Sunday, November 20, 2005

Braving This New World Disorder - Part 1

"WE THE PEOPLE'S 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, and 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, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom..."
Opening words, Preamble, United Nations Charter


The US is embarking on a new approach to international diplomacy and the United Nations is its unlikely tool. “Structure states in our image” seems to be the overriding philosophy at the US State Department, especially since US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took over the helm. With the embedment of Ambassador John Bolton in the UN, concepts such as "democracy caucus of like-minded nations,” engendering representative government voting, and external source funding to empower civil society seem to be the main rally cries. Eager ideologues such as Mark Lagon, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs are busy spinning their agenda with the silky yarn of ideals which, on the face of it, are hard to argue. A deeper look will show that what the US is really doing is an exercise in selective reasoning and exclusionary diplomacy grounded in jurisprudence by expediency with a degrading impact on the respect for international law and the very concept of the sovereignty of states. With a "you are with us or you are against us" sieve to weed the chaff from the grain, states are encouraged to “get with the program” or risk being designated as chaff and blown away in the winds of American wrath.

So, what are these new rally cries and how do they impact the United Nations, international law and state sovereignty? The US is actively maneuvering with the idea that democracy-loving states of the world need to come together to form a “democracy-caucus of like-minded nations” within the UN. In fact, the reasoning, as explained recently by Mark Lagon, is if countries can come together to form Islamic fronts, South-South dialogues, and nonaligned movements, why can't states that embody democratic principles come together to form a “democracy-caucus?” Very interesting logic, especially as it seemed to apply so readily during the cold war with “freedom-loving democracies” facing off against the socialist bloc: That is the kind of polarized world in which this US State Department leadership seems most able to operate. And yet, it seems to neglect the fact that such exclusionary diplomacy led to decades of cold war politics which often brought the world to the brink of all-out war, and festered in the form of regional hot wars where smaller states were forced to choose sides with devastating social and economic results. The world sighed with relief with the falling of the Berlin wall, yet this new strategy is threatening to re-create the very same world, albeit along different fault lines.

More relevant, perhaps, is that those blocs Dr. Lagon points to are exclusionary by default and not design—a very significant distinction. In other words, those blocs emerge as a result of a characteristic that binds its constituents together exclusively (such as Islamic) or because they are attempting to address a problem to be resolved such as economic development or political hegemony. Democracy is not a characteristic one either has exclusively or is trying to shed exclusively; it is an aspiration within the reach of all peoples. It is inclusionary in nature and not exclusionary. Furthermore, if democracy is an ideal all states should be striving towards, by creating a “democracy-caucus for like-minded nations”, the US as the only world superpower is indicating that democracy is not the objective, but rather like-mindedness is.

Carrying such exclusionary logic further, this emerging “democratic-caucus” is now laying the groundwork for the disenfranchisement of all states who are not members of the club. The argument here is while the United Nations is based on the democratic principle of one-nation, one-vote, this is not actually democracy because not all the states represented at the United Nations actually democratically represent their respective peoples. Accordingly, if the government itself is not of a democratic state, how can it have a vote at the United Nations and still maintain that the United Nations is democratic? Once again, while interesting selective reasoning, with perhaps some slight fallacy in composition, it flies in the face of the very essence of the United Nations in respecting all nations, large and small, based on the sacrosanct principle of state sovereignty and inclusionary diplomacy.

What then is the emerging scenario from this logic? As of 2004, there were 88 countries rated by Freedom House as being free or democratic. The United Nations has 191 member states. Do states such as China, Russia, and even Iran then lose their right to vote at the United Nations? Shall the other 103 states be stripped of their sovereignty and be relegated, perhaps, to observer status, like the Palestinian Authority, while the club of 88, assuming they even all want to join the caucus, then vote on all issues before the United Nations such as the respect and creation of international law, to maintain international peace and security and promotion of human rights? It is not very difficult to see that such an exclusionary vision of the world is not conducive to creating a world order aimed at achieving those very objectives.

The next stake being aimed at the heart of state sovereignty and inclusionary diplomacy is that if governments won’t allow their states to move into the direction of democracy, then the “democracy-caucus of like-minded nations” must help the process along. Helping the process along, as we are seeing in Iraq, can take many forms. What is being proposed at the United Nations is the creation of a “Democracy Fund” with sponsorship by the various members of the “democracy-caucus” to be managed by the United Nations. The Fund’s goal is to identify and support individuals and groups whose aims are to engender, install and/or promote democracy in their respective countries. While seemingly a commendable objective in light of the important role civil society and non-government organizations fulfill in all sectors and across the world, a more careful analysis will shed light on some emerging pitfalls. The Fund lacks any criteria for selection of recipients, and therefore the “caucus” has domain over to whom and for what purpose financing will be given, as long they have an agenda for a democracy consistent with their own. This creates a situation where states may deem the Fund as supporting, at worst, subversive elements, and, at best, actors outside of domestic legal systems. The result is that domestic laws which may not allow for groups outside the legal system to receive funding (such as some faith-based groups, for example) or who may not even allow for external financing of registered political parties, civil society etc., will be faced with a situation where their domestic laws are being challenged by partisan interests working under the umbrella of the United Nations. In other words, the United Nations is being pitted against state sovereignty. The concept of the sovereignty of the state and its immunity from external interference, a basic premise of the international legal order, will be lost with the legalization of external interference in internal state affairs.

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