Wednesday, April 04, 2007

What do Zimbabwe and the US have in common?

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alex Downer, frequently throws in a dismissive riposte to any journalistic query as to the potential role of the UN in dealing with the rogue regime of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. His line is that members of the UNGA have sided with Mugabe in the past, thereby weakening the UN's capacity to act.

What he doesn't say is that the greatest impediment to 'reform' of UN practices is its "most powerful member state and major paymaster, the US". In reviewing James Traub's account of Kofi Annan's last years in office in the New York Review of Books, Tony Judt exposes the devious game played by the Bush administration and client states like Israel, the Marshall Islands and, strangely enough, Australia:

"...genuine efforts at institutional reform over the course of the past two years were seriously torpedoed by Bolton [ex-American Ambassador to the UN] and his staff, who demanded "massive management reform" but blocked any compromises that might actually achieve it.

In effect, Bolton formed a de facto coalition with states like Zimbabwe, Belarus, and others who have their reasons for keeping the UN ineffective and out of their domestic affairs. And because the US refused to concede an inch in recent negotiations on reform of the Human Rights Council, the establishment of Peace-building Commissions, or a new international disarmament regime, countries that might otherwise have been constrained to give ground (Iran and Pakistan in particular) felt no compunction in rejecting stricter rules on, for example, nonproliferation. The member states (mostly European) that sought ways to trade untrammeled national sovereignty for a more effective international legal regime or a workable set of rules for collective action found themselves in a permanent minority."

Australia has sided with the US in hammering the UN on the need for fundamental reform. Rather than engage constructively in processes to strengthen the only truly global peace building mechanism, Australia sides with the US in undermining the UN's credibility at every turn, thereby becoming a "leading source of the very shortcomings American commentators now deplore."

Its an uncertain bandwagon Australia has climbed on to, and I suspect it will ultimately hurt our long term security interests. It is hard to believe that Australia would have a stake in limiting UN scrutiny of human rights violations and capacity to intervene when governments abuse their citizens or when states fail (especially given our founding role and proud history of supporting UN interventions) but there it is.

Could it be that our Government does'nt like scrutiny of its treatment of our indigenous communities, or is it the abhorrent and absurd Pacific Solution they don't like being looked at too closely? The UNHCR has been critical of the PS strategy, and other UN agencies have called into question human rights issues associated with Aboriginal people and asylum seeker detention.

Its a funny old web we are weaving, and good old Alex Downer can always be relied upon to make us look arrogant, devious and mean-spirited with one of his bombastic one liners. Behind the bombast lies a damaging strategy of devaluing and undermining the UN.

Meanwhile, we remain joined at the hip with a US administration that continues to trumpet unilateralism and to 'render' and torture suspects in the 'war on terror' and that refuses to recognize the virtues of an International Court or the primacy of international law.

As for Mugabe, he has announced he will run for President again next year. Thankfully Bush can't do that..........!

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