Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hitting the nail on the head

Hitting the nail
on the head

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's comment that the conflict in Iraq is worse than a civil war and the people of Iraq are worse now than during the Saddam Hussein regime was to be expected since it was and is the truth. The world had known it for some time — some had predicted even before the US invaded Iraq that it would be the case —  and Annan was only acknowledging the reality on the ground. Indeed, it carries weight since it came from a person as eminent as the secretary general of the UN, although it is unlikely to change anything, given the US determination to stay the course in Iraq.
For the first time, Annan, with less than one month to go before he leaves office, also clearly stated that the US decision to go to war against Iraq without Security Council consent was in violation of the UN Charter.
Predictably, his observations that the people of Iraq were worse off now than the days under the reign of Saddam Hussein drew rejection from the Iraqi government, which said the Iraqis were subjected to summary killings and torture by the Saddam regime and there could be no comparison between those days and today.
Well, as Annan observed, "they had a dictator who was brutal but they had their streets, they could go out, their kids could go to school and come back home without a mother or father worrying, 'Am I going to see my child again?" And that is not to mention the interior ministry death squads roaming through central Iraq, storming homes and taking away people to be tortured and slaughtered.
Beyond that, Annan's expression of regret that he was unable to stop the war underlines the pressing need for sweeping changes in the UN system where the veto-yielding permanent members of the Security Council could determine the fate of people anywhere in the world and alter the course of world history.
Although Annan said he believed that the UN could have averted the war had it worked harder and gave more time to UN weapon inspectors, it was highly unlikely that he could have made any difference. Such is the very nature of the job of the UN chief, who is entrusted with the task of implementing the world bodys' decisions but does not have any real authority when it comes to political issues involving vested interests of big powers. That is the very weakness of the UN system and that is where there is a pressing need for reform in the world body, including expanding and revamping the powers and obligations of the Security Council in a manner that does not allow the world body to be used to serve the interests of the big powers.
As Annan affirmed, the rift created by the decision by the US and allies to go to war against Iraq despite objections raised by other members of the UN Security Council has not been bridged.
"I was also concerned that for the US and its coalition to go to war without the consent of the council in that particular region, which has always been extremely controversial, would be extremely difficult and very divisive and that it would take quite a long time to put the organisation back together, and of course it divided the world too," Annan said.
Indeed, the US circumvention of the UN while heading for war citing UN resolutions and reasons of "world security" created a bad precedent in international affairs. It also came at the expense of the moral authority of the UN, which supposedly has the world mandate to decide the best course of action in situations of international crises.
The world has been waiting for Annan to say it aloud and he has done so. And the question that Annan did not raise in so many words but was implicit in his comments was: What is the world going to do about addressing the unilateralism that is plaguing the UN?