Thursday, December 13, 2007

One for the UN-fetishists

Every time Bush wants to attack somebody, or wherever a crisis breaks out, there are still a chorus (diminishing, perhaps) of liberals who call for UN intervention in its place. Old Labour types call for the restoration of the UN's authority, believing it to be an authentic legal body (in the sense of one that treats all constituents as formally equal), despite its patently undemocratic and rigid hierarchical structures. Multilateral imperialism fronted by chaps in blue helmets, violent global maintenance of the world system converted into a function of global technocrats - such was an enduring fantasy of the Fabians, and probably is still so today. The arguments on its behalf are perfectly liberal and humanitarian, even vaguely pacifist. Perhaps at one time this seemed vaguely plausible as the ranks of recently liberated Third World countries gathered in the UN and started making American reactionaries nervous in the 1960s and 1970s. That, however, is a world long gone, and the UN's record of increasingly allowing itself to be a military auxiliary of the US has diminished ay credibility it may once have had. Thus, Adrian Hamilton of The Independent correctly avers that the UN is seen as a tool of the West:

The trouble with denying this and protesting the U.N.'s innocence is that the Third World perception of it as an instrument of the West has some basis to it. If you take the Middle East, the succession of resolutions on Palestine, never implemented and almost universally ignored, the relentless pinioning of Saddam Hussein through sanctions and then enforced regime-change, the current pursuit of Iran through sanctions and threat, are all seen expressions not of international concern but western self-interest. And the same is true of much of Africa, where the blue helmet has come to represent western ideas of order rather than local concerns for justice.

Well, duh. Is there anywhere that they have actually sent UN troops and not produced crimes, anywhere they have not taken up the old imperial standard (the double one, I mean)? Whether it is sending troops into Haiti, Yugoslavia or the Congo, or applying hypocritical sanctions to Iran, Iraq and Palestine, the body has hardly distinguished itself as anything but the bearer of American gospel, ex cathedra. How about in Lebanon, where: "the UN itself breached its most basic principles that prohibit the use of force except in cases of self-defense, by first allowing an Israeli war to continue for over a month in Lebanon, at huge expense, and then essentially rewarding it with UN Resolution 1701 ... which allowed Israel an extra 48 hours, after the resolution was negotiated, to continue its attacks in Lebanon ... That's when Israel dropped 1 million cluster bombs in Southern Lebanon and people are still suffering from that.". Well, we know how about that, because the Secretary-General's representative went on to add that the resolution offered "great hope". (Speaking of Israel, how about this?)

The UN's astonishingly wide array of activities is somewhat disarming. With a certain sanctimonious language that is its trade mark, you can find it negotiating deals to prolong the despoilment of the planet (marketed as deals to curtail the despoilment of the planet); prolong the drugs war (marketed as rolling back the drugs war); mandate and entrench occupying regimes (sold as the gradual alleviation of this state of affairs); prolong global poverty (anti-poverty initiatives); blockade independent states (defense of state sovereignty); attack democratically elected governments (democracy promotion), and so on and on. If you pay attention to the literature of the World Bank or the IMF or similar institutions, you find that they usually consider themselves to be goody-goody outfits, development agencies, treasurers for the poor. Their miasmic technocratic language, the clouds of clauses (must have environmental aspect, energy efficiency, good governance, etc), are hardly enough to conceal the pro-capitalist agenda of these institutions. Partly due to their obviously Washington-driven policies, and a sustained campaign against these institutions by the Left, by Third World movements, by NGOs, few would take the self-image of these institutions seriously. May it be so with the UN, whose invention by Washington liberals proved more serviceable and less troublesome than they can ever have expected.