Cold War rhetoric back at the UN?
Judging by the recent deadlock in the Security Council — over Kosovo, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Zimbabwe, Sudan and most recently Georgia — one wonders whether the days of the Cold War are back in vogue.
Judging by the recent deadlock in the Security Council — over Kosovo, Iran, Myanmar (Burma), Zimbabwe, Sudan and most recently Georgia — one wonders whether the days of the Cold War are back in vogue. Or perhaps its political rhetoric?
In January last year, a Western-backed and U.S.-led move to castigate the Burmese government for human rights violations suffered a rare double veto, both from China and Russia.
And last month, history repeated itself when these two big powers exercised their vetoes again — this time to stall a resolution aimed at imposing sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The US-Russian political confrontation in the Security Council has been intensified in recent weeks with the Russian invasion of Georgia, and Moscow’s subsequent decision to recognise the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
When US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad sought a response from Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on whether or not the Russians were bent on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia, Churkin said he had already provided an answer to the question.
And when US Ambassador Alejandro Wolff recently blasted Russia for its perceived violations of international law and the UN Charter during the invasion of Georgia, Churkin hit back with another dose of sarcasm.
“Did you find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?...And are you still looking for them?” he asked.
Speeches laced with sarcasm and personal insults are rare in the Council chamber. But is the United Nations now back to the days of the Cold War ?
“The United Nations is not headed for a new Cold War,” predicts Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalist Project at the Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies, and author of several studies on the United Nations.
As US economic, political and diplomatic power has diminished around the world, she argued, military power has become ever more dominant as a viable tool of hegemony.
“The threat of US unilateral military power continues to rise not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also with increasing US military bases across the globe, as well as possible new interventions in Iran, in Georgia, in Pakistan and perhaps elsewhere,” Bennis told IPS.
Partly as a result of that rising militarism, and partly out of longstanding habit, she pointed out, Governments around the world continue to treat the United States as if it were still an unchallengeable dominion.
“And in the United Nations, that means allowing Washington to continue to call the shots,” added Bennis, author of the recently-released ‘Understanding the US-Iran Crisis: A Primer.’
“A return to the Cold War era? Not sure whether we can characterise it as such?” says an Asian envoy, who keeps close track of the state-of-play in the Security Council. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said it is a fact that the Security Council has not been functioning effectively for some time now.
“In my view, the last time it operated effectively was probably during the first Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the then Bush [Sr.] administration (1990-91) worked hard to put together an international coalition to take on Saddam Hussein,” he told IPS.
Maybe it was because they felt that they had won the Cold War and could now afford to be magnanimous without behaving in an overbearing and unilateral manner, he added. Or maybe they saw it as an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership and to work towards the preservation of a system where they remained at the top of the heap.
But, over time, especially in the last eight years, he argued, “the Americans have become extremely ideological and unilateral in their approach — they are always right and you are either with them or you are seen to be against them. It’s all black and while with no grey issues.”
“This was evident during the run-up to the Second Gulf War — it blinded American planning and strategising, with them thinking that they would be hailed as liberators in Baghdad,” he added.
Mouin Rabbani, contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report, said that since 1990 the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, has under US domination (perhaps “proprietorship” is a more accurate term) increasingly become an instrument for the marginalisation of international law.
The United States, he said, has also been undermining the consensus of the vast majority of its constituent states on a range of issues, as opposed to an institution that works to uphold international law and enforce the will of the international community.
“In this context, the prospect of a new Cold War at the global organisation is to be enthusiastically welcomed,” Rabbani told IPS.