Achieving peace: chicken or egg?
While UN peacekeeping has done little to calm the world's troubled waters, the UN's other mandate -- development -- has had some success despite its many problems, argues Eric Walberg
The debate over how to achieve peace revolves around two poles: world peacekeeping and disarmament vs economic and social development. The latter argument goes: busy literate hands and full stomachs obviate the need for war, just as the improvement of women's status leads to reduced family size. In part one (16-22 August) the UN's political role as peacekeeper was found to be woefully lacking, especially now that the US hyperpower calls all the shots. Peacekeeping must be followed up by disarmament for it to be the road to peace, but post-WWII history has shown how ineffective this policy is.
How about the other route? The myriad UN agencies such as UNESCO, UNDP, UNICEF, and their financial cousins the WB and IMF, have become household names and initially had a positive impact in alleviating distress, promoting development, and presumably peace, or at least not contributing to war. However, these international institutions fashioned by the allies during WWII have been increasingly co-opted into the US imperial project and the result today is far from pretty.
Many countries protested when the new UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon appointed US diplomat B Lynn Pascoe under-secretary-general for political affairs, the UN's chief diplomatic position. Since the days of President Reagan, the UN has come under concerted attack by the US, demanding changes in UN structure and policy, effectively crippling many programmes. Even under the supposedly enlightened Clinton regime, pressure to corporatise the UN and bring it closer to US priorities continued and bore fruit in secretary- general Kofi Annan's sweeping reform proposals responding to US criticisms.
The best of the reforms involved the creation of common country UN plans, known as United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks, or UNDAFs, to coordinate the myriad assistance programmes for each country. Down with bureaucracy -- no problem there. In Egypt, the second UNDAF began work in January 2007 for the period ending 2011, with its own set of Millennium Development Goals, benchmarks to raise education and health standards. Egypt, for one, takes its MDGs seriously and has been given a B+ in a recent assessment.
However, the MDGs and economic development goals are now pursued more and more by private means under the UN logo. Annan caved in to the privatisation mania of the 1990s, creating partnerships with multinationals, according to which the UN would act as a "monitor" of corporate practices and "moderate" between Third World governments and transnationals, providing the latter with the prestigious UN logo and reputation, local contacts and field expertise, and charging each company 20 pieces of silver ($50,000) for the privilege. The corporations would, in turn, transfer technology and investments and alleviate poverty by employing local labour and building up local businesses. A joint venture between the UNDP and some 20 transnational companies, euphemistically called "Global Sustainable Development Facility", is still in the planning stages.
So, for example, to great fanfare, ExxonMobil Egypt recently announced it donated 60 computers to youth organisations in Egypt within the company's partnership with UNICEF and the agency's Adolescent Development Programme. "Through providing necessary facilities to improve education and increase opportunities, we can make a difference in the future of these young people in areas of employment, health and others," said Tom Walter, chairman and managing director of ExxonMobil Egypt. "The large number of youth in Egypt, and the implications it has for this country's growth and development, underscore the need for the active participation of corporate citizens such as ExxonMobil Egypt," said Erma Manoncourt, UNICEF Egypt representative. ExxonMobil PR boasted it is involved in "community service" in 120 countries.
Yes, one of the world's worst polluters (remember Valdez?), which earns billions extracting oil from Third World countries, destroying local cultures and environments, can, for the cost of a few computers, now tell fairytales about its humanitarian efforts with the heartfelt gratitude of the obliging UNESCO country rep.
UN development agencies played a major role in the ex-socialist bloc, where they quickly moved in to assist the new pro-Western governments privatise state-owned industries. They play the same role throughout the Third World. The results have been less than spectacular and have produced a backlash, for privatisation is essentially a transfer of wealth from the broader society to the rich, radically increasing income disparity and unemployment, hardly part of the original UN mandate.
As for the international financial institutions, right from the start, the World Bank head has been directly appointed by the US president (the IMF head by the Europeans) which culminated recently in the scandalous appointment of Paul Wolfowitz. Both function less to promote development than to ensure US dollar hegemony, and have planted monetary daggers in the heart of many a socially-minded leader, directly contributing not to peace but to political violence and repression. Recent South American experiences -- especially Argentina -- have revealed this starkly, and the past 10 years have witnessed more and more countries paying off all IMF debts as political health insurance. And economic as well, as these countries have actually thrived as a result of kicking out their IMF overlords and tearing up their "adjustment packages". So much so, that the IMF is in serious financial difficulties -- no one to squeeze dry, no work for its army of accountants.
Ban, no doubt prompted by his political under-secretary, has been focussing on facilitating the US political agenda these days, pushing development into the background. He has raised hackles with his proposed expansion of the peacekeeping department so that it could better handle the largest increase in "peacekeeping" missions in history -- the latest being the US- promoted intervention in Sudan, while downgrading the disarmament department, which is popular among poor countries concerned with the nuclear arsenals of powerful nations and not particularly happy with current rash of invasions and the subsequent need for "peacekeeping".
Ban also caused considerable concern in the UN bureaucracy with his recent announcement that the UN development role in Iraq will be expanded, despite the 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Iraq that killed 21 staff and the UN envoy Vieira de Mello and caused it to pull out in ignominy. Ban dismissed the unanimous UN staff association opposition and said the present 65 personnel would be increased to 95. He called on member countries to provide $130 million to build the UN a "fortified compound" in Baghdad. The US generously offered to help out.
Alejandro Wolff, the acting US ambassador to the UN until Khalilzad was appointed, said in February that fears that Ban is doing Washington's bidding are baseless and hampering sincere efforts to carry out "concrete and practical and apolitical reforms. The conspiracy theorists out there are convinced this is an American agenda and that this is a secretary- general who is essentially responding to American demands." Translation: Ban is doing Washington's bidding and shut up and accept the facts of life.
The UN and its financial cousins had some coherence when they were forged by partners, even if the partners hated each other's guts, and their first four decades made a real contribution to development and alleviation of poverty . Now that they have become the playthings of our unipolar hegemone, they are being left behind as the world desperately tries to deal with the mess the US is making everywhere. Will we still be talking about a UN in 10 years time? Will it collapse along with its main founder? Or fade away into irrelevance, as it seems to be doing now?
One possible reform is to expand the Security Council to include some combination of Germany, India, Brazil, Japan, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa. Even if the existing five members keep their veto, an expanded council would make it more difficult to allow another US-led imperial venture like the invasion of Iraq, which the council effectively condoned.
Another possible direction for reinvigorating it politically is the creation of a UN parliamentary assembly (UNPA), composed initially of elected parliamentarians from around the world. This has been the project of the World Federalists since the UN was formed, and has gained some momentum in the past 15 years. "A parliamentary assembly would make the UN more transparent, more efficient and more democratic", said former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali, patron of a WF conference planned for October. Initially, the UNPA could be composed of a small number of representatives from each national parliament and would eventually be composed of directly elected members, evolving into a world parliament.
As for development alternatives, there are now 40,000 internationally recognised NGOs, some of them actually legitimate and effective, dealing with environment, development, and disarmament, with the UN acting as an umbrella. The very phrase "non-governmental organisation" first came into popular use with the establishment of the UN in 1945. A prominent example is the World Social Forum (WSF) which is a rival convention to the elitist World Economic Forum. The seventh WSF in Nairobi, Kenya in February was attended by representatives from more than 1,000 NGOs.
So with warning signs of trouble at the IMF, and mounting discontent with privatisation as a panacea and the UN as US handmaiden, the future for the UN at best promises to be one of turmoil. If the world magically turns socialist, the WSF and the legitimate NGOs could become the cradle of a new international order, but then so could the UN.
No, we must wait for the scam that is the New World Order to come crashing down along with its dollar scaffolding, or for Russia and China to work with other dissatisfied countries to create credible alternative financial institutions and an international currency arrangement free of the US. There is little likelihood that Ban's UN will play much of a role in this, either politically or economically, but creation of a world parliament could be a move towards real forum for the world's peoples without interference from their governments.