In Larger Freedom


May 18, 2005 9:11 | by Jim Addington

Responding to the UN Secretary-General's Report: In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all

In his recommendations for the annual meeting of the General Assembly in September, the Secretary-General reminds us that 'In a world of interconnected threats and challenges, it is in each country's self interest that all of them are addressed correctly'. If Spectre's readers were asked I believe they would say that what is wrong with the UN is that the guiding principle of so many UN members is their self-interest.

The British government protests that it supports the United Nations but, as Erskine Childers, a former under-secretary of the UN, said many years ago 'After US governments, British governments have done more to damage the UN than any other'. Even now, Kofi Annan is under attack in the United States; government supporters are determined to damage him after his criticism of the war on Iraq.

However, the many positive responses by United Nations members to international problems show that across a wide spectrum of essential functions there is considerable international co-operation. It is unfortunate that the UN is kept short of money and has to ask permission for any new initiative. This means that crises around the world tend to develop long before any response can be generated. There is also the lack of resolve for action by member states when crises develop. The genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 could have been averted by a simple reinforcement of UN peace-keepers already there. The UN Security Council failed to response to desperate appeals.

On the other hand, the response to the crisis in Kosovo in 1999 was not a failure of UN members or the Security Council. Two thousand monitors had already been sent in by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) with the agreement of the Yugoslav government.

Failing to get support from the UN Security Council, nineteen NATO states supported the destruction of large parts of Yugoslavia by the US Air Force. The wounds left in the different parts of the Yugoslav Federation, virtually dismembered by the NATO alliance, are still festering and require the constant presence of UN or NATO troops.

There have been two new wars so far in what has been called 'The New American Century'; both were unnecessary and illegal under the UN Charter. Afghanistan was never named in the UN resolution allowing a military response following September 11, 2001, and will never become peaceful while under occupation. The same applies to Iraq, which threatened no-one but was attacked without the authority of any UN resolution. Such action was against the UN Charter, as explained in the Secretary General's ground-breaking statement of 7th March 2003.

It is unfortunate that many states manage to keep self-interest and international co-operation in quite separate compartments. Kofi Annan returns to this theme later in his report when he says 'Every nation that proclaims the rule of law at home must respect it abroad'.

The Secretary-General warned after the war on Iraq that'we are at a fork in the road'. One course would maintain support for the UN and the provisions of the Charter, the other continue on the path chosen by those who acted unilaterally. In his proposals he calls for a return to the international Rule of Law. Kofi Annan urges Heads of States and Governments 'to reaffirm the broad vision of the founders of the United Nations, as set out in the Charter, for it to be organized, resourced and equipped' to meet the challenges facing the peoples of the world.

Erskine Childers spent many years in the UN's service service and is remembered annually in Britain in a lecture organized by Action for UN Renewal. The British government should read The United Nations and its future in the 21st Century in which these lectures, given by leading international speakers, are collected.

Among the nine lecturers featured in the book are those by Judge Rosalind Higgins, British judge at the World Court, Denis Halliday, former UN humanitarian representative in Iraq, Professor Paul Rogers of the Bradford University School of Peace Studies and Carolyn Lucas MEP. It includes the full report of the UN High Level Panel on '˜Threats, Challenges and Change' and a reprint of the UN Charter.

We will surely only stave off a 'New American Century' by placing greater reliance on the UN as the only legitimate organization able to speak for the peoples of the world.

Jim Addington is Chair of Action for UN Renewal, from which The United Nations and its future in the 21st Century is available. Send £10, plus £2 postage from within the UK, or £3 from overseas, to Action for UN Renewal, 3, Whitehall Court, London SW1A 2EL. This year's lecture will be given by Sam Daws, executive director of UNA-UK at Friends House, Euston Road, London, from 7.00pm on Thursday 9th June. He will be looking at prospects for reform at this year's UN General Assembly meeting in the light of the High Level Panel report on 'Threats, Challenges and Change' and Kofi Annan's proposals included 'In Larger Freedom'. Admission is free, without ticket.

In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all (report of the Secretary-General) can be read at