality
by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, reverse the spread
of AIDs and other diseases by 2015.
also seek to protect the environment and have a global partnership to
increase aid, reduce debt and enhance fair trade relations.
The US move
to eradicate all references to the MDGs is taken as a major sin for believers
in the UN’s development role.
The US also
seeks to remove references to rich countries providing 0.7% of the national
income as aid, the need for additional initiatives to ensure debt-sustainability,
and to help developing countries overcome volatile commodity prices.
The US also
proposed to exclude references on actions on climate change under the
Kyoto Protocol, to the International Criminal Court (which it has refused
to join). It opposed language that urges the five permanent members
of the Security Council not to cast vetoes to halt genocide, war crimes
or ethnic cleansing.
to Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies,
the proposal puts at great risk the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The draft referred to the NPT's "three pillars: disarmament, non-proliferation
and the peaceful use of nuclear energy."
That means that states without nuclear weapons would agree never to obtain
them, but in return they would be guaranteed the right to produce nuclear
energy for peaceful use. In return, recognized nuclear weapons states
would commit, in Article VI of the NPT, to move toward "nuclear disarmament
with the objective of eliminating all such weapons."
The proposed US changes deleted all references to the three pillars and
to Article VI. The US deleted the statement that: "The use of force
should be considered as
an instrument of last resort."
According to Bennis, much of the US effort aims to undermine the power
of the UN in favour of absolute national sovereignty. On migration, for
instance, the original language focused on enhancing international cooperation.
The US replaces it with the sovereign right of states to formulate national
In the document's section on strengthening the UN, the US deleted all
mention of enhancing the UN's authority, focusing instead only on UN efficiency.
Regarding the General Assembly, the most democratic organ of the UN system,
the US deleted references to the Assembly's centrality, its role in codifying
international law, and, ultimately its authority.
”This is a declaration of US unilateralism, uncompromising and ascendant.
The US has issued an open threat to the 190 other UN member states, the
world’s people and the UN itself,” said Bennis.
Meanwhile, in a last ditch effort to save the Summit, the UN general Assembly
president has convened a small “core group” of 30 countries to go through
the draft and see if a new document can be accepted by all before the
will tackle seven priority issues: UN Secretariat reform, establishment
of a Human Rights Council, creation of a Peace Building Commission, disarmament
and non-proliferation, terrorism and the responsibility to protect civilians
under threat of genocide, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
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