In his report entitled "In Larger Freedom," the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan talked of "development, security and human rights" going "hand in hand." Has any head of government taken this idea seriously? Instead, the big powers and the developing countries are mainly concerned with a single question: how to make use of the international systems like the UN for their own global interests.
From the time when Kofi Annan hesitatingly pronounced that the US invasion of Iraq was "illegal" as per the UN charter, the Bush administration considered him a nuisance. Even the UN charter, the best international legal framework today, and which the nations, including the US, pledged to uphold, was inconvenient for them. On many occasions, the US ignored or thwarted it.
As far as the developing countries are concerned, most of them have ambitious political classes in their ruling establishments. The ongoing debate on the issue of the expansion of the UN Security Council (UNSC) illustrates this trend.
While G-4 countries comprising India, Brazil, Germany and Japan are demanding permanent membership of the UNSC, the "Coffee Club," a group led by Pakistan and Italy, are opposing the expansion.
G-4 countries couldn't make a convincing case for permanent membership, not only to the dominant players like the US, but also to their neighbors. Italy opposed Germany's candidacy; China and South Korea are strongly against Japan; Pakistan is resisting India's moves; Argentina and Mexico oppose Brazil. From Africa, Kenya is aspiring due to its role in negotiating for peace in Sudan and Somalia. South Africa and Nigeria have also shown interest. The rival claimants are working at cross-purposes.
Does India have credentials to claim for a permanent seat? US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns asserted that India had the perfect right because it is a large country with a significant population, practicing the democratic system, giving substantial resources to the UN system and adhering to nonproliferation.
But will the five nations having veto power allow encroachment in their privileged domain? They wouldn't do it unless they gained something in some way to further their global interests. Obviously, no world power would promote another country's claims unless some of its narrow interests are served.
India, according to Burns, is of "increased strategic importance" to the US. He said, "We are achieving a partnership between our two countries which is truly historic." The Indo-US Defense Framework signed during the US visit of India's Defense Minister suggest that the US is interested in cooperation with India in advanced weaponry and missile defense. It's really "historic" in the sense that such military cooperation grossly violates India's traditional foreign policy of nonalignment.
All these instances ultimately suggest that the agenda of the US is to undermine the multilateral character of the UN, so that its corporate interests are well-protected. It is manifested by the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN, who had already expressed his "noble" view of the UN that "there is no such thing as the United Nations." Clearly, the US wants the UN and other international institutions to function on its own terms.
Today, very few know how the UN's trade regulatory bodies attempted to regulate multinational corporations and ultimately failed, due to the continuous blockades of the US. And where was the UN's Commission on Transnational Corporations, which was set up to prevent corporate abuses like dumping illegal drugs in the Third World and to make corporations be accountable and transparent? When the commission seriously tried to devise a universal code of conduct for multinational corporations, its fate was sealed by the US in 1986.
So, to ensure multilateralism, the UN system requires reforms, and the guiding principles for the reforms are transparency, international accountability and multilateralism. New members who are committed to act on these principles must be included in the permanent category.
Presently, the UN's relevance endures when it meets Washington demands. Corporate America's interests are in direct opposition to the national interests of the constituent members in the UN. Here lies the difficulty of the UN system to act as the viable forum for reconciling the interests of all member-nations and to function according to the UN Charter. Yet, the UN is important to the world in many ways. Particularly, it has much to do in humanitarian spheres and in human development.
The choice before the aspirants for permanent membership is either a firm commitment to the US to promote its geopolitical interests, or keeping a policy of multi-alignment with all countries without losing sovereignty. The latter course could deprive any chance of becoming a permanent member in the UNSC, but it would ensure freedom and sovereignty and also help to further their countries' economic and other interests.
India's progressives are demanding the Indian ruling elites to pursue India's traditional nonaligned policy and not to give in to the narrow interests of the corporate America for the sake of permanent membership in the UNSC.
Third-world countries must strive for the real democratization of the UN, converting it into a just, democratic, rule-based international system. To accomplish this job, they have to shed their petty global ambitions.
N. Gunasekaran is a writer and activist in Chennai, India.