Figures on the global stage stepped up to the podium with incendiary speeches, passed controversial notes, and rode the escalator backwards. These are the world’s top diplomats at the world’s most centralized communication forum: the United Nations.
During the second Bush administration, the U.N. became a forum for the submission of incorrect facts and became a producer of meaningless and disregarded resolutions. While it became a mouthpiece for less influential countries, the U.N. also, courtesy of the Security Council’s vetoes, became the place to block meaningful action. In the United States, where a need for political independence has always driven American foreign policy, the Security Council, recently dubbed the “Terror Council” by Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, has become a perpetual stalemate rather than a center for action.
With five permanent members, arguably the strongest nations in the world, the Security Council is the recipient of the world’s most pressing issues via binding resolutions, including nuclear disarmament and the Israel-Palestine conflict, and is uniquely charged with the important task of authorizing military action. Not only have the constant blocks to progress via the veto, and stream of lies about the Iraq war led to an international disdain for American policies and politics, it has also conversely led to a general American opinion that the United Nations is an unproductive and rather pointless body.
Without pointing any fingers, it is worth noting that the debate on healthcare continues in Congress despite a democratic majority, while the decision to go to war in Iraq passed and is now widely regarded, both internationally and domestically, as a mistake. Perhaps the very concept of democracy works against consensus, and ultimately against timely action. What is common to Congress and the United Nations is that these issues draw much-needed dialogue—and this is a goal of democracy and integral to arriving at an educated solution. This past week’s U.N. happenings certainly solicited candid commentary from world leaders. In the General Assembly, Col. Qaddafi addressed delegates in a 96 minute speech.
Undoubtedly, the media will succeed in making his most memorable moments those in which he symbolically tore the UN Charter and threw it over the podium, when his interpreter collapsed in the middle of his speech, when he took one of four water breaks, or his unsuccessful search for territory in New York City on which to pitch his tent during his stay. Behind the pages of handwritten and multicolored text that was his speech, he did issue some factual information. He referred to the preamble of the U.N. charter, which states that all nations are equal regardless of their size and asserted “the veto is against the charter,” joining the a large group of nations that believe the Security Council should be reformed. While organization bashing took place in the General Assembly, another group assembled for unprecedented productivity.
On Friday, the Group of 20 nations gathered at the first plenary session in Pittsburg to discuss the global financial crisis that originated in the United States and caused a worldwide recession. The first striking change was the attendee list; rather than the original G-7, (the U.S., Britain, France, Canada, Italy, Germany, and Japan) another thirteen quickly growing developing nations have now been added to form the G-20. Perhaps more surprising than additions to the exclusive list was the amount of productivity. The agreements included greater regulation of financial institutions, financial instruments and executive pay as well as a reform of export dependence while emphasizing domestic consumption. While the agreements produced are non-binding, nations have submitted to a review of their policies by the International Monetary Fund—demonstrating an unprecedented level of transparency. While the nations agreed to the need for greater capital reserves in each nation to buffer losses or failing markets, an exact number for each country was not agreed upon due to the inherent differences in economies and economic philosophies. Similarly, although many nations agreed to the concept of a cap on executive bonuses, they disagreed on exactly how to calculate the cap. In another nod to the changing international community, the leaders agreed to certain Asian nations a heavier vote in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
This week in the international forum has shown us a renewed willingness for world cooperation. While international law is often dismissed due to a lack of authority, President Obama emphasized accountability during his own address to the General Assembly, saying, “The world must stand together to demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.”
In contrast to earlier administrations that igmored international law and instead managed to demonstrate a world order based on hegemony, the Obama administration’s new tone does something for the global community that communicates a new unity. It disarms radical opponents, such as Col. Qaddafi, with words and actions that close the chapter of a hostile unilateral administration and recognizes a growing community of nations that can contribute to, and not hamper, national and international interest.
Frida Alim is a third-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed Under: Opinion