You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.

Organized to promote the interests of the biggest powers
Can the UN be a force for peace?

October 26, 2001 | Page 8

ERIC RUDER looks at whether the United Nations deserves the Nobel Peace Prize it was awarded in early October.

THE NEWS that the United Nations and its Secretary General Kofi Annan won the Nobel Peace Prize must have been a surprise for the parents of Nassar Feyath. In 1997, Nassar--who hadn't yet reached her second birthday--died of malnutrition.

Nassar was one of more than 500,000 Iraqi children who have died as a result of crippling economic sanctions imposed by the UN. And this massive body count continues to grow by 5,000 each month, according to the UN's own estimates.

But this didn't stop the New York Times from praising the selection of the UN--and the "impeccably tailored" Kofi Annan--as "an inspired choice" for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The idea that the UN is a neutral international body dedicated to spreading peace is a myth. Annan presides over the UN's General Assembly, where most countries of the world have a representative. But five countries--the U.S., Russia, China, France and Britain--are permanent members of the more powerful UN Security Council, and they have effective veto power over UN decisions. As a result, the UN only acts when it suits the interests of these powerful countries.

As the most powerful of the five, the U.S. has enormous power over what the UN does. If the UN doesn't "follow orders," the U.S. can simply disregard it.

In 1994, John Bolton, a former Bush Sr. undersecretary of state, made these points bluntly, using the U.S. and UN war against Iraq as an example. "There is no United Nations," Bolton said. "There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get others to go along."

"The success of the United Nations during the Gulf War wasn't because the United Nations had suddenly become successful. It was because the United States, through President Bush, demonstrated what international leadership, international coalition building, international diplomacy is really all about. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests, we will not."

IN SPITE of its role in overseeing the horrific tragedy in Iraq, some people believe that the UN can play a positive role in "peacekeeping."

But the record shows otherwise. The UN has ignored terrible violence when the U.S. and the other major powers see no advantage to intervening. And when the UN has deployed "peacekeepers," they've often caused more problems than they've solved.

In Somalia in 1993, UN and U.S. troops dispatched to provide "humanitarian" assistance for hunger relief instead tried to impose a government on Somalia. As many as 10,000 Somalians were killed or wounded by "peacekeepers" during the two-year occupation.

And the head of UN peacekeeping operations at the time? Kofi Annan.

Annan also was on the job when the Rwandan government orchestrated the slaughter of up to 1 million ethnic Tutsis. Annan received a cable from his field commander in Rwanda four months before the killings began describing the Hutu-led government's plans to carry out a mass extermination of Tutsis. Annan gave orders not to raid government arms caches.

When a Rwandan government official came forward to reveal the government's plans, Annan ordered the information be turned over to Rwandan President Habyarimana--explicitly fingered by the whistle-blower as the mastermind of the genocide.

Meanwhile, the U.S.--and the UN--deliberately avoided using the word "genocide" to describe the crisis, because this would have obligated both to intervene.

"You cannot count on the international community unless you are rich, and we are not," a Rwandan told an American journalist. "We don't have oil, so it doesn't matter that we have blood, or that we are human beings."

Then there's the example of the crisis in the Balkans. During the 1992-95 civil war in Bosnia, the UN's humanitarian mission did nothing to stop "ethnic cleansing" carried out by nationalist leaders on all sides.

"The UN's political role in Bosnia, forced on it by Washington and its European allies, could be likened to that of a rodeo clown during the bronco riding events: bouncing around the ring to distract the audience from the near-misses and full-blown tragedies being played out all around them," Phyllis Bennis wrote in her book Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's UN.

Under the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords--the treaty negotiated in Ohio that ended the civil war and attempted to enforce peace through ethnic segregation--the UN became the administrator of postwar Bosnia. The UN's powers are dictatorial. UN High Representative Carlos Westendorp has removed politicians from office, shut down media outlets and forced through legislation when parties can't agree.

But that didn't stop the West from using Bosnia as a model when it set up a protectorate in Kosovo after the 1999 war against Yugoslavia.

The war over Kosovo was fought under the flag of NATO--because the U.S. wanted to go to war against its former ally Slobodan Milosevic but knew that Russia would veto any action by the UN. The "peacekeepers" that occupied Kosovo after the war allowed reverse "ethnic cleansing"--with returning Kosovar Albanians driving out the province's Serb population.

FAR FROM championing democracy and the rule of law, the UN provides humanitarian cover for the imperialist aims of the U.S. and the other great powers. If the UN is called on to take charge in Afghanistan after Washington's war, the experience won't be any different.

It certainly hasn't been so far. In the early 1990s, after the former USSR withdrew from Afghanistan, the UN stood by and watched as a civil war broke out between U.S.-backed rebel mujahideen factions.

But now, as U.S. bombs drop on Afghanistan, George W. Bush--who during his campaign last year criticized Bill Clinton's involvement in UN "nation-building" projects--has done an about-face. The UN should "take over the so-called nation-building--I would call it the stabilization of a future government," Bush declared October 11.

But the real reason to involve the UN is to offload some of the financial expense and political risk--and most importantly, to cloak U.S. interests with the credibility of a supposedly neutral international institution.

"If we can mask our power in--sorry, work with--institutions like the UN Security Council, U.S. might will be easier for much of the world to bear," Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria cynically pointed out.

Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf did Zakaria one better. In an article titled "The Need for a New Imperialism," he describes Afghanistan as a "failed state" because the "government's monopoly of organized violence--a condition for civilized life--[has] collapsed." He calls for a UN "protectorate" to rule the country.

But UN protectorates should be called what they are--colonial arrangements set up to impose "peace" on terms that satisfy the biggest powers, especially the U.S.

And they call it a peace prize?

IF YOU'RE wondering why the UN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 given its less-than-peaceful record, consider other recent peace prize recipients.

Last year, the winner was South Korean President Kim Dae Jung--despite his government's record of repressing trade unionists and socialists.

Recipients in the 1990s include former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and Frederik Willem de Klerk, once the head of South Africa's racist apartheid regime.

Home page | Back to the top