Friday, August 27, 2010

Black Tot Day in Philly,

As I approached Adam Kanter’s Rum Bar and saw my name in lights (well chalk, actually) under “40 Years since Black Tot Day,” Sergeant Pepper began to run through my head.

“It was 40 years ago today

The Navy took the rum away.

But it’s never gone out of Style

Black Tot’s been around a while.”

A reverent group of aficionados including Robert Burr and Mike Streeter, the survivors of Adam’s excellent Rum on the River fest, gathered from round the country at the bar, and were so eager to sample the bottle of Black Tot, that they were prepared to listen to my disquisition on how Britannia had lost all pretence of ruling the waves once the Grog had stopped.

And then, carefully we stripped the wax from the bottle top and took out the cork, worried as one is at a mishap with a bottle costing close to a $1,000. Speciality Drinks had obligingly provided a more conventional stopper to replace the one designed to keep the rum for posterity.

This was genuine Navy rum, guaranteed to be at least forty years old. It had been matured and blended in wooden casks, to a formula chosen by an Admiralty committee, (membership of which was one of the most hotly contested postings in the Royal Navy). And then it was decanted into the large stone flagons intended to preserve its flavour before being dispensed daily at Spirits Up on ships around the globe. Speciality Drinks bought the lot at auction and bottled it, packaging it memorably and stylishly.

However, I have always defied conventional wisdom, that bottling spirits “freezes” the process. Those long chain molecules slowly break down and recombine in the bottle or flask, smoothing out the sharper edges of the spirit, bringing new complexities and subtleties, in this case to a strong rum whose flavour and aroma was designed to last dilution by 100 to 200% addition of water.

There was a touch of irony: W. C. Fields (Of British parentage) came from Philly and one of his catch phrases was “on the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” but he famously eschewed water because, he alleged, fish did unspeakable things in it.

But nonetheless, we added water, and as it was suspected, so it came to pass. Sniffing the bottle produced blissful smiles all around, as did judicious sipping by the assembled worshippers at the altar of Great God Grog.The molasses was there, but restrained, a faint hint of licorice, and then all the good things we associate with rum. In keeping with tradition, we tried it mixed with water, and, “Lo! A miracle!” It was like turning water into rum. The flavour and nose were enhanced if anything.

As a follow-up Adam dispensed a tot of Pussers to all participants in the ceremony, and even a miniature commemorative takeaway flask of Pussers. I wonder what it will taste like in forty years? Unless I’m pickled in the stuff, I suspect I will not be around for the experiment.

Monday, August 16, 2010


Waste at the UN? (Foreign Policy in Focus)
By Ian Williams, August 16, 2010
No matter the administration in Washington, it’s always a good time to attack the United Nations. The familiar trope is “waste, mismanagement, and corruption.” The Oil for Food investigation during the Bush years, for instance, generated immense amounts of smoke but in the end very little fire. Now we learn that U.S. auditors have “found that the Pentagon can’t account for more than 95 percent of $9.1 billion in Iraq reconstruction money.” The media that actually mentioned the story failed to acknowledge that the money was in fact the surplus from the UN Oil for Food Fund.
Of course there is corruption and waste at the UN. But as this report from Iraq demonstrates yet again, the scale is minimal compared to the corruption and waste of the U.S. government. One reason for the disparity is that the world organization has so little money.  In the early 1990s when the right wing began its attacks on UN corruption, the U.S. attorney in New York estimated that the mafia was making more out of waste management contracts from the city than the UN’s entire budget.
Although this media trope has become almost reflexive, it does serve a purpose. It keeps the organization on the defensive and is thus more pliable. The latest attack comes from Inga-Britt Ahlenius, the Swede retiring from the top job at the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). Her rambling, chiding, and scolding diatribe directed at Ban Ki Moon was recently leaked to the press. It immediately joined Foreign Policy’s neo-con lament that Ban had failed to live up to John Bolton’s expectations and a frustrated UN-job-seeking Norwegian diplomat’s bilious critique of the UN secretary general.
Sometimes Valid, Mostly Perverse
The Ahlenius report contains some valid criticisms of Ban’s administrative capabilities, which others have made with more balance and objectivity. But its bizarre tone and rambling nature probably raised alarms for those who read it. Indeed, if she had kept it shorter, the usual suspects in the media would have made even more of her criticisms.
However, the drift of her long and discursive report is perverse. Ban, as secretary general, refused to allow her to appoint a former deputy U.S. attorney as her deputy in the investigations unit. She had persisted in coming up with a shortlist of one white American male when Ban and the UN insisted that there had to be a woman on a shortlist of at least three. While accusing Ban of weak management, in fact she complains when he exercises management.
With reverberations of wounded amour propre, she accuses him of ignoring his senior management team of undersecretary generals in favor of his own appointees, and consistently downgrades his position by referring to him as the “chief administrative officer.” In fact, in a pattern accepted by all of her exemplar secretary generals, including Dag Hammarskjöld, the senior officials are foisted upon the UN by the Permanent Five and owe no loyalty to the organization, let alone to the incumbent secretary general. As it happens, many of these appointees have shown staunch independence from their nominating governments — but by no means all of them. So, as one senior member of Kofi Annan’s kitchen cabinet asked me, “Who would you turn to for advice: people you had chosen yourself, or effective agents of foreign powers?”
The Problematic OIOS
Nor is her own organization, the OIOS, the paragon of virtue suggested by its inflated reports of its own successes. For many conscientious staff, the OIOS has been as arrogant and intrusive as it has been incompetently bureaucratic, far more concerned with nitpicking than achieving the UN’s mission.
Boutros Boutros Ghali set up the office in 1994 in response to congressional attacks on the UN, and in particular a complaint by then-U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright that a Canadian company had bribed UN procurement staff to get contracts for air transport. The source of the allegations was a company tied to Air America, the CIA’s house airline, and perhaps not coincidentally connected as well to Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). To appease the United States, Boutros Ghali tried to fire, but had to be content with suspending, the eight libeled UN staff. They were all eventually cleared, reinstated, and handsomely compensated by UN tribunals, as indeed was the Canadian company. The tribunal said, coyly but tellingly, that the suspensions resulted from the UN acting “under heavy outside political pressure and of the direct accusation by a business competitor against the contractor.”
In 1999, an arbitrator dismissed reports compiled by OIOS for their risible use of hearsay and slander by self-interested rivals. In 2001 when I approached OIOS about reports of UN aircraft being used for smuggling conflict diamonds, the response of its head was to start an investigation into how I had discovered this information.
Criticisms of Ban
In the end, Ban is not to blame for the parlous state of the organization that he inherited. Ahlenius harks back to a mythical gold age under Dag Hammarskjöld. But like all other incumbents in the position, Hammarskjöld’s concrete achievements were strictly limited. For all his visionary qualities, the secretary general allowed P5 appointments of his senior officials to continue and allowed the FBI and the KGB to run riot through the organization.
In fact, Ban has demonstrated some laudable independence, including his resistance to American pressure to appoint Ahlenius’s choice for deputy. On the hustings, even as John Bolton’s candidate, he expressed support for the International Criminal Court and the “Responsibility to Protect” concept, which bespeaks a kamikaze integrity in light of Bolton’s views. Ban started out reflexively pro-Israeli. But exposure to the subject has clearly been educational, and his statements on Gaza and the flotilla stand in relatively glowing contrast to the sycophantic apologia of most current world leaders.
The criticisms of Ban come down to management style, oratory, and English. To be fair, few of his predecessors came away with A-pluses on these. Dag Hammarskjöld was elected on the assumption that he was a timeserving mediocrity. Kofi Annan indeed had a numinous personality: He invited people to trust him, which is why of course his opponents worked hard to pull him down on Oil for Food. But Annan was in fact cannily circumspect in his public statements, carefully non-provocative. He benefited from a team of articulate and provocative personalities who were encouraged to speak in public. Even then there were limits — as former Irish President and Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson could testify — but, in general, they collectively magnified his standing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Goldstoning the Flotilla Inquiry

This was written before Israel accepted Ban KiMoon's panel, which suggests that Netanyahu is running scared - or is preparing to launder or repudiate whatever report emerges!

WRMEA, August 2010, Pages 18, 20

United Nations Report
Israel Tries to "Goldstone" International Investigation of Flotilla Attack
By Ian Williams

[In the West Bank village of Bil’in, where nonviolent protests against Israel’s apartheid wall are held every Friday, a foreign journalist wearing a gas mask throws an Israeli soldier to the ground near a model of a Gaza Freedom Flotilla ship, June 4, 2010. (AFP photo/Abbas Momani)] In the West Bank village of Bil’in, where nonviolent protests against Israel’s apartheid wall are held every Friday, a foreign journalist wearing a gas mask throws an Israeli soldier to the ground near a model of a Gaza Freedom Flotilla ship, June 4, 2010. (AFP photo/Abbas Momani)

THE FIRST week in May saw a media storm in Israel when the Hebrew tabloid Yediot Ahronot broke the news that, while he was an appeals court judge in apartheid South Africa, Richard Goldstone was in some way linked to rejecting the appeals of 28 death sentences.

As one of Napoleon's generals said of the emperor's kidnapping and execution of a member of the royal family, "It's worse than a crime—it's a blunder." Even more than the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead, Israel's attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a self-inflicted diplomatic disaster, which it seems to be determined to exacerbate. One of the problems for the Israeli worldview is that it tends to use Capitol Hill as a mirror: if the suckers there will swallow the big lies, the reasoning goes, so will everyone else.

And it is true, the suckers did some impressive swallowing. To see so-called progressives like New York City Reps. Charles Rangel and Jerry Nadler standing in Times Square calling upon the State Department to deny entry to witnesses of the attack on the flotilla was almost as nauseating as the cold-blooded murder of the nine crew members. As Patrick Buchanan teasingly pointed out (see p. 14), it is as if they supported the gunning down of the Freedom Marchers in the South, or the summary execution of Rosa Parks for sitting in the wrong part of the bus.

At the U.N. itself, determined to give new depths to the meaning of chutzpah (gall), the Israeli mission officially complained to the U.N. Correspondents Association because the latter body had screened video footage of the attack that the IDF had failed to find and confiscate. The mission insisted that it should be allowed to present its doctored video immediately afterward to rebut Iara Lee's June 9 screening at United Nations Headquarters in New York. The U.N. Correspondents Association has never allowed real time "rebuttal" of its invited guests by governments or others, leaving that to the correspondents' questions.

Israeli spokesperson Mirit Cohen called this "severely unethical"—in contrast, of course, to the continuous screening by most American media of the heavily edited Israeli clips, or indeed in contrast to the highly ethical murder of nine people and the ethical slandering of them as al-Qaeda supporters afterward!

Indeed, the bullet hole in the head of Turkish news photographer Cevdet Kiliçlar could be considered somewhat "unethical" even by the "fair-minded journalists" Cohen brazenly invoked to back the Israeli mission's complaint, not to mention the confiscation of cameras, recorders, notebooks and any other press materials on the boats.

But then perhaps the Israelis were encouraged by the anodyne response of the Security Council to the incident itself. To look on the cup-half-full side, the U.S. did join all the other Council members in supporting a statement that called for a credible international investigation and condemning the loss of life. But the price for U.S. support was that it was a statement—not a resolution.

In defense of the Obama administration, however, it can be no bad thing to be attacked by Elliott Abrams for exposing Israel to a virtual U.N. "lynch mob." Added Abrams, "The White House did not wish to stand with Israel against this mob because it does not have a policy of solidarity with Israel. Rather, its policy is one of distancing and pressure."

Sadly, it is a great big giant step for an American president to say "tut tut," to mass murder by Israel, albeit only a tiny totter for the rest of mankind. In fact to be fair, it followed on another step, when the U.S. suggested at the U.N. nuclear non-proliferation treaty meeting that this included Israel as well—even though that was more of an "Ahem!" without the severity of a "tut tut."

Admittedly, under the previous administration it would have been unthinkable for the U.S. to allow even so mild a reproof as that statement through. Requesting the immediate release of the ships and prisoners, the Security Council managed an extra level of caution by taking note "of the statement of the U.N. secretary-general on the need to have a full investigation into the matter and [calling] for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation conforming to international standards." It also stressed "the need for sustained and regular flow of goods and people to Gaza as well as unimpeded provision and distribution of humanitarian aid."

However, just as Washington thwarted a full resolution on the Goldstone Report but the consequences live on, so does this demand. Ban Ki-moon crafted a credible set up for an international inquiry, but is still waiting to hear from Israel—which, of course, does not want an impartial inquiry.

The Israeli investigating body, to be headed by Supreme Court Justice Jacob Turkel, includes two elderly Israelis: 93-year-old international law professor Shabtai Rosen, and 86-year-old Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Horev, who, in his younger days, is reported to have carried out an extrajudicial castration of a Palestinian, and two international members. One is David Trimble, the former Protestant leader in Northern Ireland, who recently joined a pro-Israel group with Dore Gold and John Bolton, and anyway comes from a group that considers the Palestinians to be, if not positively Papist, at least the IRA in another form. For some people, the fact that Tony Blair may have proposed Trimble might detract even further from his credibility. Just in case that is not defense enough, however, he and his Canadian colleague, Ken Watkin, are only observers on a domestic, politically appointed inquiry that cannot call for evidence from the IDF, which actually perpetrated the deed. One can also suspect that Watkin was nominated, or supported, by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, under whom Ottawa has abandoned any pretense of support for international law whenever Israel is involved.

But over at the U.N. Human Rights Council, the members voted to set up an independent inquiry—despite a high probability that its members would be thoroughly "goldstoned" in the U.S. and Israeli media—and Ban Ki-moon stubbornly continued to brandish his proposal to have a genuine impartial and international inquiry, with Israeli and Turkish representation, chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, the former New Zealand prime minister.

Despite the blandness of the U.S., and consequently the U.N., response, it is clear that Israel completely lost the propaganda war. Not only did it lose almost all the European support it had conjured up with constant repetition of the "terrorism" mantra, not only has it lost its only friend in the region, Turkey—it has also broken the siege of Gaza, since even Hosni Mubarak could not maintain the blockade after the barbarity of the flotilla attack.

Perhaps more pointedly, the Israelis have had to admit that they were maintaining a "quality of life" blockade, banning books, paper, coriander and hundreds of capriciously chosen goods with no conceivable military purpose—and they have promised to lift it.

That promise is almost certainly a function of cajoling from the Obama administration, trading a blockade relaxation against U.S. support for a U.N. inquiry or support for the Israeli show trial in reverse. (Show trials always find the prisoners guilty. The Israeli version always exonerates the IDF, whatever the evidence.).

The problem, of course, is that while Ban Ki-moon, schooled by his staff who have to deal with the Israelis, seems to have learned about Israeli obfuscation, Obama and his team have infinite reserves of either patience, stupidity or endless tolerance for expediency. Which is why UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness declared, "We need to have the blockade fully lifted. The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings." He told Reuters, "The list of restricted goods is a moving target. We are never told this is banned and that is banned"—stressing that he was referring to supplies for the U.N. that Israel publicly claims it has no qualms about.

So it is fitting that the Quartet's statement on Israel's offer "re-affirms that the current situation in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population, is unsustainable, unacceptable, and not in the interests of any of those concerned." It reiterated its call for "the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza, consistent with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009)."

It then moves into diplo-speak: "The new policy toward Gaza just announced by the government of Israel is a welcome development. The Quartet notes that the elaboration of further details and modalities of implementation will be important in ensuring the effectiveness of the new policy. Full and effective implementation will comprise a significant shift in strategy toward meeting the needs of Gaza's population for humanitarian and commercial goods, civilian reconstruction and infrastructure, and legitimate economic activity as well as the security needs of Israel."

In other words, Israel will still arbitrarily hold up traffic on the borders, perhaps only refraining from doing so if it means Israeli businesses will lose custom to the Egyptians on the other end of Gaza. However, thanks to the flotilla, and the nine dead, there will be a lot more scrutiny of what Israel does and how it compares with what it says.

But we still wait for Washington to stop turning the other cheek, while hoping it will not take as long as it will for congressmen to stop swallowing sewage in public.

Ian Williams is a free-lance journalist based at the United Nations and has a blog at .

Black and White Case

WRMEA, August 2010, Page 70

The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Relationship With Apartheid South Africa

By Sasha Polakow-Suransky, Pantheon Books, 2010, hardback, 336 pp. List: $27.95; AET: $18.50.
Reviewed by Ian Williams

SASHA Polakow-Suransky's book, The Unspoken Alliance, is subtitled "Israel's Secret Alliance With Apartheid South Africa"—but it certainly was no secret to anti-apartheid campaigners worldwide, nor to the African National Congress (ANC), whose victory and present control of Pretoria's archives has allowed the author to unveil some genuinely shocking secrets.

Polakow-Suransky details the alliance and the active part in fomenting it played by the "official" South African Jewish community, drawing out the various threads of a relationship which so many people from all sides of the political divide wanted to hide. For example, he shows how President Jimmy Carter, now ostracized for echoing domestic Israeli concerns about apartheid, effectively buried the details of Israel's 1979 nuclear test off the southern shores of South Africa. He did not want the Lobby even more on his case than they already were.

Indeed, reading this book while looking at the current responses to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and the Goldstone Report induces a certain sense of "déjà vu all over again." Apologists for Israel denied the relationship with apartheid South Africa, lied about the size of the economic and military connections, claimed that others were doing it anyway, excoriated the ANC as terrorists—and, of course, alleged that only anti-Semites would have an interest in bringing up such inconvenient facts. Polakow-Suransky shows how, in fact, South Africa was Israel's biggest arms customer, while the latter bought and resold the otherwise embargoed diamonds.

Since for decades, demonization of anyone who has had contact with an enemy of Israel has been a standard media and political tactic, it is always interesting to see how previously interned Nazi supporters like B.J. Vorster could become honored guests at Vad Yashem, quite apart from their devotion to apartheid. Particularly sinister was Israel's hosting of Dr. Wouter Basson, whose hobbies included stockpiling the Ebola virus, dropping enemy soldiers out of planes over the sea, and trying to develop a biological weapon that would target only blacks. He went to inspect Israeli military hospitals.

Polakow-Suransky interviewed many survivors on both sides of this relationship, one of the most striking aspects of which is that it went beyond cynical realpolitik: the white South Africans and the Israeli military really got on well together. They liked each other and what they stood for, and the IDF and South African forces were eager to learn from each other about maintaining control over hostile populations. Shimon Peres wrote of a "common hatred of injustice," and "a close identity of aspirations and interests."

The book might dispel some residual illusions among Western apologists for Israel's Labor party. Polakow-Suransky depicts David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and older Labor politicians as being ethically opposed to apartheid, in contrast to cynical pragmatists like Yitzhak Rabin, Peres and other more recent figures. The author might be too kind to the older generation, mistaking their geopolitical assessment of the possibilities for Third World support with ethics, but there is no doubt that their successors were not concerned about the ethics of dealing with apartheid, but rather with the consequences of being found out.

Polakow-Suransky explores the confusion caused by the then-reflexive American liberal support for Israel against its anti-apartheid instincts, but I have my own addition. Before he died, I interviewed Rabbi Arthur Herzberg, who told me that he had agreed with Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) that in return for the Congressional Black Caucus not raising the issue of Israel's sanctions busting, it was assured of full support from the Jewish caucus for its domestic agenda. This is clearly an ethics-free zone, but Polakow-Suransky maps out the moral dimension dispassionately, readably and compellingly in this revealing work. Sometimes, issues really are black and white.

Ian Williams is the Washington Report's United Nations correspondent.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pinning Down the Elephant

Interventions: A Middle East Report Online Feature
The UN Risen Above Its Origins
Ian Williams
August 2010
(Ian Williams is a New York-based reporter and writer.)
Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End Of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010)
Stephen Schlesinger, Act of Creation: The Founding of the United Nations (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2003)
For background, see Ian Williams, “Strings and the Global Gulliver,” Middle East Report Online, October 20, 2003 and Marc Lynch, “Irrelevance Lost,” Middle East Report Online, March 20, 2003.

People and nations hold such disparate views of the United Nations that an old allegory from India comes to mind. In John Godfrey Saxe’s nineteenth-century verse rendering, “It was six men of Hindustan, to learning much inclined / Who went to see the elephant, though all of them were blind.” One sage touched only the elephant’s trunk, another the tusks, another the tail, and so on, so that each came back with a very different perspective on the pachyderm.
Two books about the historical roots of the UN illuminate some of the reasons for the confusion about the organization, both in reality and in perception, although the implied irony of the poem does not apply to the authors, whose insight is clear and whose wisdom is genuine. Stephen Schlesinger examines the Act of Creation of the world body through the files in Washington and finds quite correctly that the final draft of the UN Charter was made in the USA. Mark Mazower looks at No Enchanted Palace through the prism of the British liberal internationalists who were closely involved in the founding of the League of Nations, and equally correctly finds their fingerprints all over the establishment of its successor. 
In secondary-school history classes, one learns that, whatever it is, the UN is not the League of Nations, which was based on naïve trust in collective moral authority and lacked any means of enforcing its will, when it was able to express one. World War II is usually ascribed to the League’s failure and, of all people, President George W. Bush infamously invoked this specter in a failed attempt to shame the UN into backing the 2003 invasion of Iraq. 
In contradistinction to the received wisdom, Mazower quotes one American drafter of the UN Charter mentioning “the hesitancy in many quarters to call attention to the essential continuity of the Old League and the New United Nations for fear of arousing latent hostilities or creating serious doubts, which might seriously jeopardize the birth and early success of the new organization.” 
Indeed, recalling Otto von Bismarck’s comparison between treaties and sausages, one could say that Mazower lays out a list of ingredients that mythmakers of all stripes would find embarrassing. Some of the more interesting pieces of gristle: a racist South African premier (whose thinking also helped inspire the League) and revisionist Zionist demographers engaged in a mysterious study, the M-Project, aiming to redraw the ethnic map of the world. Despite ample grinding, Mazower shows, the League sausage was recycled and stuffed into a new skin -- albeit with some of the best bits left out. 
Mazower does not mention it, but though cohorts of Americans dominated the drafting of the charter, the British Empire also struck back in the person of Gladwin Jebb, the first acting secretary-general who brought with him staff from the League. Jebb made British English the official dialect of the UN and it remains so, even if generations of polyglot bureaucrats have pulled it some distance from the language of Shakespeare or indeed of George Orwell, whose essay “Politics and the English Language” could well have been based on a study of UN documents. 
Ink Spot
The UN has almost always been a sort of Rorschach test in which observers see the object of their particular desires or fears. This ink-spot quality is in fact one of the organization’s strengths, a collateral benefit of its confusing origins. In the United States, conservatives see the UN as a world conspiracy against US sovereignty and, sometimes, capitalism. Liberals, and never more than in the Bush years, consider it a mechanism for sharing the costs and burdens of superpower status. Europeans and many others think the UN is the best available arbiter of international law and hence the source of legitimacy in global affairs. The Third World, particularly since the Soviet bloc and China ceased to be a reliable countervailing force, sees the UN as an instrument for legitimating US and Western hegemony and laundering the transgressions of US allies like Israel – but, at the same time, as a bulwark against hegemony. Many Arab nationalists view the organization as a tacit partner of the US and Israel, and of course, to round the circle, Israel and its neoconservative backers perceive it as a anti-Zionist plot. 
In the quantum indeterminacy of multilateral diplomacy, all of these differing perceptions are correct, either in part or on occasion, and are sometimes held simultaneously by the same people. Even as countries and political factions revile the organization, they invoke its decisions and precepts. Israel, which has nary a good word to say about the UN, basks in the glory of every minor UN office to which it is elected and cites Security Council resolutions against Lebanon and Syria even as it ignores those against itself. 
At the Big Bang of its origin, few observers would guess how the UN would develop and, possibly, few of its creators would approve of how it has. Its survival though the Cold War, the “new world order,” the resurgence of ethnic conflict, globalization and twenty-first-century financial and environmental meltdown has depended on a dialectical dance between the noble aspirations expressed at its founding and the sordid pragmatism underneath. This very ambiguity has helped the UN to live much longer than its greatly maligned predecessor. Despite hand wringing and continuous questioning, the UN remains vital and relevant to the global body politic, in many ways far beyond anything envisaged in the charter.
Countries and people look to the UN for what former Secretary-General Kofi Annan called its “unique” legitimizing power. Indeed, reading Schlesinger’s fascinating account of the debates inside the US delegation and their dialogues with others, it becomes even clearer just how important perceptions are in global diplomacy. The US delegation had to craft a text that would allow the independent-minded Latin Americans, Republicans and liberal Democrats in Congress, and the Soviets all to think they had won a prize, while soothing the bruised imperial pride of the British and French. Concerns for national sovereignty, recognition of regional organizations and effectiveness had to be reconciled, as well as the anti-colonial feelings of the US and others toward the remnants of European empires. And some of the wrangling was based on the dictum, “all politics is local,” since the American delegation had to reconcile its Republican and Democrat components in ways that the rest of the world could tolerate. From its very inception, perceptions were all for the new organization. 
But the UN’s creation was imbued with so much hope on the part of the war-torn “peoples of the world” that they shoved down the memory hole the fact that the body was essentially an amended version of the reviled League, but with less of the idealism that the League displayed in ethos and practice. In fact, in many ways the new organization was a reversion to older, pre-League models. It had some of the characteristics of the traditional concert of great powers, albeit concentrated by the casting call of military victory into more of a chamber trio of the US, Britain and the Soviet Union. 
To disguise the concentration of power, China and France were added to the Security Council, and as Schlesinger points out, initially France stood aloof from the proposed permanent seat, acting as spokesnation for the lesser powers before taking the proffered position, to which it has grimly hung on ever since. In Westphalian mode, the UN Charter declared the sovereign equality of all states, but even before Orwell wrote 1984, it had made five of them more equal than others.
That conceit was a necessary concession to reality, however. The organization could not survive without the acquiescence of the great powers, and Mazower notes that even Jawaharlal Nehru, champion of what would now be called the global south, accepted the Permanent Five’s position, while holding out fond hopes for a seat for India on the grounds of its future potential.
Buried Rights
As Mazower points out, the new organization eschewed many of the principles of self-determination and minority protection that the League had espoused and for which League officials had organized plebiscites across war-torn Europe. In contrast to its retrospective reputation for idle fecklessness, the League had been surprisingly busy in conducting referenda and drawing boundary lines across Europe, although at the insistence of the victors in World War I it had refused Germans in Eastern Europe the privilege of self-determination accorded to others. 
The UN’s Westphalian emphasis on the absolute sovereignty of nation-states, originally intended for the accepted member states rather than their imperial subjects, was actually reinforced after the big wave of decolonization in the 1960s when the new members zealously defended their newfound sovereignty. Of course, this stance, despite often being a bedrock assumption that what happened inside a state’s borders was nobody else’s business, often took on an anti-imperialist veneer.
In contrast to the League, Mazower points out, the new UN organization took some decades to rediscover self-determination, let alone minority rights. The boundaries of the new Europe were fixed by polls among the leaders in Yalta, Tehran and Potsdam, and by state-sponsored ethnic cleansing on the ground. There were no votes by locals or even in the United Nations. Indeed, the UN stayed silent about the ethnic cleansings that rearranged the boundaries of Eastern and Central Europe, not least since it was generally the defeated who paid the price for ethnically tidy borders and one clause of the Charter actually allowed founder members a free pass to attack former enemy states.
For some observers of human rights, the Genocide Convention of 1948, crafted soon after the UN’s founding, is a huge landmark. But in reality, it is more in the nature of legal memorial than living instrument. The US did not ratify the convention until 1986 and then only with numerous reservations, and it could be argued that logic-chopping over whether various egregious examples of mass murder and deportation constitute genocide have if anything detracted from proper appreciation of the inherent horror of massacring groups of people regardless of what they had in common. Indeed, the Genocide Convention, with its emphasis on collective victimhood, contrasts with the concepts of individual human rights epitomized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed just as “minority rights were being buried, quietly and unobtrusively,” according to Mazower. 
In this phrase, he understates the scale of the obsequies, and indeed later he points out that the post-World War II population transfers that the victorious allies oversaw across Eastern Europe were “more sweeping in many ways than [those] the Nazis had themselves perpetrated.” When carried out in the Balkans half a century later, these ethnic cleansings, as the dead euphemism now has it, were themselves deemed acts of genocide under the Convention. What both the Convention and the Declaration shared was that they were honored far more in the breach than the observance in the ensuing decades.
The Question of Palestine
While a cynic could point to the relative stability of European frontiers as a result of these drastic solutions to previous minority problems, the Middle East suggests otherwise. Mazower looks at the Palestine partition resolution in the context of the time and the pious declarations of the UN. As Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of the Revisionist Zionist current now represented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, mused earlier when he saw what the Nazis were up to, “If it is possible to move the Baltic peoples it is possible to move the Arabs also.” But Franklin D. Roosevelt also talked about “putting up barbed wire around Palestine” or transferring the native Arabs to “some other part of the Middle East,” humanely conditioned on there being enough water to support them.
“The UN Charter made no mention of minorities and the small sub-commission set up was marginalized,” Mazower laconically points out. The Universal Declaration did not mention minority rights and attempts to include them were defeated. The UN’s later adoption of decolonization and the right to self-determination explicitly excluded minorities. The African Union still rigidly sanctifies arbitrary colonial boundaries that make the Austro-Hungarian Empire seem like a platonic ideal of nationhood. 
But the exception to the general UN insouciance toward minority rights was the Palestine partition resolution, which, inherited from the original League mandate, provided for protection of minority cultural rights, including the maintenance of Ottoman family and civil law. This measure was only the first of many resolutions on Palestine that contained no adequate means of enforcement, but the fact that there was a resolution that set conditions explains why, to the distress of Israel’s supporters, Palestine remains so prominent on the UN agenda. Indeed, even then the anomaly could be explained by the fact that it was originally majority rights that were being protected as political decisions were to make the Palestinians a minority in their own country.
As Mazower describes, within years of the adoption of the UN Charter, the UN General Assembly’s partition of Palestine took little or no account of the views of the Palestinian Arab majority and refused to allow the International Court of Justice to consider the legalities of the question. “If I have not cited a single Arab voice here, it is because these voices -- which were certainly being raised in protest -- were almost entirely ignored in these discussions,” he says. 
Mazower shows how demographer Joseph Schechtman’s work on population transfers in Europe and Asia reinforced the determination of Israel’s founders to transfer the Palestinians and not let them back. This pedigree does raise the question of why the displaced Hungarians, Sudeten Germans, Poles and other victims Schechtman detailed are absent from the UN agenda while the Palestinians have, at least statistically, topped the bill year after year in venue after venue.
One reason is, of course, that it was a UN resolution that set up a Jewish state in mandatory Palestine, and the conditions it laid out have yet to be fulfilled, and although one would never guess from listening to some of the more frenzied discourse from Israeli sources, the Palestinians were never part of the Axis, unlike so many of the deportees of Eastern Europe.
As Westerners condemn the UN Human Rights Commission for its partiality in the cases it picks, Mazower reminds us that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s attempt to draw UN attention to black disenfranchisement in the US was studiously ignored. “The awkward truth was that the UN had abandoned the League’s commitment, however faltering, to protecting minorities, without willing an effective alternative.”
Power and Partiality
The UN was based primarily on power and politics, not on law and justice. Indeed, as the decisions of the International Court of Justice against Libya after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing established, in effect, the Security Council’s decisions are binding under the UN Charter even if they flout previously accepted international law. The US and Britain were determined to blame Libya for the explosion on Pan American Flight 103, in the absence of conclusive evidence, and, freed by the end of the Cold War from an automatic Soviet veto, secured sanctions against Libya in the Security Council. Current sanctions against Iran are similarly based on a politically based referral to the Council from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which would not have stood up to impartial legal scrutiny.
Of course, this discrepancy is at the root of Arab problems with the UN. The partition of Palestine was clearly unjust and against customary international law, but as Mazower says, “The world of the UN was very different from that of the League of Nations. International law could no longer claim a position above politics and had lost much of its strength.”
The Palestinian partition, the Lockerbie decision and now the Iranian nuclear file are all episodes in which political considerations have trumped international law or justice, and which necessarily detract from the neutrality of the UN. If Iran is to be punished for seeking the nuclear fuel cycle, then why did India and Pakistan -- or indeed Israel -- escape censure? If North Korea can quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty, then how can Iran be penalized for not doing so? If Saddam Hussein’s Iraq could not flout UN resolutions, then how can Israel?
Yet despite such power-induced partiality, the organization has maintained a surprising moral standing, in part because once the machinery was set up and running, it developed a life of its own, not least because of the General Assembly with its (almost) universal membership. Not all of the Assembly’s decisions were necessarily wise, but the double act, almost good cop-bad cop, of the politically controlled Security Council and its more rambunctious junior partner reinforce each other in a strange dualism of power and the authority of inclusion that each provides to the combined effort.
Indeed, even as the UN’s founders explicitly repudiated concern for minority rights, the seeds of a new globalism grew. Perhaps indicative of the ambiguity of the founding, Mazower considers at length the position of the South African prime minister, Jan Smuts, a member of the British war cabinet and undoubtedly a great statesman, even an idealist, whose ambivalent but sincerely held principles combined eloquent defenses of human rights with the aspiration to construct apartheid in his homeland and an equally strong, but less successful desire to extend white, British control over the continent of Africa. His work was self-defeating, since the “moderate” disenfranchisement of non-whites under his premiership led not only to international opprobrium, but also to the victory of the National Party under a leadership that had been interned during the war for their active pro-Nazi sympathies.
Smuts made a kind of sense -- if, as Humpty Dumpty said, words meant just what he meant them to mean, neither more nor less -- and so it was assumed that when he spoke of humanity and its potentially glorious future, humanity meant white people, and even more particularly, those from the Anglo-Saxon polity. 
The Anglo-Saxon polity is a common thread here. World War II had persuaded Smuts and others that the British Empire or Commonwealth and the US together would be the means of defending and advancing civilization as they knew it. It was, of course, an illusion shared by Winston Churchill -- but not by Roosevelt and his administration, whose sentiments about the British Empire had many of the attributes of a vulture protecting its prey from rival predators.
Alfred Zimmern is an even stranger case, a drafter of the League of Nations documents and an Hellenist entranced by the glory of Athens, who jumped from being a devotée of the British Empire and its global civilizing role to a booster of President Harry Truman’s United States. But instead of seeing the US as Rome to Harold Macmillan’s Athens, Zimmern saw the US as a reincarnation of Athens in the great age of Pericles -- a delusion made all the more insupportable by his willful blindness to slavery in one and continuing segregation in the other. He would make an interesting study to parallel Christopher Hitchens’ later conversion to cheerleader for the civilizing mission of Washington.
The US, Zimmern said, could make the UN Charter “as true a constitution for the whole of humanity as the laws of Athens were for the Athenians.” Well, tell it to the enforced tributaries of the Delian league or to the Milesians, if any survived the Athenian genocide against them. Such unreal idealism apart, both Schlesinger and Mazower agree that there was a large amount of realpolitik involved in the formulation of the Charter: The price for great power involvement was the veto and the supremacy of the Security Council and it was a price essential for the success of the venture. But impelled by the type of ideological and philosophical frameworks of internationalism that Mazower discusses, the smaller members were originally willing to accept the price, and then were able to take the General Assembly much farther than the UN’s founders’ envisaged.
Thwarting Empire
A body conceived by many of its founders as the means of perpetuating empire became the forum that catalyzed, encouraged and presided over the independence of scores of colonies and the dismantling of empires and eventually overcame its own inhibitions against interference in sovereign states with the 2000 declaration on the “Responsibility to Protect.” And, of course, it now has whole conventions and conferences on minority and indigenous rights.
Smuts inadvertently provided the opportunity. Discrimination against ethnic Indians in South Africa led to India, anomalously a member even while not independent, raising the issue and successfully putting it on the agenda of the General Assembly, which in some measure anticipated the “Responsibility to Protect” concept. Ironically, of course, India, jealous of its sovereignty, is now one of the strongest opponents of that principle, but its successful raising of the issue did much to begin the decades-long struggle against apartheid, in which the UN played a significant and honorable role, despite the foot dragging of states like the US, Israel, Britain and France, which were prepared to collaborate with apartheid for various reasons of cynical self-interest. One of the fairly barren fruits of the period was the 1973 Apartheid Convention, modeled on the Genocide Convention, and which of course the US never ratified.
In the end, the intertwining of pragmatism and principle inside the UN created its own dynamism. In the face of a world community united in revulsion against apartheid, which reinforced domestic pressure on governments, the Western powers were forced to join the sanctions against the regime in Pretoria. It was only in the UN, through the General Assembly, that the global community could frame and articulate that revulsion. But to be effective, it had to marshal domestic and international pressure to ensure that Security Council members would not veto action. It was, of course, when the US joined in the sanctions that Israel began to scale down its collusion with the apartheid regime, as Sasha Pulakow-Suransky details in his book The Unspoken Alliance (2010).
The immediate parallel is the Middle Eastern situation. In the 1990s the PLO mission at the UN embarked upon a strategy clearly modeled on the anti-apartheid campaign. The Palestinian case, numerically, had been weakened by the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the alliance between the Communist bloc and developing nations on the issue, which had reached its memorable apogee in 1975 with the General Assembly’s “Zionism is racism” resolution, two years after the Apartheid Convention was approved. 
The Palestinian strategy entailed reemphasizing and clarifying the various resolutions on the Middle East and extending them to create a legal front against Israeli behavior. Such actions as the reconvening of the state parties to the Geneva Convention to consider the Occupied Territories, the referral of the separation wall in the West Bank to the International Court of Justice, and the Goldstone report on the winter 2008 Gaza war have worried Israel far more than the shrill, intemperate declarations of the Cold War era. 
Signifying Something
Of course, all of this is so much sound and fury, signifying nothing, unless it affects Israeli domestic politics, or the policy of the United States. Under the Obama administration, activity on the international legal front lends weight to Washington’s discreet pressure on Israel and would lend even more if President Barack Obama decided to take off his gloves. But a comparison of the State Department’s declared policies on the Middle East, and even more so that of the Canadian Foreign Ministry’s, to US and Canadian actions epitomizes the fissure between a government’s quiet acceptance of legal principles and practical politics when it comes to votes and intervention.
Until the 2003 Iraq war, nothing had done as much to erode Washington’s moral authority as its provision of a get-out-of-jail-free card to Israel with its automatic veto at the Security Council. Inadvertently, however, in the Iraq war era Bush reinforced the UN’s standing. Failing to get clear legal authority for the invasion, the State Department was forced to parse existing resolutions to claim that it had authority from the UN. At the same time, accepting tacitly that this gambit was a stretch, Foggy Bottom tried and failed to construct an alternative legitimization with the “coalition of the willing,” now deservedly forgotten and discarded, almost as big a failure as the war itself. Throughout, even as they invoked the UN’s alleged license of the invasion, American conservatives questioned both the legal authority of the world body and continuing US membership therein. The recess appointment of the odious John Bolton, who wanted to lop ten floors off the UN building, as American ambassador to Turtle Bay was the sort of schoolyard taunt that had the effect of ennobling the UN in the eyes of others.
As Stephen Schlesinger shows, the US cared enough about the UN Charter to spy on the original participants and bring immense diplomatic resources to bear in order to bring it about. Despite the worst efforts of the Boltons and Jesse Helmses, there has never been an American majority for repudiating the UN, although anyone who relied upon the Fox News Channel for information, for example, might not think so.
“Marginality may have brought survival, just as ambiguity within its founding Charter and activism in its organization has brought flexibility and adaptation,” Mazower correctly assesses, as he warns against illusions that “reform” would make the UN more powerful or important. The point is that the organization is not only useful to the countries of the world, as suggested by the fact that only one nation, Indonesia, has ever tried to resign, but that its functions are essentially irreplaceable. 
Schlesinger reminds readers in his conclusion that the UN has not, despite a world of mayhem and murder, failed in its primary aim. Inspired by a war of aggression and annexation, the UN has witnessed few more: Since the Charter, in fact, there has only been one attempt to annex a generally accepted sovereign state -- and that, Saddam’s conversion of Kuwait into the nineteenth province of Iraq, was reversed by UN-endorsed action. 
Northern Cyprus was occupied by Turkey in 1974, but residual respect for international law has prevented annexation. In East Timor, without UN approval for the annexation, Indonesia eventually relinquished its claim, while in Western Sahara, no country, despite strong French efforts, accepts Morocco’s claim.
Schlesinger does not mention the Occupied Territories, but he should have done. The successful Palestinian effort to reiterate and establish the legal status of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza means that Israel will never have legal title to its conquests, even if it has, apart from Jerusalem, almost established de jure title to its earlier conquests inside the Green Line beyond the partition boundaries. The complete absence of any foreign embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, six decades after Israeli independence and membership in the UN, is eloquent testimony to the negative legitimizing power of the United Nations, which is why Israeli policy, backed by most US administrations, has been to trap the Palestinians in bilateral negotiations where their leaders can be bullied into surrendering their rights, in the unproven, but not unlikely, assumption that the UN would then ratify the deal.
The UN might not be able to enforce its decisions in the face of the superpower veto, but it can, and does, ensure that the conquerors cannot assume title to their spoils. It is not a negligible power, which derives from the serendipitous ambiguity of its origins, detailed so well by Schlesinger and Mazower, whose work puts its present indispensability into perspective.


Sunday, August 01, 2010

Korea explained

Nuclear power with a xenophobic worldview, based on fascist myth

Ian Williams – The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why it Matters by BR Myers
Melville House, £17.99

by Ian Williams
Sunday, August 1st, 2010
Communism’s abstract emphasis on internationalism has often concealed, in practice, intense chauvinism as Great Russian or Han hegemony shows. In Eastern Europe, especially, the treatment of minorities often fulfilled the principle: “Why should I be a minority in your country, when you can be a minority in mine.” And, of course, leaders like Nicolae Ceausescu and Slobodan Milosevic actively used nationalist sentiment to reinforce their power base.

Brian Myers puts the North Korean regime in an entirely new category. In fact, he points out that it has recently dropped any references to communism. To outsiders, the bizarre spectacle of the Kim dynasty, each successor less impressive and less charismatic than his predecessor, has always been a challenge. Myers suggests too many interpreters have been scrutinizing material intended for outside consumption and not availing themselves of internal publications.

His exegesis rebuts traditional analyses that see the DPRK through the spectrum of other models, communist or Confucian. It is an ethnically based state, proud of its homogeneity and purity and, he says, its dominant ideology is “an implacably xenophobic, race-based world view derived largely from fascist Japanese myth.”

However, uniquely, such ethnic chauvinism does not lead to expansionism but to isolationism. That is not be confused with the externally presented philosophy of Juche or self-reliance. Myers disputes whether Juche has any role except for Kim Il Sung to emulate contemporaries like Mao with a philosophy. Myers dismisses it as a meaningless concoction, and cites attempts to get North Koreans to explain an “innocuous, impenetrable, yet imposing” concept.

Unlike Lenin or Stalin or Mao, DPRK propaganda claims no great intellect or insights for Kim and his successors. Apart from building the almost entirely fictional role of Kim Il Sung in liberating the North – downplaying the role of the Red Army in clearing out the Japanese and the PLA in turning back the Americans – he reports that internal propaganda stresses the maternal aspects of the leaders. They care, and Kim senior was “more of a mother than all the mothers in the world.”

They are depicted going to factories and military posts and, like Korean Clintons, sharing the pain – but they do not come up with any memorable solutions. It is noticeable that they are not airbrushed, but depicted in all their podgy pot-bellied reality in the myriad icons the regime distributes – many of which illustrate this handsome book.

Myers suggests the cult of Koreanhood, and the all-pervasive cult of the Kims, has been effective, that many economic refugees return and even those who don’t feel deep ties to dynasty and state. He detects a surprising degree of sophistication in the regime, beyond its more brutal police state aspects. Luckily for Kim Il Sung, the economy was expanding under his leadership – albeit with a steady stream of aid and from his communist neighbours – but Myers stresses that even now, with the hard times since his death, internal propaganda does not stray far from the economic reality, but weaves it into the narrative. There is no Orwellian increase in the chocolate ration from 30 to 20 grams a week. Unlike in China, where the famine of the 1950s just disappeared from the record, the recent North Korean food shortage was acknowledged, albeit blamed on imperialist blockades and bad weather.

There is no longer a pretence that living conditions in the South are worse than in the North, but Myers identifies the most troublesome core Northern myth: that people in the South want reunification under Pyongyang’s maternal wing.

Taken with the need for the nuclear deterrent to defend the child-like Koreans from the ravishing non-Korean hordes, he sees little chance of Pyongyang giving up the bomb, but a serious chance that it might try to liberate the South. If that seems too naïve it is, as Myers suggests, no more self-deluding than the idea in Washington that Iraqis would greet US troops with open arms.