Those conservatives who think that “UN Reform” means the dissolution of the United Nations are now calling for the resignation of Kofi Annan. They cannot forgive the organization or its secretary general for being proven right about Iraq. Indeed, none of them were exactly friends of the UN even before that.
Sadly, the dust they are raising about the alleged UN oil-for- food scandal obscures the importance of a report that Annan has just delivered on how the world, and the UN, should cope with the threats of the new century. The report, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, was prepared by a high-level panel Annan appointed a year ago. The report’s recommendations need approval from two-thirds of the whole membership and, above all, of the five current permanent members of the Security Council, each of whom has the right to veto any changes in the UN Charter.
Many people will focus on what the report says about which countries should be on the Security Council. But the panel concerned itself more with the far more important question of what the Council, General Assembly and Secretariat should be doing. In brief, the report says that in the face of global threats, whether from poverty, plague, terrorism or aggression, the only solutions are global, collective responses. Indeed, much of the report is an appeal to member states to implement the commitments they’ve already made on such issues as disarmament, development aid, HIV/AIDS and developing-country access to Northern markets.
To some extent, the panel was a rescue operation for some of the essential concepts that Annan wants embedded in the organization by the end of his second term, in 2006. One of those is the concept of humanitarian intervention. Annan asked at the UN Millennium Summit in 2000, “If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica–to gross and systematic violations of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?” That question was obscured by September 11, which at US insistence gave terrorism prime place on the global agenda, along with the invasion of Iraq. The invasion also did much to confirm the fears of many governments about the cynical expediency of both the “war on terror” and humanitarian intervention–which George W. Bush and Tony Blair retroactively invoked when faced with the failure of their first excuse, Iraqi weaponry.
The report tries to reconcile these fears and threats and goes a long way toward addressing rational US concerns. It offers, for example, a reasonable working definition of “terrorism” for the first time, rescuing the term from those who invoke freedom-fighter status to excuse atrocities and from those in Washington who use it as a pejorative term for any dissent from their imperial project.