Wednesday, October 31, 2007

United Nations Opponents All at Sea Over Convention

United Nations Opponents All at Sea Over Convention
in the current Washington Spectator

by Ian Williams | November 1, 2007

Editor's note: On October 4 Fred Smith of the Competitive Enterprise Institute addressed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Smith drew on all the anathemas of the far right to attack a treaty the committee was considering. "Did anyone expect the Endangered Species Act to become a national land use planning act? Did anyone expect Superfund to become one of the most costly green pork barrel measures in history or that the Clean Water Act would compel the Corps of Engineers to ban development throughout any area that might have been or might become at some time a wetland?" With a logic alien to the majority of Americans, Smith was trying to persuade the senators to vote against ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. In this issue, Ian Williams looks at the funders behind the isolationist rhetoric and the prospect that their money will prevail in the U.S. Senate. Williams is an occasional contributor to the Washington Spectator and has covered the United Nations for The Nation and other publications since 1989.

THE NEED FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION and the rule of law is nowhere more apparent than at the Poles, where global warming is melting ice caps at an unprecedented rate. In 1957, before American isolationism and exceptionalism resurfaced as potent political forces in Washington, the U.S. signed the Antarctic Treaty, which froze all the old territorial claims and kept the icebound continent free from military action and landgrabs. Fifty years later the only change is that more countries have signed on. It has been an extremely successful agreement.

In contrast, the North Pole is heating up in every sense of the word. Russian claims to a significant part of the Arctic seabed are finally speeding up the glacial progress of U.S. ratification of another very successful international instrument: the U.N. Convention on the International Law of the Sea (CLOS). Russia is making its Arctic claim under the CLOS, but the U.S., by refusing to ratify the CLOS, has no standing in the discussions.

The Pentagon and the White House, backed by maritime, oil and telecom lobbies, are pushing for CLOS ratification, but they find themselves battling the same retrograde element of flat-Earthers who have been taking potshots at the treaty since 1982, and who indeed have forced the U.S. delegation to the U.N. into a holding action.

The military and business lobbies' near-universal support for the CLOS treaty has isolated and exposed the hard-core ideological—indeed faith-based—foundations behind this an other conservative causes. One can understand why lead makers have lobbied against banning lead in paints; tobacco makers against smoking restrictions; and oil and coal companies against carbon emission controls. Their rationale is self-interest. But the extremists who oppose the CLOS treaty have lost industry support in their fight against the treaty.

In September and October, at hearings held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the groups that spoke against ratification, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP), were both known as prominent campaigners against the idea that human activity is a cause of global warming. Both groups now contrive to depict the CLOS as some sort of "stealth" version of the Kyoto Protocol—reminiscent of earlier farfetched accusations of an undersea land grab by the United Nations.

Last year Exxon—Big Oil's last-ditch CLOS opponent—dropped its financial support for CEI. Yet the campaign against the treaty persists. Now that such opposition to a global treaty has been stripped of the veneer of the rational if amoral self-interest of the industry lobbies, the ideological core of the irrational campaign against multilateralism in any form is plain to see. Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 election, but the people like Richard Mellon Scaife who bankrolled him have remained a force on Capitol Hill, averting ratification of almost every multilateral agreement. They are still funding CEI and CSP, along with much of the conservative project they have kept on the road for decades.

The hard-core lobby now left in the field against ratification of the Law of the Sea treaty reveals the wacko money tail that has been wagging the Republican dog, and, more often than not, converting many Democratic politicians into fawning puppies. The process was described in an e-mail Mike Scanlon, a lobbyist who once worked for Tom DeLay, sent to his Indian tribal clients. It was released by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee when it was investigating disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Our mission is to get specifically selected groups of individuals to the polls to speak out AGAINST something. To that end, your money is best spent finding them and communicating with them on using the modes that they are most likely to respond to. Simply put, we want to bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them. The wackos get their information form [sic] the Christian right, Christian radio, mail, the internet, and telephone trees.

HATE-FEST FOR THE U.N.—In the Clinton era, groups like CEI and CSP, backed by mining companies, used a spurious "sovereignty" issue to campaign against what they termed a "U.N. land grab," by which they meant listing U.S. national parks as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was not the prospect of blue United Nations flags flying over the parks that upset them, but rather the red flag against strip mining up to the park's boundaries.

Similar arguments threaten to sink the Law of the Sea treaty. The CSP's Frank Gaffney, who writes a column for the Washington Times, got himself into more convolutions than a chambered nautilus as he shifted from calling for total legislative prostration before President Bush and General Petraeus over Iraq, to total disregard for the views of the Pentagon and the White House over the Law of the Sea treaty. Retired Chief of Naval Operations Vernon Clark has described the treaty to the Foreign Relations Committee as "a Magna Carta for the oceans that guarantees navigation freedoms throughout the world's largest maneuver space." In contrast, Gaffney fulminated that the "transies" have "created organizations that will be used to implement that world view—a redistributionist, socialist and fundamentally hostile to the United States view." The U.S. view, is ipso facto that of the Scaife-funded conservative think tanks.

On the face of it, the unprecedented concatenation of a Republican President, the former Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Richard Lugar, and a Democratic majority in the Senate should make ratification of the sea treaty inevitable. But the Senate Foreign Relations hearings on the treaty may as well have been conducted in an octopus's garden in the shade for all the public exposure they got. Which implies that the Scanlon strategy may be under way: to "bring out the wackos to vote against something and make sure the rest of the public lets the whole thing slip past them." Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), one of the major opponents of treaty ratification, was able to get thirty of his colleagues to sign on to a resolution against "U.N. Global taxes" this January, which is a bit like getting them to sign a resolution against the tooth fairy.

While the sane majority stays silent, the mailboxes of GOP senators will be flooded with letters and e-mails from black-helicopter-spotting backwoodsers who have decided that the goal of the supporters of sea-law ratification "is nothing less than the establishment of world government at the expense of traditional sovereignty."

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM—It should be evident that the oceans, which cover two-thirds of the globe, need the internationally accepted legal system that the Convention on the International Law of the Sea provides. The sea is the main highway for of all the world's nations. It is the source of food for many people. And for everybody, the oceans are the priceless resource on which life on Earth depends.

Former Canadian minster of state for external affairs Mark MacGuigan described the convention's global scope:

The Conference is not merely an attempt to codify technical rules of law. It is a resource Conference: it is a food Conference; it is an environmental Conference; it is an energy Conference; it is an economic Conference; it is a maritime-boundary-delimitation Conference; it is a territorial-limitation and jurisdictional Conference; it is a transportation, communications and freedom-of-navigation Conference; it
is a Conference which regulates all the uses of the ocean by humanity. Most important, it is a Conference which provides for the peaceful settlement of disputing the oceans. It is, in other words, a Conference dedicated to the rule of law among nations.

Since the convention was completed in 1982, 155 states have ratified it, including Britain, Japan and similar oceanic allies—as well as China and Russia. But not the U.S.A.

Until CLOS came into force, there was little anyone could do to police the world's seas, as they were beyond the jurisdiction of individual nation-states. Indeed, attempts to unilaterally enforce jurisdiction have brought nations to the brink of war in the past. For much of the last century there was no consensus even on what constituted territorial waters. Historically, many states accepted a demarcation of three miles from shore, the outside range of a cannonball. Some did not even accept that. Other countries claimed twelve and by the time the convention was first negotiated, many countries claimed 200 miles. Just as many disputed the concept itself, as the principle of extended territorial waters was in conflict with customary principles of freedom of navigation. Each claim and counterclaim hazarded a shooting war to determine whose claim was more valid.

The convention was the result of intense negotiations in which a constant balancing of interests allowed all parties to feel that they had made substantial gains. The U.S. was not only deeply involved in the drafting, but the other parties did their best to keep it involved in the negotiations, despite the U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify it. The Law of the Sea is a comprehensive package with no reservations allowed. To claim the legal backing of one part of the convention, countries had to sign on to all seventeen parts, 320 articles and nine annexes. Signatories cannot cherry-pick for parts they like and disregard clauses they find inexpedient.

An outstanding example of the elaborate balance of interests is found in the convention's pioneering concept of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs), which codifies the conditions for states claiming a 200-mile maritime zone, or more in some circumstances, as Russia is now doing. States can make such claims for exploration and exploitation of economic resources, but cannot impede the right of passage of vessels and aircraft of other nations. At the same time the convention codifies a twelve-mile territorial limit and an additional twelve-mile "contiguous zone." Charts and claims to territorial seas must be lodged with the U.N. in New York. And to claim such rights, nations have to accept the right of innocent or transit passage for vessels. Yet as part of the delicately balanced structure of rights and obligations, coastal states can make regulations about shipping lanes and air routes in order to ensure safe passage.

The EEZs confer obvious advantages, not least of which is unchallenged title to 87 percent of the world's known undersea hydrocarbon reserves. The coastal shelves are also home to most of the world's major fisheries. I remember smiling when the U.N. began discussions, over a decade ago, on "highly migratory and straddling fish stocks." The cumbersome phrase evoked images of fish with fins turning into legs as they made their awkward way to land. Today, there are now little or no "wild" fish on the fish slab. The convention was too late to save, for example, the cod. But it may not be too late to save other species.

It was evident that ocean-bed mining could lead to environmental despoliation, and even military conflict over competing claims. So the convention makes it illegal to mine the deep-sea bed without permission of the International Sea Bed Authority, and no country is supposed to begin mining without ratifying the convention. The issue is moot because economics and technology have not advanced as far as people feared or hoped twenty years ago. U.S. objections to mining restrictions were substantially met in a 1994 redraft. Yet while no one is currently mining the seabed, the prospect of regulation when mining inevitably begins has the conservative groups fuming about socialism.

Seemingly they prefer anarchy.

INCONVENIENT TRUTHS—When whole shorelines can be devastated by the activities of passing ships leaking oil or dumping waste, the question of rules and jurisdiction becomes crucial. On the other hand, if coastal states can impede or detain passing foreign ships, there is an almost unlimited prospect of dangerous disputes, and, at the very least, an impediment to commerce. The convention allows coastal states to inspect and take proceedings against ships suspected of violating anti-pollution regulations. Yet CEI and CSP witnesses at the Foreign Relations Committee inverted the logic of that provision and warned that debris washed into the Gulf of Mexico from Katrina would lay the U.S. open to prosecution if the convention were ratified. If debris washing into the Gulf is an unlikely cause of action, there are ample grounds for prosecuting many people over the government's response to the hurricane. Internationally, however, there is no real mechanism. And the free-enterprise right to dump garbage, oil and bilge on the high seas has somehow become part of U.S. sovereignty.

LAW, NOT WAR—The very first case to be brought to the Hamburg-based International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea could have been designed to prove the need for multilateral jurisdiction. In 1997 the MV Saiga, an oil tanker registered in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, owned by Cypriots, chartered by Swiss, managed by a Scottish company, officered by Ukrainians and crewed by Senegalese, had been bunkering fishing vessels off the coast when patrol boats from the Republic of Guinea seized the ship and detained the crew. Guinea claimed a customs zone that extended 250 miles from its coast. In the past, no serious legal remedies existed, and there was the ever-present threat of war to resolve such issues. The Tribunal was able to secure the release of the ship and crew on payment of a bond, and after consideration, it threw out the Guinean claim and ordered the ship and its crew freed. Under the convention, Guinea was not entitled to claim more than 200 miles for its exclusive economic zone.

FIRST WAVE?—For decades, conservative ideologues have rallied their forces and their receptive audiences on Capitol Hill to reflexive rejection of the United Nations and any other multilateral agency or convention. The U.S. refusal to ratify the International Criminal Court, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the conventions on landmines, women's rights and child soldiers, and the Kyoto Protocol, let alone to pay U.N. dues in full and on time, has devalued American diplomatic standing and made a mockery of Washington's attempts to preach to other so-called "outlaw" states. The Goldwater-era ideologues lurking behind this diplomatic war on the rest of the world have been able to hide behind other groups. The wackos are now in the spotlight.

The Law of the Sea ratification presents a unique opportunity to break the conservative hold on multilateralism. If the Senate cannot ratify the convention with the White House, the Pentagon and former Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee onside a Democratic majority, then Americans had best resign themselves to being all at sea in the world of international law. It is just possible that the extremists who see the U.N. as a world government about to occupy and disarm the United States could thwart the two-thirds vote required in the Senate for the treaty to be ratified. For years they've succeeded in keeping the convention off the Senate floor despite support from the Foreign Relations Committee. For irrationality to triumph, all that's needed is for sane men and women to do nothing.
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Monday, October 29, 2007

In Whose Name?

Why are English speakers almost uniquely subject to inverted nominal imperialism? Why do we allow others to dictate what names we give to other places?

Born in Liverpool of mostly Welsh ancestry, I was chuffed, as we used to say, rather than miffed, to discover that the Welsh name for the city was Lerpwl. (Although that did not impress the Welsh nationalists, who objected to plans to hold the 2007 Eisteddfod toga party there.) Cockneys react with indifference to the French saying they live in Londres, and most New Yorkers do not worry too much that their city is Nueva Yorca to many of its inhabitants.

Russians do not worry that Moskva is Moscow, let alone that Americans call it Mos-COW and the Brits Mos-COE. Deutschlanders do not give an oompah that we call them Germans, or the French call them Allemandes. People have languages and the proper nouns are part of it.

So who does the Burmese junta think they are telling us that we must use Myanmar, with the added indignity that most Burmese do not want the name? Why did we all slavishly let a bunch of murderous thugs force us to rebrand Cambodia as Kampuchea? Why have been allowing the stronger Greek nationalists (sorry, the people from Hellas) to tell us what name to use for Macedonia?

Why shouldn't Britain bristle at the temerity of the French calling part of their country Brittany? In fact, to give it a sense of perspective, Great Britain was called so simply because Grand Bretagne was bigger than Bretagne in France.

In India, local sentiment insists that Bombay is now Mumbai, Madras is Chennai, and Calcutta now Kolkata, for three cities that were essentially developed (admittedly exploitatively and imperialistically) by the British. One notes with approval that the Bombay Stock Exchange holds firm, and I've yet to see an Indian restaurant serving Mumbai Duck, while no one calls the capital Dili. And the Hindi for India is Bharat but the government of India happily uses the English even though it does mention Bharat in the constitution.

In fact, all my local Chinese restaurants serve (excellent) Peking Duck, but we are supposed to call the capital of China (not Zhongguo) Beijing. But one notices that Hong Kong keeps its English form, although Canton became Guangzhou - where people still speak Cantonese and do not call their city that, since it is the Mandarin name.

Adopting the Chinese roman letter spelling is even more bizarre. The letters mean different things. "X" in English does not represent "Hs" anymore than "Q" signifies "ch".

When a nationalist Turkish business spent some millions trying to get everyone to call his country Turkiye, the campaign soon foundered like a dead duck. That's the way it should be. When I was teaching journalism in Pristina, the Kosovar students bridled because the UN referred to the place as Kosovo instead of "Kosova." I pointed out that we called Shqiperia, Albania, and no one seemed to mind. Kosovo is the English name for the place.

Unlike the Romans who gave the world Latin and everyone who used it wrote nice things about Rome, a great thing about English as a doubly imperial language is that it has been so useful for anti-imperialists for everything from telling phrases, long treatises and quick slogans. Think of Jawaharlal Nehru's "tryst with destiny".

On the other hand, sometimes they are about as grammatical as Brian's slogan writing on the walls of Jerusalem, (aka Al Quds or Yerushalayim) in the Monty Python film, but that is the other great thing about it, is that there is no English academy to force spellings, definitions and purifications on its multifarious speakers.

So I don't mind if the speakers of Indian English want to say Mumbai, as long as they extend the same democratic linguistic privileges to others to keep on calling it Bombay. Non-English speakers can be as nationalist as they like - in their own languages. And I hope that Burma is free soon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't Blame Westphalia!

Comment is Free on the Guardian

24 October 2007

Today, October 24, is the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, or at least the final part of it signed in Munster. When quoted nowadays the treaty is seen as the bedrock of the modern system of independent states, free of feudal entanglements and thus from foreign interference in internal affairs. Most often, it is the foundation of every thuggish ruler's claim: "T'ain't nobody's business what I do" to my own subjects.

Like many others I've pontificated about the Westphalian system and state sovereignty, and in fact I have usually pontificated against it. So to celebrate its birthday, I went to read it. The only version that seems generally available is a translation from Latin into English, probably at the beginning of the 18th century. And the amazing thing is the complete lack of direct quotes about sovereignty. Apart from being an extended suicide note for the Holy Roman Empire, there are few larger principles to be drawn from its text. Even the bits about religious toleration were basically reiterations of the Treaty of Augsburg, and it specifically allowed the Hapsburgs to keep the Inquisition burning away in their own lands outside the empire.

It had taken 30 years of war for the emerging sovereign states to "have form'd thoughts of an universal peace". The result of years of negotiations, the treaty is a detailed and highly pragmatic settlement of the myriad local and regional squabbles that became conflated into what was allegedly a religious war. Like current so-called clashes of civilisation and religions, the mere technical detail that the very Catholic "the most puissant prince, and most Christian king of France and Navarre," was the ally of protestant Swedish kingdom against the Holy Roman Hapsburgs.

Effectively, the treaty gave legal as well as practical independence to the constituent states of the Holy Roman Empire, allowing them to sign treaties and wage wars, with the oft-to-be ignored exception that they should not bear arms against the emperor. "Above all, it shall be free perpetually to each of the states of the empire, to make alliances with strangers for their preservation and safety; provided, nevertheless, such alliances be not against the emperor, and the empire". It also warned against interference in the internal affairs of these statelets.

But of whence their sovereignty came, the treaty saith nought. It deals with various claims and counterclaims of princes, marquises, landgraves, bishops, emperors, dukes and electors, but the "we the peoples," of the UN charter are nowhere to be seen. A state here is coterminous with its sovereign, with none of the 19th century romantic notions of organic nations with one people, one country and one government.

The "Westphalian system" is really a later interpretation of the results. Those "thoughts of an universal peace," did not last as long as the 30 year torrent of blood and fire it took to form them, although until the French revolutionary wars, the squabbles tended more to be conflicts between armies rather than the unbridled savagery of the 30 year war itself.

Replacing the nominal Holy Roman Empire (which as Voltaire pointed out, was none of the preceding) we now have the United Nations, which often appears to be misnomer as well. According to the charter, all nations have, "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war," surrendered their sovereign "Westphalian" right to wage war, except in self defence.

In an odd way, countless millions of dead notwithstanding, the UN has succeeded in preserving the Westphalian dream. The only outright invasion and annexation, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, was over-turned. Usually invaders are quick to set up regimes to legitimise their efforts retrospectively: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Panama, Grenada, Cambodia, Uganda and Iraq, to name but a few.

But while Westphalia enjoined freedom of religion, its modern invokers want to defend the presumed rights of the modern equivalent of those landgraves, marquises, princes and counts, to massacre their own people with impunity. Burmese, Sudanese and Serbian regimes have all enjoyed the support of a motley band of self-interested regimes and "anti-imperialist" orators and commentators.

Two years ago, the United Nations tried to square the circle of avoiding wars between states while fulfilling its pledges to "us the peoples," by adopting the "right to protect", setting out the principle of humanitarian intervention in the case of "national authorities manifestly failing to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity". Not one of the 191 member states voted against this effective rescinding of one of the alleged bedrock principles of Westphalia. Perhaps they were sadly confident that the veto-holders in the security council were only kidding, and would always protect their client genocidaires when the votes were taken. After all, every veto holder had attacked another country in defiance of the charter, but no one had ever disputed the alleged Westphalian right of each anointed thug to mistreat his "own" people.

It took almost 300 years for the protection of state sovereignty part to become mildly effective with the UN charter. The people in Burma and Darfur should not have to wait a century for the right to protect to be implemented.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Petition against Puritan Pseudoscience

In April I carried a story The New Salem Witch Trials about the British Department of Social Security putting in lie detector tests for claimants. Pseudoscience pandering to the Puritan theory that it is better that a hundred starve than one undeserving claimant gets any relief.

Angela Murphy in Britain has organized an e-petition against it.. and I heartily recommend anyone who has British citizenship or residency to sign up for it.
As she says
"There are many people with learning disabilities, mental health problems, elderly people and their carers (who already save the state billions of pounds by forming a pool of cheap care) who will be subject to this...
Sign a petition against it
(remember to click the link in the confirmation email they send to you otherwise your signing will not be registered)"

Westphalia 'tis of thee

My thoughts on the anniversary of the Treaty of Westphalia in Comment is Free

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Witchfinder and the Secretary General

From Guardian Comment is Free
22 October 2007

To great fanfare, last year the UN's witch-finding inspectors, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), announced that they had nailed a Singaporean staff member, Andrew Toh, for corruption. To considerably less fanfare, this month the Singapore government revealed that the UN's internal courts had cleared Toh of any substantial wrongdoing - and found that the OIOS had harassed him and spent millions of dollars investigating him without any success on the main charges.

Instead of punishing his persecutors, last Thursday UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon suspended Toh for two months without pay and demoted him. This is like fining a witch at the stake for fire-raising, or as the indignant
Singapore foreign ministry colourfully put it: "Toh is like a pedestrian deliberately hit by a speeding car as he crosses the street, only to be cited for jaywalking as he lies injured, while the culprit goes unpunished".

Almost two years ago, under pressure from the US, the UN sent more staff to help the OIOS investigate the UN's procurement office. The new procurement task force began in January 2006, with its head a former assistant district attorney from Connecticut, and its first official act was to put Toh on leave while they investigated. Toh was been ground down in a Kafkaesque process ever since. When they could not find any evidence to back their original corruption charges against him, they expanded their investigation and demanded that he submit details of all transactions in his family exceeding US$10,000, as well as any gifts received exceeding US$250, for the previous decade.

The UN's joint disciplinary committee has now cleared Toh of fraud, but obviously leery of being accused of wasting the UN's resources, reprimanded him for negligence in filing his financial disclosures.

This should be no surprise to anyone who has watched the OIOS at work. For years, American politicians and media wanting to score quick political points have raised allegations of "waste, mismanagement and corruption" at the UN. Instead of rebutting false charges, successive secretary generals have pandered to them, throwing accused staff to the wolves. Any UN staff member who comes under investigation, particularly from an American accusation, is presumed guilty, even if like Toh he is proven innocent.

During the Iraq "oil for food" storm, the Volcker commission's release of OIOS's internal reports fed the media frenzy, helped along by malicious leaks from investigators. Half-digested, with no notice taken of any rebuttals from the "accused," a typically memorable charge was that the UN's border inspectors had wasted money by being on station at the Iraqi border months before the food and oil trade was up and running. But, as an exasperated staff member pointed out, that was because the UN security council had ordered them to be there. And if they were not, doubtless, he suggested, there would have been a nitpicking OIOS report complaining about their failure to comply with the council's instructions.

In 2001 I wrote a story about a company using the planes that it was contracting to the UN to smuggle "blood diamonds" from central Africa. I approached OIOS for comment. They did not return my calls, but internal sources told me its response was not to investigate the company, but to investigate who had leaked me the story. Even professionals inside its ranks have quit and tried to blow the whistle on the OIOS's methods.

The UN needs an adequate justice system that exonerates the innocent, punishes the guilty and dissolves the OIOS and its procurement task force, the acting head of which - despite being guilty of this wasteful and malicious vendetta against Toh - is confidently expecting to be promoted next year. The Wall St Journal is already campaigning to retain the task force in the face of Singapore's objections.

The UN panel on Toh's claims recommended that OIOS and the UN should review their rules on investigations and "bring them in line with the judgements of the United Nations administrative tribunal and the existing international instruments on human rights".

That is long overdue. The impunity that used to be enjoyed by perpetrators in the UN has been replaced with a lack of accountability and a total impunity by the OIOS, whose malicious incompetence is aimed more at glory in the Murdoch press than at justice.

Since the UN has been quick to remove the diplomatic immunity of any staff member suspected of criminal behaviour, not least anyone fingered by the Fox-hunters of the far right, Toh wants reciprocation. He wants the secretary general to lift the immunity of his persecutors so he can sue his persecutors for the egregious abuses of natural justice and established procedure which the UN's own courts have found.

By the time the UN appeals procedure rules that Toh's suspension and demotion were wrong, and awards him substantial compensation, his persecutors will be safely drawing a substantial salary. Ban Ki Moon has made the promotion of human rights a priority of his administration. He should begin inside his own organization by ignoring US pressure and putting a stop to the persecution of Toh.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Colonel Buggin's Turn

So hail then Libya, a temporary member of the UN security council from next January - and elected with no opposition from the US, thus signalling its demotion from the axis of evil.

In the early 1990s the Libyan mission to the UN was a dozen or so stories of mausoleum. The foyer had a huge equestrian oil painting of Colonel Muammar Gadafy, and the first 10 stories were empty. The mission was caught between the city and the US state department: one was denying it the right to let off the floors for commercial tenants, while the other was trying to tax them because they wanted to do just that. How many companies would brave the prancing colonel was another question, which the ambassador of the time sidestepped, well, diplomatically, when I asked him.

In 1995, and again in 2003, the US bitterly and successfully opposed the election of Libya to the security council. Libya's previous two failures are perhaps more a tribute to the isolation brought about by Gadafy's undiplomatic eccentricities than adroit US diplomacy, since the Africans and the Arabs at the UN are pathologically averse to contested elections.

The cycle for determining which countries from Africa will take a two-year stint on the security council is plotted out decades ahead with a complicated almost Ptolemaic formula that ensures the Arab group always has a representative on the council.

Every UN diplomat wants to be on the security council: it is where the influence is, although it can be a dangerous eminence, almost guaranteeing the untender attentions of the state department heavies when Washington wants something dubiously legal in the council.

The ambassador for Mauritius was recalled after Washington called home to complain about his over-principled opposition to the first Iraq war. Another African diplomat during the first Gulf war told me how he had to leave his phone off the hook to avoid getting instructions that he did not want, but which the US delegates importunately assured him were on the way from his capital. But there are compensations: one study suggested that it was worth millions a year extra in aid for a developing country to be on the council.

So how has Libya changed since its previous attempts? Well fall guy Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi is serving his country sitting in a Scottish gaol, and Libya paid compensation for Lockerbie without admitting responsibility and for a bombing in German nightclub.

Indeed the evidence is at best inconclusive and al-Megrahi's case is under review. It is still an open question whether Libya carried out the bombing because it was an enemy of the US, or whether it was fingered for the same reason. It is not as if we set a fine example. Reagan sent bombers in an attempt to assassinate Gadafy and succeeded in killing his daughter and a hundred other "collateral" civilians. Neither the outcome nor the intention were exactly in the best traditions of international law, but one can note that Margaret Thatcher, who allowed British bases to be used for the attack, cited the current neocon legal formula that it was an act of self defence for alleged terrorist bombings.

On the other hand, unlike the US, which withdrew from the international criminal court when it didn't like its verdicts, the colonel accepted its decision in his border dispute with Chad.

So the Libyans promised not to help the IRA, and handed over information, which sweetened up London. They splashed cash around in compensation for terrorist incidents they were accused of, without admitting liability. Gadafy has abandoned, or suspended his wilder global ambitions. With his eccentric version of Islam, women have the same, but equally minimal, human rights as men, but opponents disappear. And of course there was the travesty of the doctors and nurses accused of spreading HIV.

Perhaps significantly, Israel's UN ambassador only regards Libya's election as "problematic," rather than the more intemperate adjectives one would have expected a few years ago, before rumours began to spread of a Libyan-Israeli deal. In summary, Libya has stopped active opposition to foreign policy, so who cares about some disappeared Arab democrats.

On balance, Libya is not the worst country to serve on the security council, but the developing world really should stop bleating about reforming the council when it sends by Buggins' turn countries like Rwanda during the genocide, or Mobutu's Zaire. In the recent past relatively small temporary members, such as Chile, Jamaica, Ireland and New Zealand, to name but a few, have been principled upholders of international law and human rights in the face of bludgeoning from the big powers. The most practical way to reform the council would be to send more like them. And fewer like Libya.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blood Diamonds and UN Witchhunts

This appeared in the London Independent the day after September 11 and the WTC so it did not get much interest.. except for the UN's OIOS which immediately conducted an inquiry into who had leaked me the story. They refused to speak to me.

The relevance will show in postings I will be doing later about the Andrew Toh witch-hunt at the United Nations

UN flights `linked to Congo diamond smuggling'.

By Ian Williams in New York.

12 September 2001

The Independent

UNITED NATIONS investigators are examining allegations that flights used by a UN contractor have been smuggling diamonds out of Congo. The charges could be embarrassing for the UN, which has energetically condemned the plunder of the mineral-rich country by foreign powers involved in its protracted war. UN officials flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, last week to investigate the allegations, which surfaced during an inquiry into billing practices by the contractor, ES-KO, which is registered in Monte Carlo. Local officials in the UN mission in Congo allege that charter flights used by ES-KO, which they had engaged to provide and ship rations for their operations, may have had, on their return trips, shipments "of questionable content as referred to in the report of the UN Panel of Experts on illegal exploitation of DRC natural resources". UN sources confirm that this means diamonds, but such is the sensitivity of the issue that no one wants to put the word into print.

ES-KO, which derives most of its revenues from UN catering and supply operations, is a commercial company owned by two Italian brothers, Ennio and Enzo Zanotti. It has been in the news before, in the 1980s, when it was linked with allegations of shipping toxic waste to west Africa. Those claims were not proved. The current allegations arose out of an investigation into how ES-KP billed the UN for the services of a local handling company. In the course of looking into how the shipments were dealt with, UN officials had their suspicions aroused when they discovered that the aircraft involved, using a UN call sign, was also carrying other goods for other parties - including the alleged "shipments of questionable content". The first inquiry into billing practices focused on almost $25,000 (#17,000) in air royalties allegedly paid to the government of Congo. The UN had, as usual, negotiated a tax-free deal for its shipments with the DRC, and local officials used this and the fact that ES-KO could only produce a hand-written receipt for the alleged taxes to refuse payment. UN legal advisers called for the investigation by UN headquarters into the company and its contract "on the legitimacy of using such a carrier in the prevailing political situation".

The issue is sensitive because the UN has inveighed at all levels against diamond smuggling. It is a major source of finance for the bloody conflicts across central Africa, which the UN has been called upon to intervene in time and again. The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, has personally spoken out strongly against the illicit trade, which stretches from Sierra Leone in west Africa, to Congo, Angola and Mozambique. The UN's five-man panel of experts concluded in July last year that the exploitation of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo by foreign armies had become systematic and systemic. The experts urged the UN Security Council to declare a temporary embargo on the export of diamonds and other minerals from or to Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, "until those countries' involvement in the exploitation of the natural resources of the Democratic Republic of Congo is made clear".

Colonel Buggin's Turn

Libya's New Face - not so different from the old

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You can't Pick and Chose Human Rights

In this week's Tribune

Heating up in Absurdistan

Last week the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted to condemn the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915, sparking a powder train of diplomatic consequences.

It is sometimes argued that since Armenians in Istanbul, were untouched it could not have been genocide. That is as dubiously relevant as survival rates of German Jews compared with Polish Jewish, or the relative immunity of Bosniaks in Belgrade as their compatriots were slaughtered back home.

However rationality flies out of the window on these massacres over eight decades ago. Irrefutably, the Ottoman government conducted massacres and ethnic cleansings of Armenians on a scale that certainly counts as genocide compared with other more recent killings so termed, from East Timor to Darfur.

Nonetheless, European legal moves to penalize people who question that there was an Armenian genocide, or indeed the Holocaust, are an abuse of freedom of expression and dangerous precedent., almost as dangerous as the Turkish practice of arresting writers who confirm that it happened.

Abhorrent though some of Leninist left iare when they become apologists for mass murder by Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo, I would never call for the arrest of Fidel Castro or Tariq Ali and his likeminded comrades for ignoring the continual ooze of charnel pits being exhumed across the Balkans.

History should never be left to Leninists or legislators, let alone the police. Indeed, almost as puzzling as the irrational left canonization of Milosevic, the murderous thug, election-fixer, black-marketeer and peculator of public property is the present Turkish defence or denial of the deeds of the Ottoman sultanate.

Ataturk’s revolution was, after all, against the legacy of the Sultans. Indeed, the pre-war Ottoman state was overtly multi-ethnic and, in one of those historical ironies, the most active persecutors of the Armenians were actually Kurds, whose very existence is now denied by Turkish nationalists, who are being barely restrained by the US from crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan to whack Turkish Kurd insurgents based there.

The full House of Representatives is unlikely to adopt the resolution, because both Bush and the Israel Lobby want to support Turkey, but that did not stop Ankara from recalling its Ambassador and threatening to withdraw its logistical cooperation with the Coalition forces in Iraq. That would not be bad thing in itself, but it would be rash to assume that that was the motive behind the resolution.

In fact, the Turkish government’s reaction rather calls into question the Turkish government’s understanding of democracy and freedom of speech in other countries, with disturbing implications for its own domestic application of democracy.

But then, US democracy all too often resembles government of the lobbies, for the lobbies, by the lobbies. The Armenian lobby is powerful in Washington, and carries in its train human rights activists, not least those who take the concept of “never again,” seriously.

Although the Greek Lobby is, predictably, weighing in behind the Armenians, the Turkish Lobby has a more redoubtable champion in the Israel Lobby, whose diehard section has a “never before or again” concept: that victimhood in genocide is not only a uniquely Jewish, but also a uniquely Israeli, property. Such people, for example, argued furiously in the early days of the US Holocaust Museum against recognizing the Roma genocide as equivalent to “their own.”

Israel’s only ally in the region is Turkey, and one of the things that Israel offers in return its lobbying power in Washington. As far back as 1990 AIPAC alienated Senator Bob Dole “lending” Turkey a dozen senators to withdraw the votes they had pledged for his resolution to commemorate the 75 Anniversary of the genocide.

The affair also highlights the current argument about the power of the Israel lobby and the dangers of assuming that it is the Jewish Lobby. Most American Jews are understandably deeply concerned about human rights and genocidal killings. Those, who, for example, recently had Archbishop Desmond Tutu disinvited from a Montana University because the hero of the anti-Apartheid struggle is deemed anti-Israel and therefore anti-Semitic, are operating on different standards - “another country, right or wrong.”

If Israel needs the strategic alliance with Turkey (and more precisely with the Turkish military) then for the Lobby, principles human rights, genocide, American self interest, can all go out the window as far as they are concerned.

So where does all this lead? Even though the Ottoman State killed millions of Armenians, the modern Turkish state should indeed apologise, not because it was responsible, but because it has foolishly tried to defend the indefensible for so many years.

But on a broader scale, it reinforces the essential point that would-be defenders of human rights should condemn the deed, and not try to cherry pick the perpetrators. We should condemn mass murder, or indeed small and medium sized murder, no matter what cause the perpetrators invoked in committing their crimes.

But sadly, we will continue to see condemnations of our chosen enemy’s violations, and defence, or at best silence about “our side.” Pro-Israelis will be as blind to Palestinian suffering as Republicans were to Central American massacres. “Anti-imperialists” will defend Mugabe or Castro, while fervently condemning the PATRIOT Act. Human rights should be a principle in themselves, not an expedient weapon with which to beat our enemies.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Giuliani's Napoleon complex

The presidential candidate overcompensates for his lack of military experience by talking tough on national security and scorning the law.
Ian Williams

GUARDIAN Comment is Free
October 15, 2007 9:30 PM | Printable version

At a primary debate in Michigan, presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested, as obliquely as possible, that before starting another disastrous war, this time with Iran, he would want legal advice.

"You sit down with your attorneys and they tell you what you have to do, but obviously, the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us," Romney said when he was asked if he would go to Congress first. Naturally, he blithely added that no option should be taken off the table against Iran.

Of course New York's own suburban Bonaparte was quick to jump on this seemingly unmilitary pose for a would-be commander-in-chief. Giuliani told ABC News: "That's one of those moments in a debate where you say something and you go like this," he said, quickly putting his hand over his mouth "[oops,] wish I can get that one back."

"Basically right out of the box, first thing, you're faced with imminent attack on the United States, I don't think you call in the lawyers first. I think maybe the generals, the ones you call in first, they're the ones you want to talk to," Giuliani added.

In case anyone forgot, Rudy forwent a career as a general by getting a draft deferment while he studied to be a lawyer. He clearly should have studied harder, perhaps trying a term paper on the 1973 War Powers Act, which mandates that the president needs congressional approval before taking the country to war.

However, no one can accuse him of inconsistency. His disregard for the law, or perhaps his assumption that "La Loi, c'est moi" was apparent during his career as New York's mayor where, if he consulted lawyers, he should have fired them, since so many of his arbitrary diktats were overturned in the courts - especially when it came to first amendment issues.

Of course, with his endorsement of the war on terrorism, he would consider that Congress has already given the emperor, first consul, president or whatever all the powers he needs. On the campaign trail he has already indicated that he could see no difference between al-Qaida and Iran. "Their movement has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us," he told supporters in New Hampshire, blithely ignoring the fact that if there is one group that the ultra-Sunni Osama bin Laden hates more than Americans it is the Shia Iranians.

Taxed with this technical detail he responded: "They have a similar objective, in their anger at the modern world."

It is an interesting point, since the same logic would surely recruit to his notion of al-Qaida the anti-Darwin, anti-gay, anti-divorce, anti-family planning, nativist and anti-civil liberty crowd that he is wooing for his primary election.

They are bound to love his refusal to rule out using tactical nukes against Iran in the cause of anti-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation, and that his insouciance about international law matches his scorn for the US constitution.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A war of definitions: full text

A war of definitions

Terrorism means what we say it means: no more, no less.
Ian Williams

from Comment is Free
October 10, 2007 2:00 PM | Printable version

Watching the US senate and the Iranian parliament in operation really does reinforce the point that "terrorism" and "terrorist" are in no way precise legal terms. They are pejoratives that you throw at your enemies.

But weighed in the balance, I would say the US senate is far more wanting than its Iranian counterpart. Their decision to brand Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist" organisation has consequences, while the Iranian parliament's adoption of a similar resolution about the CIA and the US Army is fundamentally onanistic - satisfying but meaningless.

The senate resolution may well be the legal excuse that the Bush administration wields, capping all the other presidential pronunciamentos, to attack Iran, in yet another extension of the war on terror.

So, while it is easy to laugh at the Iranian legislators, except for those rendered apoplectic by their presumption, in fact they have the right of it.

The closest the UN got to a working definition of terrorism was: "Any action, in addition to actions already specified by the existing conventions on aspects of terrorism, the Geneva Conventions and Security Council resolution 1566 (2004), that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act."

There was much Western derision at non-aligned countries who tried to get the freedom fighter exclusion clause in, and indeed some of them certainly went beyond any acceptable limits in their defence of bombings of civilians. But there was more than a little squirming on the Western side, as well. If blowing up a pizza parlour is wrong, then how do you defend the massacre at Qana, or the gratuitous bombings in Iraqi villages, or the assassinations of suspected "terrorists" along with anyone else in the vicinity?

Frankly, one would have thought the deed itself of killing or maiming would be culpable and actionable enough without fretting too much about the motivation. In fact unconfirmed US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton tried to make it a completely circular definition by inserting, "by terrorists" after "actions." It makes sense of sorts. "Terrorists are people who practice terrorism. Terrorism is what terrorists do. And I decide who they are."

Bolton said that actions by governments were covered by war crimes and the Geneva Conventions, which is true. But actions by non-governments are are covered by criminal law as well, so we are left with the Humpty Dumpty apologia: "When I use a word ... it means just what I choose it to mean - no more nor less." And as Ambassador Dumpty explained: "The question is, which is to be the master - that's all".

And so now not an American sparrow falls without Washington suggesting that Iran and "terrorism" was behind its untimely demise.

In fact if the Iranian parliament had cut down on the rhetoric, missed out the US army and stressed the CIA's own exposed "Family Jewels" they would have been able to send a well targeted painful kick at them.

Most people would agree that the CIA's own, albeit bowdlerised confessions of assassinations of foreign leaders, fomentation of military coups, mining the harbours of countries that you were not at war with, kidnapping innocent civilians and flying them round the world to be tortured, and so do shape up to anyone's definition of terrorism. Of course, if one of your own elected governments had been overthrown, like Iran's Mossadeg by the CIA your complaint would be even more pointed.

But the Iranians have lost the game simply by playing it. There is murder, there are war crimes, there are crimes against the Geneva Conventions, and the use of "terrorism" just bloodies the water.

People who use it almost invariably mean that it is what our enemies do. Luckily, the Iranian parliament is not going to invade anyone else. In fact Iran has not invaded anyone else since the Shah was deposed. But the United States senate, which applauded as it was conned into chasing al-Qaida into an Iraq where it previously had zero support clearly has deep philosophic and semantic problems with reality which is, after all why the concept of the "war on terror" was invented.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Humpty Dumpty and the War on Terror

Today's Guardian Comment is Free piece on the War on Terror and its abuses.

Howe Trotsky meets Che

Here is the chapter I did for John Rodden's collection on Irving Howe, which you can buy by clicking on the icon to the left. It was republished in Logos the online journal which is well worth a look anyway..

It seems appropriate as well on the 40th Anniversary of Che Guevara's death to consider how the same process of canonisation is going on, overlooking Che's propensity for firing squads and admiration for North Korea, Mao's China etc. I tend to agree with Johann Hari in his column for the Independent. I met Korda the photographer of the iconic picture in Cuba, at a time when he was indeed being kept alive by Cuban health service - but I had to bring him film and he mentioned his worry that the local ambulance was propped up on bricks in the absence of tires.

An Ex-Maoist Looks at an Ex-Trotskyist:
On Irving Howe's Leon Trotsky

Ian Williams

A quarter of a century since he wrote it, Howe's biography of Trotsky raises far more questions than it can directly answer. How could a devoted democratic socialist describe a founder of the Bolshevik Party and thus of the Soviet state as "one of titans of the century," not least when the author also recognizes that Trotskyism is "without political or intellectual significance: a petrified ideology?"1 Outcast and unarmed, the prophet's strong residual attraction for someone as intellectually and politically rigorous as Howe bears scrutiny. Throughout this biography he is in a state of quantum indeterminacy about his subject, shifting from a state of intellectual criticism to one of emotional attachment, often in the same paragraph. We read detailed condemnation of the totalitarian state that Trotsky helped bring to birth, of the failure of his political movement, and of his failed predictions, yet Howe interlards this with general superlatives about his subject's heroic virtues.

Howe is not alone in this. There is, it seems, a special romantic Trotsky in the hearts of a certain generation of the American Left in particular: a proto-Che, a revolutionary and man of action who was yet an intellectual and man of sensibility. It is a mythic construct, as befits a mythical figure, or perhaps, in this more sordidly commercial age, a spectacularly successful example of rebranding. In either case somehow the American Left has absolved Trotsky of any moral responsibility for the events in the Soviet Union after his exile and indeed tends to overlook his direct responsibility for the formation and, more important, the subsequent development of the Soviet regime.

Coming from Britain to the United States, one cannot help but be impressed, or rather somewhat depressed, by the influence of Trotskyism on the American Left. Admittedly the Left in much of the world is now hardly at the apogee of its influence, in contrast to the hopes many of us had at the fall of Berlin Wall, when we imagined a new promise for the core collectivist values of democratic socialism, untrammeled by the sordid reality of "actually existing socialism" of the East European variety.

But here in the United States it seems that Leon Trotsky's attempt to pass himself off as a democratic socialist was in large measure swallowed by the noncommunist Left. The Dewey Commission, headed by the philosopher John Dewey to examine the charges against Trotsky at the Moscow trials, established that the accusations were ridiculous but would perhaps have done better to go on to scrutinize Trotsky's own behavior in power. Although Dewey, according to Howe, had serious misgivings about the exile's democratic credentials for liberal sainthood, it would appear that many American socialists took the commission's report as a clean bill of political health for the exiled leader.

Within a few short years much of the noncommunist American socialist movement was deeply under the influence of the "Old Man"--what remained of it, that is, after his followers had joined the Socialist Party and their infectious polemical sectarianism had spread through it, splitting it into sects. As a result, instead of being a cluster of tiny cults breeding on the edge of a mass social-democratic party, as in Europe, in a sense "Trotskyism" in the United States killed the host and replaced it.

The Bolshevik exile joined the mainstream of American socialism, particularly among those intellectuals, such as Howe, who still kept the red flag fluttering from their ivory towers, and this certainly contributed to socialism losing its admittedly slender chance to enter the mainstream of American politics. For American workers and liberals the choice was between Communist-dominated activism and fervent loyalties to smaller and smaller sects dominated by and named after obscure political leaders in unconscious imitation of the Hasidic sects following East European rabbi families decades after the shtetl was gone: Pabloites, Shachtmanites, Mandelites, each wishing on the other the fate of the Amalekites. No wonder most of the natural constituency for social democracy chose to go with the Democrats.

However, even among those, often academics and intellectuals, who tried to keep alive the ideals of democratic socialism in America, Trotsky seemed to remain respectable when other manifestations of the Soviet "experiment" were beyond the pale. Although he himself sought sedulously to project himself as the pretender to the throne of Vladimir Ilyich temporarily occupied by Stalin, many of his admirers solipsistically cast him in their own image, whether anti-Soviet or democratic socialist.

The resilience of Trotsky's attraction is shown by the continued respect that even the neocons and others who began their political life in his movement feel for him, although they have left socialism behind. Howe's book, inadvertently, sheds some additional light on this conundrum: how people ranging from the tiniest and most fissured sects advocating world revolution and the impending downfall of capitalism to powerbrokers in the Reagan and Bush administrations--and staunch anti-Leninist social democrats in between--can still have mental icons of the Old Man hanging inside their skulls.

In Britain, by contrast, Trotskyist movements were peripheral to the Labour Party, buttressed as it was by a long tradition of indigenous socialism; spurning foreign models; and nurtured on unions, Fabianism, and Methodism. The cyclical Trotskyist attempts to infiltrate the Labour Party, usually through its youth movement, were regularly defeated. They made little or no impression in the unions, where indeed much of the burden of combating them was borne by the Communist Party, which had an industrial influence way beyond its membership. That was also why many on the left of the Labour Party tended to travel in parallel, if not necessarily in fellowship, with the Communist Party, since its union influence gave it some sway in the Labour Party, where unions had a block vote.

Even so, in Britain, with the intellectual and emotional support of a mass socialist tradition, it was entirely possible to be a radical left-wing socialist and yet to regard Trotsky, Lenin, and Stalin as cut from the same absolutist and totalitarian cloth.

Howe's biography of Trotsky reflects much of the American Left's ambivalence. His clarity and honesty continually bring him back to a recognition that Trotsky never renounced Leninism and that, in the end, the latter gave birth to Stalinism. But the intellect he brings to bear on this is blunted, one suspects because of Trotsky's appeal to the intellectuals, like Howe, rather than to the intellect.

Howe published the book in 1978, when Trotsky was important because, in effect, so many intellectuals thought he was. Even if Trotskyism and Trotskyists were of marginal importance to any meaningful political movement in the United States, the Soviet Union still stood, apparently strong, and in a bipolar world his views on the origins and development of the Bolshevik state system had relevance for socialists assessing means to the socialist future.

It also followed a period in which Howe was wrestling for the souls of younger socialists in the New Left, trying to prove to skeptical revolutionaries that it was possible to be anti-Soviet and still a radical socialist. Although he did not pull his punches in those debates, it would not have helped to throw Trotsky, a Left icon, out with the Stalinist bathwater. In those days before the Reagan/Thatcher counterrevolution the achievements of social democracy in Western Europe were not the stuff to stir the blood of the young with hope. "The West is Red" was not a slogan to conjure with.

Indeed, by the time Howe wrote, Trotsky may have had a rival in Mao Zedong, but the latter, although an intellectual with some of the necessary romantic qualifications, suffered several disabilities. He had missed martyrdom and had hung around too long to be distanced from any "mistakes" in the Chinese system. Indeed, he was not Jewish! What is more, Mao was not part of the Western intellectual tradition that had formed Trotsky and Howe. "Somewhere in the orthodox Marxist there survived a streak of nineteenth-century ethicism, earnest and romantic," Howe claims, with the added advantage that Trotsky was "frank and courageous" in the face of power (5).

Howe introduces himself as still a socialist and admits to a "brief time" under "Trotsky's political influence," although in the forty years since "I have found myself moving farther and farther away from his ideas." So why was a social-democratic writer writing about an exiled Russian whose ideas he no longer espoused? Howe explains that Trotsky "remains a figure of heroic magnitude, and I have tried to see him with as much objectivity as I could summon." It was perhaps not enough.

Heroes were in demand both when Howe was growing up and when he wrote his biography. The intellectually voracious radical Jewish culture of the 1930s and 40s thought that ideas mattered and that they could change the world. Is it too far a stretch to remember that this was the milieu that gave birth to Superman and other comic-book superheroes? Lev Davidovich Bronstein, the Russian Jewish intellectual, may never have stepped into a phone booth like Clark Kent, but he did transform himself into a Colossus, bestriding the globe. This was surely in the mind of Howe, who was rediscovering his Jewish roots and had recently written World of Our Fathers.

It perhaps made marginally more sense to lionize Lev Bronstein than it did to cry when Stalin died, as some Jewish communists did--just before "Uncle Joe" was about to try for a second run at the Final Solution, by many accounts.

The era and the people also gave birth to science fiction writers such as the explicitly Marxist Futurians in New York, with writers like Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth, who ran dystopian thought experiments on society, and Isaac Asimov, who created a history of the future in broad galactic sweeps, reminiscent perhaps of Trotsky's depictions of the recent past. Big solutions, all-inclusive tidal waves of history, the certainty of true believers were all in the air in Howe's formative years.

Howe rhapsodizes, as enthralled by the man as he is disturbed by the result: "His personal fearlessness, his combination of firm political ends with tactical ingenuity, and his incomparable gifts as an orator helped to transform him, at the age of twenty-six, into a leader of the first rank: he had entered upon the stage of modern history and only the ax of a murderer would remove him." It is interesting that one could write a short and entirely accurate encomium of Adolf Hitler in almost exactly the same vein, if one chose to eschew ethical judgment on the use of these singular talents and its consequences.

These occasional intrusions of hagiography into Howe's treatment perhaps highlight the path that many followers of the Old Man took to neoconservatism, even if it is not a journey that Howe himself ever chose. They help explain why Trotsky remains a hero even for those who have abandoned his socialist ideas. Trotsky was an intellectual who was a man of action. He had fomented revolution; he had waged a war that looked romantic the farther away from it the observer was in space and time. He wrote about his own times and deeds with verve and with the broad brush of certainty that appeals to intellectuals haunted by quibbles and details. And what's more, he was dead, martyred. No wonder people like Howe could see the warts, describe them, and yet simultaneously paint them over.

However, Howe's hero never renounced the Bolshevik's methods, and he never seriously addressed, let alone apologized for, his own role in developing the totalitarian state that hounded him to his death, even though it had begun its execution of opponents while he was one of its leaders. Indeed, in his arrogance Trotsky never explained quite why he had been so politically maladroit in his assessment of the trend in the party represented by Stalin and why the latter, whom he despised so roundly, so equally roundly defeated and ousted him.

"If there is a single text that supports those who believe Leninism and Stalinism to be closely linked or to form a line of continuous descent, it is Terrorism and Communism," Howe declares regretfully (74). He is clearly still not prepared to make the connection unequivocally in this biography. He deems it "perhaps profitless" to try to identify the precise time when "the revolutionary dictatorship of Lenin gave way to the totalitarianism of Stalin" (88). It is interesting that Howe himself is in effect distinguishing the two, when by then his general drift of political thought was rather to conflate them.

It is equally interesting that Howe's other great mentor was George Orwell, whose emphasis on an intellectual tradition, on democracy and decency, anticipated Howe's and was so much clearer, so much earlier, about this issue. Orwell, for example, took Arthur Koestler to task for his residual loyalty to the party "and a resulting tendency to make all bad developments date from the rise of Stalin," whereas "all the seeds of the evil were there from the start, and . . . things would not have been substantially different if Lenin or Trotsky had remained in control."2

Trotsky himself made the break with his past, says Howe, during the last decade of his life, when he "offered a towering example of what a man can be." He adds, "A later generation . . . may be forgiven if it sees the issue of democracy as crucial and regards Trotsky's sustained critique of Stalinism as his greatest contribution to modern thought and politics" (130).

However, an even later generation could equally be forgiven for regarding as lacking and somewhat insubstantial any critique that sedulously avoids considering the roots of totalitarianism in the theory and practice espoused by the ruling party when Trotsky was one of its architects. Terrorism and Communism would have allowed him to be cast as Squealer as much as Snowball.

Accurate as his current allegations about Soviet practices may have been, Trotsky was far from the first to identify the regime's faults, and the absence of any hint of self-criticism could make it look like a Tweedledum-Tweedledee bout in which the only serious question was whether he or Stalin should be master.

In contrast, Howe's critique of Bolshevism is measured and analytical rather than bell-book-and-candling exorcism. He distinguishes between the freedom of internal debate among the original Bolsheviks under Lenin and in the later Stalinist and post-Leninist organization and so to some extent discounts the inevitability of what happens when a party of true believers becomes possessed of exclusive state power. Few, if any, of the sects that claimed to follow Trotsky showed much toleration for dissent in their ranks, even if they, perhaps fortunately, never achieved state power to enforce their discipline. In fact the younger Trotsky was more astute than both Howe and the later Trotsky in foretelling the way that things would go when the Central Committee substituted itself for party, class, and state.

Howe recognizes this in a strangely muted way. In describing his subject's failures he says, "this is not to excuse the principled failure of Trotsky to raise the issue of multi-party socialist democracy, it is, at best, to explain it" (125). This is strange wording, since by all of Howe's normal standards the failure to raise such an issue was deeply unprincipled.

Where Howe went part of the road with the neocons in the early stages was in the strain of Trotskyism identified above all by anticommunism, or anti-Stalinism, developed by Max Shachtman, who took the Old Man's critiques of the Soviet system to new and higher levels of dissociation and whom Howe acknowledges as a major influence.

The followers of Shachtman and their neocon political progeny had little or no difficulty in seeing Communism and the Soviet Union, not as some redeemable wayward revolution, but as an absolute evil to be crusaded against. That proto-neocon passion against the Evil Empire reached a crescendo by the fall of the U.S.S.R., ironically almost putting retrospective truth in the Stalinist canards about Trotskyism's alliance with fascism, in light of neoconservative support for U.S. alliances with right-wing dictatorships against the greater enemy of Communism.

What did the neocons take from Trotsky? Certainly we know that politically they abandoned Trotskyism, in the sense of the revolutionary socialism that their hero would have considered his essence. However, there are strongly idiosyncratic characteristics of the Old Man and his movement that seem to be adoptable and transmittable even when pithed of their ideological core. As Howe, in his introduction, mentions, his hero's ideas "take on vibrancy only when set into their context of striving, debate, combat" (vi). As he points out, Trotsky's oratory earned "the dislike, even hatred, of many opponents because of what they saw as the polemical ruthlessness and arrogance of his style" (41).

We miss from this an appreciation that the later Howe had himself become one of those opponents, an advocate for democracy and openness, for democratic socialism as opposed to the burgeoning totalitarianism of Bolshevism, who would surely have been cast rhetorically into the dustbin of history by his subject, depicted here as a Leftist Rush Limbaugh.

However, no one who has had dealings with the various strains of Trotskyism in later years would have any difficulty in identifying this robustly unforgiving polemicism as an integral part of Trotskyite practice, even more so than that of their Stalinist antagonists.

Indeed, Howe reports that Trotsky in 1920 condoned "acts of repression that undercut whatever remnants there still were of 'Soviet democracy.' Worse yet he did all this with a kind of excessive zeal, as if to blot out from memory much of what he had said in earlier years" (70).

Trotskyism's obsession with the Soviet Union, its inability to shed the baggage of Bolshevism, led for decades to a strange sterile dialectic, all antithesis and no thesis, in which negative polemics and Talmudic exegesis of the Master's texts substituted for engagement with the realities of political and social life, with perhaps a penchant for infiltrating and suborning other political entities.

It is fascinating to see how that passion has survived the demise of its target. The "striving, debate and combat," the deep self-certainty of the Trotskyist sects, the polemics with no quarter, the eschewal of all thought of consensus and compromise as betrayal of the truth are recognizable characteristics of the neocons--and to some extent of neo-neocons such as Christopher Hitchens, who, like Howe, has Trotsky and Orwell as twin icons. Could it be some common thread of anxiety for politically motivated intellectuals, un impuissance des clercs, a feeling that, despite the aphorism, the pen usually wilts in the face of the sword?

However, so much negative passion demands a thoroughly unworthy opponent, and radical Islam seems to have provided the neocons with more than enough target for their redirected revolutionary ire now that they have lost their primary target. Ironically some at least of their cousins who stayed in the nominally socialist fold have equally eagerly acted as apologists for the Islamic states against "imperialism."

Howe recognizes the inherent idealism, in the Platonic sense, that Trotsky displays. Somewhat at odds with his own generally more approbatory treatment, he quotes approvingly Joel Carmichael's "shrewd" assessment of his subject: "It was no doubt his lofty--indeed in the philosophical sense 'idealist'--view of politics that made Trotsky misunderstand what was actually happening. . . . It astigmatized him, as it were, with respect to the power of the actual apparatus, and made him regard himself as Bolshevik paragon merely because of his identification with the Idea of the Party: he disregarded his failure to be identified with its personnel" (92).

Certainly it could be argued that the neocons inherited from Trotsky the passion for the importance of ideas, and of fighting for them, and also that that intoxication, transferred from the heady intellectualism and sectarianism of the sundered American socialist movement, has transformed American conservatism, which had previously tended more naturally to empiricist defenses of the status quo or to golden days.

Almost equally integral to Trotskyism was the ability to hold huge, inspiring, eloquent--and utterly wrong--"Ideas" and to hold onto them in the face of uncooperative reality. Even the levelheaded Howe treasured Trotsky's "heroic" ability to be stunningly wrong in a spectacular, albeit imaginatively attractive way. In dealing with his "boldest" theory, of Permanent Revolution, Howe asserts that "the full measure of its audacity can be grasped even today by anyone who troubles to break past the special barriers of Marxist vocabulary" (28). However, while Howe is mesmerized with the "brilliance" of Trotsky's historical prognosis, he goes on to admit that history neglected to follow the course so brilliantly laid out for it. Nor does the idea that a minority working class cannot bring about socialism seem that audacious in the light of the historical experience of so many failed statist pseudo-socialist experiments in the Third World.

Indeed, Howe admits that Trotsky "failed to anticipate the modern phenomenon of the totalitarian or authoritarian state, which would bring some of the features of permanent revolution into a socioeconomic development having some of the features of a permanent counter-revolution” (33). As failures go, this goes a long way. Howe is too kind when he concludes that "Trotsky's theory remains a valuable lens for seeing what has happened in the twentieth century--but a lens that needs correction" (33). A lens that fails so signally surely needs recasting and regrinding in its entirety.

Toward the conclusion of his biography Howe tempers his romantic attachment and becomes less uncritical, seeing his subject emerging as "a figure of greatness, but flawed greatness, a man great of personal courage and intellectual resources, but flawed in self recognition, in his final inability or refusal to scrutinize his own assumptions with the corrosive intensity he brought to those of his political opponents."

A quarter of a century after Howe's biography, six decades after Trotsky's death, and ten years after the curtain came down finally on the Bolshevik experiment, things can be seen in a different light. Trotsky's role "on the stage of modern history" has shrunk into perspective. He lost the arguments in the Soviet Union: capitalism did not collapse catastrophically, the industrial proletariat in the world did not move to revolution. The reformers and social democrats he despised built societies that, even after Thatcherism and the Third Way, still offer workers and other citizens more in the way of prosperity, freedom, civil, political and social rights, than any other societies that have existed on the face of the earth.

Trotsky may not be in the "dustbin of history" to which he consigned his democratic-socialist opponents in the Leningrad Soviet (52), but he is now a bit player who exited, stage left, in a show that was a hit for a while but has now closed with no prospect of ever reopening. He is more reminiscent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern than of Hamlet.

Ironically the only admirers of Trotsky to achieve any degree of power are the neocons, those who have joined with the world's biggest imperialist power to remake the world in some neoliberal capitalist image. It is an achievement, but it is a severely qualified one. Howe, who knew just how ineffectual the squabbling Trotskyist sects were--"not distinguished for an ability to engage in fresh thought politically, or reach the masses of workers practically" (191)--would be amazed, possibly even amused, if he were around to see the heights reached by his former comrades, even if one suspects he would think they were climbing the wrong mountain.

After all, once the socialism was stripped out, which was quite easily done in the face of popular indifference, what was left of Trotskyism but the failed predictions, the ability to hold a deep belief, with quasi-religious fervor, in a secular idea in the face of all advice and empirical evidence to the contrary? Having infiltrated the conservative movement, Trotsky's heirs, still an antithesis looking for a thesis to batter, have substituted Islam, or Islamic fascism, to fill the gap in their universe left by the disappearing Soviet Union.

They have a mission to remake the world, but instead of Trotsky's Red Army swooping to bring socialism to ungrateful Poles and Central Asians, it is now the U.S. military bringing democracy and free markets to lesser breeds hitherto without the law. And with the ruthless romanticism of the revolutionary, they think the price in blood is well worth paying, that history will absolve them.

Howe never succumbed to such temptations, retaining an attachment to socialism and democracy that eschewed such misplaced millennial visions. Somehow he contrives to admire the man while deploring his deeds; his philosophy; and, when it comes down it, most of his life work. But his uncharacteristic partial abandonment of his usual sharply critical spirit when it came to Lev Davidovich Bronstein--the Red intellectual who could, and briefly did--demonstrates the dangerous seductions of hero worship. It is difficult to steer a course between the Scylla of damnation and the Charybdis of canonization when dealing with historical figures, and if so rigorous a thinker as Howe steered so close to the rocks as he did with this biography, it is a warning to others to try harder for some objectivity.


1. Howe, Leon Trotsky, 193, 192. Subsequent references will appear in the text.

2. George Orwell, "Catastrophic Gradualism" in The Collected Essays of George Orwell, Vol. IV (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970) 5.

Ian Williams is the United Nations Correspondent for The Nation. His most recent books are Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 and Deserter: Bush's War on Military Families, Veterans, and his Past. His blog is Deadline Pundit.

Logos 6.3 - summer 2007
© Logosonline 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

Taiwan gets healthy: full text

Taiwan gets healthy

America should look to Taiwan as a model on healthcare. After all, Taiwan based its successful new system on US Medicare.
Ian Williams

October 7, 2007 7:00 PM | Printable version

The judgment of Herod was a little less subtle than Solomon's. It involved killing all the kids in the hope he could get one. True believer George Bush certainly emulated Herod's single-mindedness rather than Solomonic judgment when he vetoed the bill to provide healthcare for millions American children currently without it.

The president thought that the "moral hazard" that some kids currently insured with private companies might take advantage of in the new scheme was too much for his sensitive soul - so best let the other millions rot.

He is not alone of course. Rudy Giuliani is trying to don the conservative crusader's anti-red cross with attacks on "socialised medicine," which apparently means any rational scheme that would ensure Americans access to the healthcare that every other industrialized country takes for granted.

And yet, in 1995, Taiwan, beloved of conservatives like John Bolton, introduced a single-payer healthcare system that delivers universal coverage with free choice of doctors and hospitals and no waiting lists.

When the Taiwanese set up the system more than 40% of the population was uninsured. They are now covered by the national health insurance scheme - and because of the increased efficiency of the single-payer system - this was done at little or no extra cost.

Giuliani notwithstanding, Taiwan's "socialised medicine" involves no more compulsion than the US social security system. It is a compulsory, mostly premium-financed insurance system, which negotiates a single payment schedule with the municipal- or government-owned providers and the 70% or so of private hospitals and clinics.

Taiwanese do not have to worry that changing or losing their jobs will lose them their healthcare. They do not have to make choices between paying the food bills and getting essential prescriptions. Their doctors will not drop their insurance coverage, nor do they get post-operative sticker shock when they discover the anesthetist the hospital booked
does not accept their insurance. They do not have to worry about big bills for out-of-network providers - because if a doctor is out of the network the chances are they were thrown out for fraud or malpractice.

No wonder Taiwan had time and attention to spare to develop the iPhone while the US was developing sub-prime mortgages.

The doctors like it as well. They are assured payment without wrestling with cost-cutting HMO bureaucrats who get bonuses and promotions based on how many treatment courses they can deny.

There are no prohibitions on doctors operating outside the Taiwanese system - but no one in his right mind will go to one when they can go to any in-system provider and, for nominal (try $1.50!) co-payments, simply have their insurance card scanned, confident that the NHI will settle the bill with none of the hassle that Americans have
come to know and hate from HMO's and multiple billings from different practitioners.

Most astoundingly, for any capitalist with an accountant, is the difference in costs and efficiency. Taiwan gives everyone healthcare for less than one sixth the price per head of the US. In fact by 2005, US healthcare amounted to almost $2 trillion, or $6,697 per person, amounting to 16% of GDP - and still left 47 million people without insurance, more than 20 million inadequately covered, and, as GM's recent manoeuvres show, untold millions more whose insurance is not as secure as they once thought. Taiwan spent 5.7% of GDP and less than $900 a head.

The Taiwanese service offers in- and out-patient care, house calls, physiotherapy, Chinese medicine, and even dentistry - all for premiums that in New York would not get dental coverage alone. If this is socialised medicine, then Americans really need it, no matter how much the health insurance companies are paying into the campaigns of Rudy and Hillary.

In 2005, polls showed that 72.5% of Taiwanese are happy with the system - and when they are unhappy, it's with the cost of premiums, laughably small though they are by American standards: less than $20 a month. In contrast, last year I paid more than $1,500 a month for a family of three in New York.

The greatest irony of this is that the model that the Taiwanese chose was American -Medicare, the pubic system in the states that serves the elderly and was created by Lyndon Johnson and a heavily Democratic congress in 1965. Premium collection is similar to that of social security contributions in the US. Employers and the self-employed are legally bound to pay. However, unlike the US social security fund, the NHI is a genuine pay-as-you-go system. The aim is for the premium income to pay costs, but there is also a tobacco tax surcharge that goes to the NHI, and contributions from the national lottery. Cigarettes in Taiwan are ridiculously cheap, which is why no one has blinked at the proposal to double the surcharge.

To implement a similar system in the US makes eminent sense and is certainly financially and organisationally possible, indeed relatively easy. At the present juncture an American single-payer system is even politically feasible, although it would involve taking on some big lobbies - notably the health insurers on whose altars Bush is prepared to sacrifice nine million kids.

Things have changed since Hillary Clinton's Rube Goldberg attempts to keep the insurers at the fundraising dinners. The spread of HMO's has devalued medical insurance. How many doctors will hang themselves from their stethoscopes to keep the present nightmarish bureaucracy of unqualified cost cutters?

Among the political obstacles to a sane emulation of the Taiwanese system, the tobacco lobby could be disarmed - it could almost present smoking as virtuous if it helped finance universal healthcare.

Is it really too much to think that the $250bn global tobacco settlement could be allocated to a health insurance scheme instead of, in effect, providing walking round money for the governors of the states?

Of course the pharmaceutical industry would scream, since one of the major points of cost control for the Taiwanese system is that NHI is a monopoly purchaser and so has greater bargaining power with the drug companies and with the providers. So if the GOP is out the picture, who is going to stand up in public for higher prescription costs or higher premiums?

It is not just the 47 million uninsured who can be mobilized. GM's hiving off its healthcare obligations to the auto workers union, soon to be emulated by others, sends a signal that not even the insured are safe. Universal coverage would also give security and peace of mind to millions of other voters whose coverage is threatened by unemployment or benefit rollback from rapacious corporate executives.

On the practical side, much of the machinery is already set up. Among the IRS and the social security for collection and Medicare for payment, with the veterans' administration and Medicaid rolled in, there are already the makings of a lean mean machine that would save billions in administration compared with the health insurers and their voracious demands on providers for paperwork from providers and patients.

It would involve moving into the 21st century. Taiwan has an insurance card with an IC chip that provides essential medical records and collates prescription and treatment data - which is not only better for the patient's health but averts billing fraud.

But that is a small step compared with the move into the second half of the 20th century that universal healthcare in the US would represent. The US is the only industrialized country in the world without a full health service - and if newly industrialized Taiwan can do it, so can Washington.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Chinese veto wrong - like the US's

A quote to put the Chinese veto in perspective... from IPS and the Asia Times

"Taking a different perspective, Ian William, w says that even though there is no justification for China to use its veto to protect a universally condemned regime, he sees a parallel in the United States using its own veto to protect its ally Israel over the last decades.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Williams told IPS, Washington has been adding annually to its veto total and will soon outrun the former USSR's tally of "Nyets".

China is doing itself no favors in using its vetoes for issues like Sudan and Burma, which are surely peripheral to its national interests, and Beijing seems to be realizing that it is getting close to calls for boycott of next year's Olympics, which would be an additional blow to its prestige.

"But it is understandable that it should want to emulate its number one debtor, the United States which has devalued the veto by using it for resolutions which often actually reflect longstanding U.S. policy on Israel, over settlements, Jerusalem and so on," noted Williams.

Ironically, it is that same support for Israel which has caused the United States to disregard its own innovation, the "Uniting For Peace" procedure by which issues stuck in the Security Council could be taken up by the General Assembly.

Williams said the United States invented it during the Korean War -- but declared it non-binding after Palestine invoked it to bypass "unreasonable" U.S. vetoes in the Council.

"In Kosovo, in Sudan, in Bosnia, the procedure could have been used to save lives, but Washington has effectively disarmed the United Nations in order to protect Israeli -- not U.S. -- interests," added Williams, who also writes for the Nation."

full article

ASEAN Backs Neither U.S. nor China over Burma
Sat, 2007-10-06 12:59

By Thalif Deen - Inter Press Service

United Nations, 06 Octeber, (IPS): The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Burma (Myanmar) is a member, is refusing to see eye-to-eye either with the United States or China on how the international community should deal with the ongoing crisis in the politically-troubled military-run country.

Speaking as chair of ASEAN, Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore told the Security Council Friday the military repression in Burma "cannot just be an internal matter" -- a view diametrically opposed to that of China.

At the same time, he said, he can understand the impulse to punish unacceptable behavior, even though ASEAN should not rule this out.

"But we have to pause to consider dispassionately what the real impact of additional sanctions will be?" he asked, expressing skepticism over a proposed move by the United States and Western nations to impose mandatory sanctions on Burma as a punishment for its repression.

"How will they affect a regime that is only tangentially connected to the rest of the world? Will they help or hinder the U.N.'s role?" he asked. "And what is their impact on the people of Myanmar?"

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told delegates his country has already "imposed sanctions on the regime to encourage it to make further progress."

If there was no such progress, he warned, "the United States would call for Security Council sanctions. It was time for the Council to do more than simply listen to a briefing."

Last week, nine of the 10 foreign ministers of ASEAN -- representing Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia -- expressed "revulsion over reports that the protests (in the streets of Burma) were being suppressed by violence."

Burma was the only ASEAN member to skip that meeting, which took place in the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly sessions in New York.

Ambassador U Kyaw Tint Swe, the permanent representative of Burma to the United Nations, said he was made to understand that Menon's statement was "not on behalf of ASEAN" -- a claim denied by Singapore.

But he stressed that despite the "recent tragic events, the situation in Myanmar is not a threat to either regional or international peace or security."

He expressed his country's deep appreciation to members of the Security Council -- namely Russia and China, whom he did not name -- for taking that position.

"I would therefore like to call on the Security Council to refrain from any action that would be detrimental to the good offices role of the secretary-general mandated by the General Assembly," he added.

The U.N. secretary-general's special adviser on Myanmar, Ambassador Ibrahim Gambari, returned to New York Thursday after a brief visit to the country.

He said his visit was short, but ideally, the next time around he would like "stay as long as possible and meet all the people I want to meet."

Gambari said a return visit -- possibly in mid-November -- should help sustain the momentum and not allow it to slip by. He also told reporters that China and India, along with ASEAN, could be "critically important" in helping resolve the crisis in Burma.

"We are working closely with them," said Gambari, who called for a time-bound and serious dialogue for national reconciliation.

Last week, an unnamed Indian official was quoted as saying: "We are not the only democracy that works with generals," as he made a veiled criticism of the United States, which has been a close ally of General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.

India, which has close economic and military ties to Burma, has taken a less critical view of events in that country.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council he was "deeply concerned" about the recent events in Myanmar and the reports of continued human rights violations.

"I must reiterate that the use of force against peaceful demonstrators is abhorrent and unacceptable," he said.

"A united Security Council could play an important role in support of the ongoing efforts of the United Nations," he added.

The Security Council, however, remains divided, with China and Russia, two veto-wielding permanent members, taking the position that the events in Burma do not constitute a threat to international peace and security.

Last week, the Council was also unable to reach consensus on a proposed presidential statement expressing concerns over the killings in Burma because of opposition from China.

The traditional Chinese party line is that the demonstrations and killings in the military-run country were a "domestic" problem warranting no international condemnation or U.N. sanctions.

Yvonne Terlingen, head of Amnesty International's Office at the United Nations, said Friday the Security Council must press for drastic change in "Myanmar's appalling human rights policies and keep the human rights situation under close and constant review as resolving the human rights crisis is key to addressing peace and security and advancing national reconciliation in Myanmar."

"The Council must also ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are held accountable and that the Myanmar authorities deal with the country's longstanding human rights concerns, which have helped fuel the recent crisis," she added.

Last January, both China and Russia exercised their vetoes to block a U.S.-sponsored draft resolution calling for an end to political repression and human rights violations in Burma.

Ambassador Wang Guangya of China argued then -- as he did Friday -- that the problems facing Burma are "basically internal". "No international-imposed solution can help the situation," he told reporters. "We want the government there to handle this issue."

If the United States pushes for sanctions against Burma, China is expected to use its veto once again to protect a neighboring country with which it has strong political, economic and military interests.

A longstanding U.N. observer told IPS that Western oil companies such as Chevron and Total have a major stake in Burma's big gas fields, the financial mainstay of the military junta.

"So, the story is not just about brutal Chinese policy vs enlightened U.S. policy," he said. "The cynical maneuvers in these cases are revolting, as great powers seek their geopolitical interests, never the authentic defence of human rights."

Taking a different perspective, Ian William, who covers the United Nations for several international publications including the London Guardian, says that even though there is no justification for China to use its veto to protect a universally condemned regime, he sees a parallel in the United States using its own veto to protect its ally Israel over the last decades.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Williams told IPS, Washington has been adding annually to its veto total and will soon outrun the former USSR's tally of "Nyets".

China is doing itself no favors in using its vetoes for issues like Sudan and Burma, which are surely peripheral to its national interests, and Beijing seems to be realizing that it is getting close to calls for boycott of next year's Olympics, which would be an additional blow to its prestige.

"But it is understandable that it should want to emulate its number one debtor, the United States which has devalued the veto by using it for resolutions which often actually reflect longstanding U.S. policy on Israel, over settlements, Jerusalem and so on," noted Williams.

Ironically, it is that same support for Israel which has caused the United States to disregard its own innovation, the "Uniting For Peace" procedure by which issues stuck in the Security Council could be taken up by the General Assembly.

Williams said the United States invented it during the Korean War -- but declared it non-binding after Palestine invoked it to bypass "unreasonable" U.S. vetoes in the Council.

"In Kosovo, in Sudan, in Bosnia, the procedure could have been used to save lives, but Washington has effectively disarmed the United Nations in order to protect Israeli -- not U.S. -- interests," added Williams, who also writes for the Nation.

- Inter Press Service (IPS) News Agency