avatar
“In Larger Freedom” II


So: It appears that the UN Secretary-General’s newly minted report, In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All, isn’t all that serious about reforming the Security Council. I say this, because the Annan Report (pars. 169-170) takes the High-Level Panel’s recommendations (pars. 249-258) on Security Council enlargement and reform quite seriously, and the High-Level Panel’s recommendations are anything but that. Indeed. The High-Level Panel’s are woefully weak.

True, this it not how Kofi Annan sees it—a “fresh start for the international system,” he calls it in today’s Financial Times, “and for the UN itself.” (For a copy, see below.)

Not how the mainstream American media see it. “Secretary General Kofi Annan will propose sweeping changes to the United Nations on Monday that would expand the Security Council to reflect modern realities of global power,” the New York Times tells this morning’s readers.

Regarding the Security Council, Mr. Annan left it up to the General Assembly to decide between basic ideas proposed in November, but he urged the body to reach a decision before the September meeting.

The council now has 5 veto-bearing members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and 10 members elected to two-year terms. One alternative would add 6 permanent members — likely candidates are Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, Egypt and either Nigeria or South Africa — as well as 3 two-year term members. The other would create a new tier of 8 semipermanent members chosen for renewable four-year terms and one additional two-year seat to the existing 10.

Veto power is coveted by nations seeking permanent status; they are likely to continue to press for it even though both recommendations, as now written, limit the veto to the five original permanent members.

Certainly not how Annan’s proposals are seen by the nominee to become the next American ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton. (Though with his nomination to the post now pending, and Mr. Bolton currently holding his peace, let me instead direct you to “The enemy within: How an Americanist devoted to destroying international alliances became the US envoy to the UN,” Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, March 10, 2005.)

The Sunday Telegraph (London) reported that Annan & Co. are so desperate to win the support of the Americans that “The security of America and other wealthy countries will for the first time be declared a key priority for the United Nations under reforms designed to restore confidence in the crisis- ridden international body. The reforms…will be seen as a concession to Washington after repeated clashes with President George W. Bush over U.S. foreign policy, including the war in Iraq.” In a separate article, the Sunday Telegraph also reported that “The proposal is designed to increase the UN’s appeal to the United States and other rich Western countries….The attempt to re-fashion the UN and put an end to its role as a forum for developing nations to challenge America will be applauded by Washington, which remains deeply sceptical of the organisation.”

More accurately, I think we should regard In Larger Freedom as a kind of Rorschach Test. (Much as American Power and its ideologues already regard the rest of the world: As a thing upon which to impose themselves, and to project their mental constructs.) The document itself ranges from the bland to diplomatic boilerplate to the clearcut concessions to the maniacs of American Power that the Sunday Telegraph and others have been noting. Nevertheless. Despite all of its blandness and concessions to the Americans (and just between ourselves, I count the fact that the document never once names the Americans as a threat to international peace and security, right along side “terrorism” and nuclear weaponry, as the greatest concession of all), the document does cover a gamut of vital issues: Not the least of which are the daily insecurities attendant to the life of poverty, and all of the remarkable work and proposals to have come out of the development side of the UN Millennium Project these past five years.

Look. We Americans above all must face a simple fact. Which is this: United Nations reform, and Security Council reform, the reform of the system for the maintenance of international peace and security, means absolutely nothing if it does not include challenging American Power, and finding some way to contain and deter it.

As Secretary-General, Kofi Annan’s forays into this uncharted territory have been few and far between. (In point of fact, they have been milquetoast and pipsqueak.)

Still. It all comes down to this: Either the Secretary-General will challenge the Americans. Or the Secretary-General will capitulate to the Americans. And bow out. We will see.

An “annus horribilis” indeed, Mr. Secretary-General.

But it is only beginning.

United Nations Millennium Declaration (A/55/L.2), UN General Assembly, September 8, 2000
“We the Peoples”: The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century, Kofi A. Annan et al., United Nation, 2000
UN Millennium Development Goals (Overview with links)
UN Millennium Project (Homepage)
Investing in Development: A Practical Plan To Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, Jeffrey D. Sachs et al., 2005 (For the complete PDF version of the same.—Also see the accompanying Media Release.)
A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility, Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, Anand Panyarachun et al., 2004 (For the complete PDF version of the same.)
In Larger Freedom: Towards Security, Development and Human Rights for All, Report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for decisions by Heads of State and Government in September 2005 (A/59/2005), Kofi A. Annan et al., United Nations, 2005 (For the PDF version of the report.)

Annan to present on Monday new report on building better and safer world,” UN News Center, March 18, 2005
Annan calls for deal by world leaders on poverty, security and human rights,” UN News Center, March 20, 2005
Annan’s proposed deal for better world is ‘bold and achievable’ – UN officials,” UN News Center, March 20, 2005

The enemy within: How an Americanist devoted to destroying international alliances became the US envoy to the UN,” Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, March 10, 2005
The Unfixable UN,” Jed Babbin, Boston Globe, March 15, 2005
Annan Has a Plan to Revitalize U.N.,” Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2005
UN plans revamp to win America back,” Charles Laurence, Sunday Telegraph, March 20, 2005
UN in dramatic climbdown after American pressure,” Charles Laurence, Sunday Telegraph, March 20, 2005
Annan Drafts Changes For U.N.,” Colum Lynch, Washington Post, March 20, 2005

Report: Annan drafts reform package for U.N.,” Associated Press, March 20, 2005
Annan Wants Big Reforms on Force, Poverty, Rights,” Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, March 20, 2005

Annan unveils sweeping UN reforms,” Marc Carnegie, The Australian, March 21, 2005
Annan to unveil plans for overhaul of UN,” Mark Turner, Financial Times, March 21, 2005
An aspiration to a larger freedom,” Kofi A. Annan, Financial Times, March 21, 2005 [$$$$$$---see below]
Annan proposes radical UN shakeup,” Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, March 21, 2005
Annan to Offer Plans for Change In U.N. Structure,” Warren Hoge, New York Times, March 21, 2005

The Hague, Netherlands – Secretary-General’s press conference (unofficial transcript),” UN News Center, March 10, 2003
Excerpts: Annan interview,” BBC News Online, September 16, 2004
Choice of words matters,” Paul Reynolds, BBC News Online, September 16, 2004

“How America Gets Away With Murder” III, September 16, 2004
“In Larger Freedom” I, March 20, 2005

FYA (“For your archives”):

Financial Times (London, England)
March 21, 2005 Monday
London Edition 1
SECTION: COMMENT; Pg. 17
HEADLINE: An aspiration to a larger freedom: KOFI ANNAN:
BYLINE: By KOFI ANNAN

For most Financial Times readers, March 21 is the first day of spring. I take that as a good omen, since today I shall be presenting my report “In Larger Freedom” to the United Nations General Assembly. I hope this will mark a fresh start for the international system, and for the UN itself.

Some will find that a surprising and pretentious statement from an organisation they see as part of an obsolete world order, which anyway had little to do with freedom.

Yet the words “in larger freedom” are taken from the preamble to the UN Charter – whose opening words, “We the peoples”, I used as the title for my Millennium Report five years ago. In both cases I wanted to remind the governments of the world, who put me in my job and to whom I am accountable, that they are in the UN to represent not themselves but their peoples, who expect them to work for the aims set out in the organisation’s charter.

These aims can be summarised as peace, human rights, justice and development – but in 1945 that last word was not yet as fashionable as it is today. The actual words of the charter are “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. By that magnificent phrase our founders clearly implied both that development is possible only in conditions of freedom, and that people can only benefit from political freedom when they have at least a fair chance of reaching decent living standards. But “larger freedom” can be taken as embracing the other aims too. You can be truly free only if you are secure from war and violence, and if your fundamental rights and dignity are upheld by law. Human rights, development and security are mutually interdependent and, taken together, they add up to larger freedom.

Of course, the UN often falls short of these noble aspirations, since it reflects the realities of world politics, even while seeking to transcend them. But political freedom has been making headway, as first the peoples of Asia and Africa won freedom from colonialism, and then more and more peoples shook off dictatorship, asserting their right to choose their own rulers.

Twenty years ago it was almost unthinkable for the UN to take sides between democracy and dictatorship, or seek to intervene in the internal affairs of its members.

Today, by contrast, almost all UN members accept democratisation as something desirable, at least in theory, and the UN itself does more than any other single organisation to promote and strengthen democratic institutions and practices around the world. In the past year alone it has organised or helped organise elections in over 20 countries – often at decisive moments in their history, as in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and Burundi. The UN’s member states can now agree, if they so decide, to increase that assistance, and to make the international machinery for defending human rights more effective and credible. In my report I shall propose to them a way to put human rights on a par with security and development in the renewed UN.

Sixty years of peace and economic growth in the industrial world have also given the human race today, for the first time, the economic and technical power to overcome poverty and its attendant ills. Thanks in large part to a series of UN conferences, there is also very broad agreement, built around the Millennium Development Goals, on what needs to be done. There is no longer any excuse for leaving well over a billion of our fellow human beings in abject misery. All that is needed is some clear decisions, by the governments of both rich and poor countries.

Five years ago, peace and security seemed more within our reach than development. Terrorist attacks, and bitter disputes over Iraq, have since made that much more doubtful, and we continue to face vicious conflicts in Africa. But crisis can breed opportunity. The existence of common threats makes nations more aware of the need for collective responses. Decisions can, and should, be taken to strengthen our common defence and action against terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, organised crime, sudden world epidemics, climate change, recurrent state collapse, civil war and genocide.

The UN is a forum where sovereign states can work out common strategies for tackling global problems, and an instrument for putting those strategies into effect. But it can be a much more effective instrument if its governing body, the General Assembly, is better organised and gives clearer directives to us in the secretariat, with the flexibility to carry them out, and holds us clearly accountable for how we do it. The Security Council, for its part, needs to be more broadly representative but also more able and willing to take action when action is needed.

I shall today propose decisions in all these areas, and challenge world leaders to respond with action at the UN summit in September. By then, in the northern hemisphere, autumn will be approaching. But if world leaders rise to their responsibilities, the rebirth and renewal of the UN will be just beginning – and with it, renewed hope for a freer, fairer and safer world.

The writer is secretary-general of the United Nations

Leave a comment