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UNITED NATIONS: Flaws in UN’s Moral Authority on Democracy

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 23 1999 (IPS) - Former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali says the United Nations has little moral authority to preach democracy to the outside world when it is not fully practising it in its own backyard.

Boutros-Ghali, the UN’s chief executive officer from 1992-1996, argues that although the world body is an organisation with 185 sovereign states, it is now increasingly dominated by a single major power – the United States.

“At the bottom, there is a democratic system, and at the top is an authoritarian system,” says the former Egyptian foreign minister who is in New York to promote his new book on the stormy US-UN relations during his five-year tenure.

In the book, titled “Unvanquished: a US-UN Saga”, Boutros- Ghali says that the way the United Nations was marginalised during the Kosovo crisis does not augur well for the world body.

He maintains the North Atlantic Treaty Organistion (NATO), led by the United States took action against Yugoslavia without any authorisation from the only international body mandated to declare war: the UN Security Council.

As Boutros-Ghali perceives it, the world body now faces two major political problems.

First, the existence of a single remaining superpower in a post-Cold War era. “This is a reality. There is nothing that could be done without the United States.”

The second problem, he says, is that the other major countries at the United Nations are not eager to play any significant role in international affairs.

“They believe it is better for them to follow the superpower,” he told IPS.

Boutros-Ghali also notes that over the last few years the United Nations has spent millions of dollars to promote multi- party democracy in Third World countries. Since 1992, the United Nations has provided electoral assistance to more than 75 countries, and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been involved in most.

In 1994-1995, UNDP earmarked only about 14 percent of its resources for good governance. Currently, more than 35 percent of UNDP’s annual budget of about 900 million dollars goes to promote democracy.

These include UNDP support for free elections, rule of law, accountable national assemblies, a strong judiciary, a free press, a vibrant private sector and a role for civil society.

“But national democracy has no value unless there is international democracy,” the former UN chief argues.

The United Nations, he says, is the only forum that can promote democracy at the international level. “It is therefore essential for major actors and also non-state actors such as non- governmental organisations (NGOs) to participate in the exercise.”

Boutros-Ghali’s comments come at a time when the United States and Britain continue to oppose the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq despite overwhelming support for it – both inside and outside the United Nations.

Of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, the other three, namely France, Russia and China, have indicated a willingness to end sanctions against Iraq. But a minority of two have threatened to veto any such move.

“Of the five permanent members, there is increasingly only one,” says former Egyptian ambassador Nabil el-Araby.

In his book, Boutros-Ghali provides evidence of how Washington continues to manipulate the world body to its own advantage and to protect its own interests.

When there was a proposal to relieve the sufferings of the Iraqi people through a temporary suspension of the embargo under an “Oil for Food” deal, the US dragged its feet because it was a presidential election year. The White House feared that the Iraqi issue could get embroiled in domestic politics, he says.

At a different level, Boutros-Ghali alleges that the United States abandoned even the basic principles of democracy when it stood alone against 14 member of the Security Council in vetoeing his re-election as Secretary-General.

He relates how then Secretary of State Warren Christopher tried to convince him to publicly declare that he would not run for a second term. But he refused.

“Surely, you cannot dismiss the Secretary-General of the United Nations by the unilateral diktat of the United States. What about the rights of the other (14) Security Council members”?, he asked at the time.

But eventually, the United States had its way when it succeeded, with its veto power, in denying Boutros-Ghali a second term in office.

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