George Bush is right when he warns that the United Nations risks
irrelevance. Its failure in the past decade to hold Iraq to account on the
surrender undertakings it gave at the end of the Gulf War is surpassed
only by its decision last week to put Muammar Gaddafi's Libya in charge of
its global human rights watchdog.
And as Washington masses men and machines for another war against Iraq,
it and much of the rest of the world are locked in a struggle that well
might mark the end of the UN's usefulness as a global forum.
The eccentricity of giving control of the UN Commission on Human Rights
to the Libyan terrorist at a time when terrorism is the clear and present
danger is a signpost to the global wastelands in which the UN might finish
up. However, the fact that it managed to slip the US into the straitjacket
of weapons inspections in Iraq is proof that it remains a wily player.
How the US responds to the UN's Iraq agenda may seal the fate of the
organisation set up in 1945 with a charter for global peace, security and
co-operation after the horror of World War II. Now it holds court in a
39-storey tower overlooking the East River from Manhattan.
The diplomatic cut and thrust of the General Assembly and the Security
Council conveys a notion of equality between nations - it was the
"fair" rotation of jobs that landed Libya in the human rights
But reality is a different story.
"Superpower" doesn't start to describe the unprecedented
combination of military and economic power that is America. Washington, in
the evolving jargon of academia, is the "hyperpower" that
strides the world with an assertiveness not seen since the early days of
the Cold War.
George Bush is the global cop, offering protection everywhere from
Jerusalem to Seoul. He has more than one million men and women under arms
on four continents and his carrier battle groups are on every ocean. His
military spending equals the combined defence budget of the next 14
Even with all that security, there is much to fear. The world is on the
edge of its seat as the US does the splits between Baghdad and Pyongyang.
And as it gets deeper into the war on terrorism, the US has gone out of
its way to disparage or belittle the international forums and treaties
that were the stepping-stones to its own greatness.
But something has gone wrong. In the decade between the end of the Cold
War and the start of the war on terrorism, the balance between the two
superpowers, America and the Soviet Union, and much of what that implied -
safety and security wrought by a fear of mutually assured destruction -
suddenly dissolved. And so, unburdened, a less-caring US forgot about the
problems of the world as it revelled in an economic boom at home.
The first president Bush and then Bill Clinton did little to renovate
or renew the international diplomatic and military infrastructure that had
been vital to keeping the peace in the half-century after World War II.
In the words of one American scholar, they made a good show of
pretending that nothing had changed.
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