Saturday, September 29, 2012

A New United Nations

Spottswoode: Remember, there is no "I" in "Team America".

Intelligence: Yes, there is.

- from Team America: World Police

The Charter of the United Nations is an enlightened and uplifting document. Signed in San Francisco in June 1945 and ratified later the same year, it is the foundation treaty of the United Nations, a document which sets out a laudable vision of peace, harmony, equality and prosperity for all nations, large and small, and for every citizen on the planet.

Naturally, everyone understood that this vision would not come to pass overnight - that such a just world may take decades or even centuries to realize - but as with all incremental processes toward an ideal, progress and improvements must be seen to continuously occurring. In the post-war era as the world rebuilt, progress was certainly seen in all areas and, despite setbacks along the way, a general move towards a better world could be seen with the introductions in many nations of bills of rights based on the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

This, however, is no longer the case. We are now seeing a clear reversal of the ideals enshrined in the Charter and for this reason alone, the alarm must be raised. In a variety of ways, the world now is very different to that after the war, and the authority of the UN has been tarnished by actions of certain member states. The inescapable conclusion is that the United Nations in its current form is no longer either effective or relevant.

The preamble to the UN Charter is a broad summary of the aims of the organization:

We the peoples of the united nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind...

There are numerous ongoing conflicts around the world at this time, many of them seemingly intractable.

The most damning indictment of the impotence of the UN, however, derives from the fact that the nature of warfare has changed fundamentally since 1945. The US alone is involved in more than seventy covert conflicts and NATO forces now cross the borders of sovereign nations with impunity to carry out drone strikes, ignoring the protests of the governments of those countries.

Even worse, the authority of the UN was crucially tarnished when the US invaded Iraq without Security Council approval. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has since stated his conviction that the invasion was an illegal act.

With the US and NATO now acting as a de facto world police and the dangerous Iraq War precedent set, what is to stop other nations which are currently growing in military power like China invading, drone bombing and 'policing' anywhere at will? Well, the US and NATO would stop them, you cry, but that is precisely the scenario the UN exists to prevent: World War 3.

Therefore, with regard to its peacekeeping role, the UN has proved impotent and has been bypassed by nation states and other organisations.

In 1945 nations attacked each other with conventional forces; warfare is now a far more subtle affair, taking place in multiple arenas: economically, diplomatically, covertly, and with pseudo legitimacy via bodies like the IMF and the World Bank, not to mention the trans-national corporations. Direct actions like drone strikes are also a major step away from convention, as the only risk to the attacker is the loss of the aircraft - no great loss as there are thousands more being built and already operational.

From article 1 of the UN Charter:

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace

Every single sentence of this paragraph is breached daily thanks to NATO drone strikes and covert US operations. The element of the UN Charter that deals with warfare and peacekeeping, written for a different world, is therefore a sham, a worthless piece of paper.

More from the preamble:

We the people of the united nations determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small

There have been great advances in some nations with regard to discrimination of people for their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender and so on. This is most certainly a work in progress and one can envision many more successes to come. However, in the twenty-first century it is clear that there is still a clear hierarchy within the masses of humanity, and that this narrative is mechanically recited by the corporate establishment media.

Glenn Greenwald writes in this fine article on the recent killing of the US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, in Libya:

It is understandable that the senseless killing of an ambassador is bigger news than the senseless killing of an unknown, obscure Yemeni or Pakistani child. But it's anything but understandable to regard the former as more tragic than the latter. Yet there's no denying that the same people today most vocally condemning the Benghazi killings are quick and eager to find justification when the killing of innocents is done by their government, rather than aimed at it.

It's as though there are two types of crimes: killing, and then the killing of Americans. The way in which that latter phrase is so often invoked, with such intensity, emotion and scorn, reveals that it is viewed as the supreme crime: this is not just the tragic deaths of individuals, but a blow against the Empire; it therefore sparks particular offense. It is redolent of those in conquered lands being told they will be severely punished because they have raised their hand against a citizen of Rome.

Just compare the way in which the deaths of Americans on 9/11, even more than a decade later, are commemorated with borderline religious solemnity, as opposed to the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of foreign Muslims caused by the US, which are barely ever acknowledged. There is a clear hierarchy of human life being constantly reinforced by this mentality, and it is deeply consequential.

Here Greenwald states as his opinions the very views enshrined in the UN Charter, views which he demonstrates are clearly not shared by the majority of media stenographers, editors and owners. As the general public greatly takes its cues with regard to their view of the world from the stories they read, this is indeed, as Greenwald states, deeply consequential. Ironically, when asked directly which life has more value: that of an ambassador or that of a nameless Pakistani child, many of these media people would be likely to state that they are equal, and yet this is simply not borne out in the language used in media stories.

All humans are not seen as equal. As a result of this mass media bias, billions of people subconsciously still believe that some are more valuable than others, be it on the basis of nationality or otherwise. As a direct consequence, those regarded as lower class are treated with less respect or urgency.

My free book on human rights and direct democracy deals with the UN issue in detail in the excerpt below and also suggests a solution:


The United Nations itself is a considerable problem. Dogged by scandals such as allegations of funds from the Iraq Oil-for Food Program being diverted to UN officials and the government of Iraq, as well as a series of sexual abuse scandals involving UN peacekeepers, the reputation and credibility of the UN has been tarnished.

In addition, the fact that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) have the power to veto any resolution has severely limited the ability of the UN to carry out its primary mandates, namely to ‘maintain international peace and security, and if necessary to enforce peace by taking preventive or enforcement action'.

This veto in particular, wielded by five powers whose interests are often in direct conflict, or which are motivated by self-interest, has crippled the effectiveness of the UN in vital areas. It is noteworthy also that one of the countries with this power of veto (which can affect democratic nations) fails to itself practice any form of democracy at home.

For these reasons, despite the great good achieved by most UN operations and the dedication and bravery of the majority of its staff, the UN has lost some relevance in the geopolitical realities of the twenty-first century in comparison to the dominant nations and, increasingly, corporations.

Imagine for one moment – horror of horrors – a United Nations in which each member nation has equal standing and no veto power is possible, one which itself can democratically veto the self-interest-driven desires of any single nation or corporation. For the sake of argument, call it the New United Nations (NUN).

As it is extremely unlikely that the five veto-wielding nations would permit such an organ, the only means of achieving it would entail a concerted breaking away of the non-veto-wielding countries.

In order to establish how this hypothetical New United Nations could fulfill its charter, it would be necessary to define clearly the roles and responsibilities, with clear laws and restrictions, on all members. These laws would necessarily correspond with the ideals set down in the UDHR. Nations which currently flout these laws, such as those with poor human rights records, or dictatorships, could be offered powerful incentives (economic or otherwise) to join the rest of the world in embracing freedom and democracy.

This would and could not be a global government. Such a government could not function efficiently, not least because societies and cultures are so varied. However, the nature of civilization is changing rapidly and fundamentally in the information age, where billions of people are interconnected anytime at any distance.

The increasingly influential phenomena of trans-national corporations, which have little or no need to recognize boundaries, as well as international ‘think tanks’ must also be taken into consideration.

Multiple issues are arising from this fundamental change in the ways societies operate. In order to cope, a paradigm shift in conventional thinking is required; simply put, the old ways are simply no longer effective or appropriate.

Aims for a New United Nations could include:

The creation of an international NUN committee to regulate trans-national corporations, enforce regulations, and severely punish unethical behavior. This would essentially give large corporations a legal status similar to that of sovereign nations. The largest corporations are richer than most countries: currently, 53 of the 100 largest economies in the world are corporations. With this level of financial power comes massive influence, which could be (and already is) used nefariously. Such a committee would represent a powerful means of ensuring strict observance of international law and reining in any destructive, undemocratic and illegal behavior.

In the sensitive areas of humanitarian intervention or peacekeeping, The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has acted unilaterally in recent years, and even the US itself (with its ‘Coalition of the Willing’) invaded a sovereign country (Iraq) without the backing of the United Nations Security Council. A typical justification cited is the need to remove a ‘brutal dictator’. All such interventions would be the domain of the NUN alone in order to allay suspicions of NATO or individual nations intervening for economic reasons (oil etc.) or strategic ones (important supply routes etc.) Nations eager to remove dictators could fund the NUN directly along with all other members for required interventions, which would be decided upon democratically, and also provide logistical support with their own qualified citizens. All such interventions would take place with strict adherence to international law.

All members would also necessarily agree to work together on international justice with no exceptions. The illegal human trafficking, arms and drug trades are all huge international operations. In order to cope with these growing issues, a clearer international code of laws, designed to be as efficient as possible, and requiring all members to cooperate, could be put in place.

The right to work enshrined in Article 23 of the UDHR could be enforced fully. Unemployment is a scourge that leads to all manner of societal ills. Those looking for work or without skills could be offered work on a state minimum wage (one large enough to permit them to live an existence ‘worthy of human dignity’), while at the same time being given training in skills which could enable them to find jobs by themselves, or to set up their own enterprises.

Looking around at any society one can see countless jobs that need to be done, from maintaining parks and cleaning dirty neighborhoods to supplementing non-professional staff at public facilities like schools or hospitals. More obviously, with the existential dangers of climate change now apparent, thousands of people could be put to work on state initiatives to convert existing infrastructures to green ones, killing two birds with one stone and providing a generation of people with skills and experience.

Considering the International Energy Agency said in November 2011 that any new fossil-fuel based infrastructure built will lead to irreversible climate change within five years, switching immediately to a green infrastructure would not only be wise, but essential, and there are vast numbers of unemployed young people desperate to work, waiting to be taught useful skills.

A New United Nations could make military action for any other reason than self-defense an illegal act, punishable by the harshest measures available. This could be achieved by requiring all members to make a constitutional amendment banning any military action except in the case of self-defense. This may seem like an alien concept, but Japan currently has such an article enshrined in its constitution, while at the same time maintaining a modern professional self-defense force. Japan has not been involved in any military action since the end of World War 2 beyond peacekeeping and supply missions, and has contributed only when asked to by its allies, but is nonetheless a strong and safe society.

Outlawing military operations to all except the NUN in the case of humane interventions and peacekeeping would save literally trillions of dollars in suddenly obsolete arms and defense contracts, money which could be spent on humanitarian needs. Although it is currently a crime under international law for one country to invade another sovereign nation without the consent of the UNSC, the Iraq War (and others) have shown us that there are nations willing to overrule international law in the name of furthering their own perceived national security interests.
Members of a New United Nations could sign a collective defense pact, meaning that all members, if attacked, would be obliged to provide troops and logistical support, via the NUN, in the event of an attack. This, incidentally, is the founding principle of NATO with regard to its member nations.

If a significant number of nations joined this hypothetical New United Nations, each would be unable to engage in military action by law, and would simultaneously enjoy guaranteed protection from every other member if attacked. For peace-loving people, this would be an attractive proposition to say the least, not to mention a powerful incentive to join.

Retired US Marine Major General Smedley D. Butler, who died in 1940, had these recommendations for warfare:

1 War should be made unprofitable: Owners of capital should be ‘conscripted’ before soldiers: “It can be smashed effectively only by taking the profit out of war. The only way to smash this racket is to conscript capital and industry and labor before the nation's manhood can be conscripted.…Let the officers and the directors and the high-powered executives of our armament factories and our steel companies and our munitions makers and our ship-builders and our airplane builders and the manufacturers of all other things that provide profit in war time as well as the bankers and the speculators, be conscripted — to get $30 a month, the same wage as the lads in the trenches get”.

2 Acts of war should be decided by those who fight it: Butler suggested a limited plebiscite to determine if a war is to be fought, and the voters eligible would be those who risk death on the front lines.

3 Limitation of militaries to self-defense: Butler recommended that the US navy be limited, by law, to within 200 miles of the coastline, and the army restricted to the territorial limits of the country, ensuring that a war, if fought, can never be one of aggression.

Interesting words from (at the time of his death) the most decorated marine in US history. This is the man who also famously said: war is a racket.

To satisfy the demands of democracy, an equality doctrine is required and should be enforced: the idea that everyone has an equal vote and say over world society, meaning that all societies, and by extension, their citizens, are given equal importance, with not a single veto in sight. The definition of democracy itself includes this concept. How is that possible if five nations arbitrarily hold vastly greater power (in the form of veto) than the others?

A New United Nations could be a powerful force in unifying the nations of the world despite their disparate cultures, while at the same time acting as a powerful restraining influence on any rogue nations or leaders.

Many readers will, consciously or unconsciously, dismiss such an NUN charter as unrealistic, naïve even. However, it may come as a surprise that many of these principles are nothing new - they already exist as the stated aims of the current United Nations. A New United Nations would simply be the existing body freed of unreasonable constraints like the power of veto for only five member nations. The only serious additions, as suggested here, would be a policy of collective defense and a pact of non-aggression. Who, apart from those who crave or profit from violence and war, would argue against that?

It would require foresight and bravery from enlightened nations willing to stand up to the wrath and even possible retaliation of the current veto-wielding nations, but if a significant number of countries around the world stood together, they could take a giant step towards realizing a world whose priorities are peace, health, education, solidarity, humanitarianism and freedom.

And democracy. All member nations would necessarily be democratic, with the added proviso that the people have at the very minimum the ability to wield veto power (via referenda or direct democracy) over their governments against unpopular or immoral laws passed in their names, as well as the ability to directly put up for debate the creation of new laws and constitutional amendments if necessary.


The UN Charter was written on the assumption that humans are noble creatures who would naturally, after vanquishing evil in World War II, seek to better themselves and their world and work for the common good. Memories are very short, however, and the post-war optimism is long dead and buried, replaced by voracious consumerism, a new form of global fascism.

Any NUN charter would have to be written with the proviso in mind that there are those among us who will always seek to circumvent, tarnish, corrupt and break every rule in order to enrich themselves regardless of the cost to others who may suffer from such breaking of law.

To counter these entities, every possible safeguard would have to be put in place for member nations of an NUN, with, for example, money taken completely out of politics (with campaigns funded by the taxpayer alone); the profit motive removed as much as possible from the media; and fundamental education reforms that alter the purpose of education: from simply being a means to finding a decent job to actually making someone a well-rounded, educated and constructive citizen, whose resulting lack of ignorance will make it difficult for propagandists and other shysters to work their deceptions. Further, the need for citizen watchdog committees at every level of governance and in every area of society would be vital, with the members of these committees changed regularly to prevent corruption from gaining a foothold.

To achieve these ends, all decent, enlightened nations ought to join together to work towards eventually forming this New United Nations, a powerful gesture that would signify the desire to leave behind the failed policies of corrupt governments legitimized by illusory democracies.

Scandinavian and enlightened Western nations like Spain and Greece etc., whose people are sick to the back teeth of their lives and societies being destroyed by greedy and incompetent officials who are in thrall to and paid for by the banks and other elements of the financial industry (their creditors), would be sure to view this as an attractive proposition. The emerging economies of South America who no longer wish to be bullied by their aggressive neighbor to the north would also surely be eager to be part of such a brotherhood.

To bring this about it will take efforts by ordinary people (you!) to bring it to the attention of the few sane people left in power and other influential public figures and journalists.

The United Nations as a force for peace and equality is redundant, open to and a victim of abuse and manipulation at the hands of a few of its most powerful member nations and other entities like trans-national corporations which do not need to follow democratic principles. The deep-seated inequality, injustice and war-related misery gripping the world are at their root societal issues, ones which can only be tackled via fundamental reforms and a brand new commitment to the absolute authority of the rule of law (including retroactive justice). The world we now inhabit is far from that, a place where might is right and law is arbitrarily applied to the advantage of the rich and powerful, and to the great disadvantage of the weak and the poor.

Is that the kind of world you want?

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