Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Other 2016 Election

United Nations Report

The Other 2016 Election: for Next U.N. Secretary-General

By Ian Williams

EVEN WITH ALL the media attention swallowed by the Trump/Clinton battle, there is amazingly little attention given to the selection of a new secretary-general to replace the retiring Ban Ki-moon. Making it even more remarkable is that, albeit by the opaque standards of previous elections, this is the most transparent in the 70-year history of the U.N., where the selection of the world’s “secular pope” has traditionally been carried out in the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.
It is perhaps a blessing that both Trump and Clinton are too preoccupied to pay much attention to the secretary-generalship issue, as their influence on that election is unlikely to be constructive. It was, after all, Clinton’s close comrade-in-arms Madeleine Albright who used American veto power to ensure that Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the only Arab ever to hold the position, was not allowed a second term, and whose imperious attitude to the organization led to perennial tensions with even close U.S. allies.
Surprisingly, Trump has been too busy with populist xenophobia about Mexicans to bother about the U.N. It has not been one of his targets so far. It would seem that his supporters were a natural constituency for those who used to believe that UNESCO World Heritage sites in the U.S. were a U.N. land grab and potential bases for black helicopters to take over the country. Maybe looking for Mexicans and Muslims under the bed has diverted their attention—but, in any case, Trump’s nose for business would remind him that much of his shaky real estate empire in Manhattan would be adversely affected if the United Nations and its high rent diplomats were to quit. He built the ugly Trump Tower directly opposite the U.N. to cater to them, after all—and even offered his services as developer to Kofi Annan to refurbish the old U.N. HQ.
In any case, another president has intervened in a significant way. Danish Social Democrat leader Mogens Lykketoft was elected last year as president of the General Assembly, and as a few of his predecessors occasionally did, he decided to make his mark since his term coincided with the selection of the secretary-general. Although in practice it is overlooked, under strict diplomatic protocol the U.N. president counts as a head of state, with 21-gun salutes and all that, while the secretary-general officially is merely ranked as the equivalent of a foreign minister!
The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council.
In the real world, however, the secretary-general is there for at least one, and—except in the case of Boutros-Ghali—for two terms, while the presidency rotates annually. Lykketoft has made his mark on posterity by getting the Security Council to agree to a more transparent secretary-general selection process. With most of the membership backing him, he secured the Security Council’s agreement to make public the names and qualifications of the candidates and to present them to the whole membership of the United Nations.
That work was backed up by the various foundations and NGOs around the U.N., and meetings were held in New York and around the world for candidates to strut their stuff in front of diplomats, academics and human rights supporters, while governments and PR firms touted their candidacies.
Transparency has its limits, however. The actual power to nominate is still firmly in the hands of the Security Council, and thus subject to the veto power of any or all of the five permanent members. There have been three straw polls, with the last taking place at the end of the August, in which the Council’s 15 members record whether they would “encourage,” “discourage” or have no opinion about the various candidates. Under the official procedure, the president of the Security Council merely informs the General Assembly president that the poll has taken place—without sharing the results. Absurdly, most or all of the Council members immediately rush and tell the press what the voting results are. It is a secret ballot, leaving participants in the dark about whether the “discourage” votes imply a veto coming down the line.
Complicating the already arcane process are underlying presumptions, none of which are actual rules. Firstly, the East European group has never had a secretary-general and claims it is their turn. Against that is the reality that the group is a Cold War hangover, most of whose members have either joined or applied to join the European Union. However, Moscow, not traditionally favorable to the rotation principle—or indeed to the often anti-Russian governments of its former clients—has become more sympathetic to the idea, not least since several of the candidates were brought up and groomed in the Communist era and tend to pay attention to what Vladimir Putin would tell them. These are, of course, unlikely to attract enthusiastic support from the Western veto holders.
The second principle being invoked is that it is long overdue for a woman to take the position—which is, in abstract, entirely true. However, observation of the records of Margaret Thatcher, Albright, Golda Meir or Indira Gandhi in high office leads to questions about whether it follows that having a woman in office is good for women in general or the world—which leads to the final, and often overlooked, principle of the candidates’ competence and integrity.
Theoretically, the various hustings have allowed the candidates to demonstrate this to a watching world. The earnest assumption is that the Security Council members will have to take this into account when they make their final choice. But they have their ready-made excuses. A consistently clear front runner was the Portuguese former head of the U.N. refugee program, António Guterres, who has now managed to accrete several “discourages”—and one can be sure that the excuse is that Portugal is on the wrong end of Europe, and that he is male. On the other hand, one of the stars of the hustings was Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, a star of the Climate Change program, whom the audience clearly rated highly. But she has amassed a surprising number of “discourage” votes—the real reason being that she seems principled and outspoken, not least on issues like Climate Change, on which many member states are still shuffling their feet. And, of course, the excuse will be that while she is a woman, she is not Eastern European.
Other candidates have been amassing more and more negatives, and the field seems very volatile. If the Russians nixed Guterres, currently in second place is Slovakian diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, who has just surged from 10th place, implying some lobbying behind the scenes. A former communist party member now with EU credentials, he might bridge the gap. The runners up are Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian head of UNESCO, who seems to have Moscow’s tacit support based on close connections, and Vuk Jeremic of Serbia, whose vociferous opposition to Kosovar independence makes him unlikely to get Western support.
Bokova is close to the Russians, by family and upbringing, and has devoted her time at UNESCO to canvassing for the job, but the British and others are very suspicious of her sharp elbows and feel that her ambition led her to neglect her actual duties at UNESCO. But she is a woman, and she is Eastern European, so the question is how disgruntled they will be about her. She is certainly adroit, getting credit from the Non-Aligned Movement for allowing Palestinian membership in UNESCO on the agenda, while reassuring the Israelis (and their friends) that it had nothing to do with her!
As the process moves on, the polls will reveal whether the opposition to the various candidates goes as far as actual vetoes. Perhaps it is a blessing that so far the election is below the horizon for the various lobbies in Washington, since there are too many factors already complicating this process.


In the meantime, Ban Ki-moon is clearly in lame duck mode as far as the Moroccans are concerned. The Moroccans ritually abuse him in every speech, which is one thing. But the French and other Security Council members let them get away with it. Many of the MINURSO staff in Western Sahara have still not been allowed back into the country. The Moroccans and their French allies, with U.S. complicity, continue to fight off any attempts to include a human rights monitoring component in the mission, making it unique among U.N. missions.
As we go to press, there are signs that Morocco, emboldened by Franco-American acquiescence, is encroaching beyond the cease-fire line in the south, risking provocation with both Polisario and Mauritania. In an oblique way it shows the potential power of a secretary-general—if he (or she) is backed by significant powers. As Boutros-Ghali, exasperated with U.S.-backed mandates from the Security Council unaccompanied by any resources, complained, “I can do nothing. I have no army. I have no money. I have no experts. I am borrowing everything. If the member states don’t want it, what can I do?”
In his day, the only power in a position to provide support was the U.S., which would lead to palpitations in any secretary-general, whether it were Trump or Clinton in Washington. But the world has changed. Europe, even in its current disheveled state, China, even Russia, might be in a position to back an enterprising incumbent. Certainly Washington’s (and Congress’ and the Lobby’s) effective financial veto is not what it was.
But the new secretary-general will immediately cope with the impasse in Syria, where all the talk of a Brave New World of responsibilities to protect, collective concern for humanitarian law, and international action are going up in a firestorm stirred by cynical bystanders who are managing to give Levantine politics a bad time. Everyone’s enemy is someone’s friend, but the U.N. is supposed to be the enemy of inhumanity. And humanity has few friends in this fight. 

U.N. correspondent Ian Williams’ book Untold: the Real Story of the United Nations will be published by Just World Books in Spring 2017.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Best Person for the Job. UN SG Guterres.

Letter from America

Written By: Ian Williams
Tribune  Published: October 25, 2016 L
It was not good week for the bean counters. António Guterres is neither East European, nor female, but the newly designated ninth UN Secretary General is indisputably the best person for the job. In the end, it is almost reassuring to note that the permanent five and the other members of the Council care enough about the organization to choose the best candidate!
Guterres walked to an easy finish as soon as the first “real” straw ballot – in which the veto-holding permanent members showed their true colours by voting with red ballot papers. If those who wanted a woman had united behind one suitably qualified candidate, they might have won the day, but seven women running against each other made it easier for the best candidate to win. In fact, from the permanent five only Britain said it would prefer a female candidate, but presumably drew the line at an Argentinean foreign minister who wants the Malvinas back, or a Bulgarian apparatchik with Putin’s hearty support. The key issue was whether veto-wielding Moscow could take a West European democratic socialist. It was helped when Bulgaria supported a second Bulgarian candidate weakening the expedient Russian stand for an East European and a woman, by which they meant Irina Bukova the head of UNESCO.
The newly “transparent” procedure, under which candidates addressed the General Assembly with its 193 members, did expose the selection to the light of day. Even if the Security Council made the final decision, it did so knowing it had to choose from candidates who had been under the scrutiny of the Assembly and the public. One wonders whether Kurt Waldheim or Perez de Cuellar would have passed such scrutiny.
Guterres’ candidacy was also helped by support from African countries who maintain good relations with Portugal, whose socialist Rose revolution ended the colonial power’s wars of repression, and also by his record as head of the UN refugee agency, the most overworked, active and least hidebound section of the UN apparatus.
Not least, as a former Prime Minister of an important, but non-threatening power, with his relationships with world leaders going back years, not to mention contacts across the whole spider’s web of UN organizations, Guterres is not going to be a mere secretary, taking dictation from the great powers. He has an independent stature and presence that will help him tell the not-so-good great powers when they are failing in their responsibilities. Sadly, as we see in Syria, and indeed Yemen, that is all too often.
Intriguingly but understandably, the elephant in the room is that none of the candidates mentioned the Israel-Palestine issue, even though it occupies so much time and effort at the UN. This was an issue that Ban Ki-Moon had taken some time to acquaint himself with, and after visiting Gaza he quickly learnt that Washington’s views were not shared by the rest of the world. Within a short time, Ban was condemning settlements and assaults on Gaza with a brio that would have risked his suspension from the Labour Party as an anti-Semite.
In contrast, Guterres hits the ground running. As Portuguese Prime Minister, as President of the Socialist International, and above all as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, he has been deeply involved in the Middle East in all its manifestations, not least in its tragic role as one of the globe’s leading producers of refugees.
He lamented in 2014, that the world’s various refugee crises “pale in comparison to the desperate situation of the Palestinians, the largest protracted refugee situation in the world”. He pointed out that Palestinians in Syria were “being forced to flee for the second time,” but it was “shocking” that Gazans “could not even flee to seek safety” from the latest Israeli onslaught. “No one wants to be a refugee. But for the people of Gaza, not even that was an option.”
The rational conclusion is that Israel once again faces a UN Secretary General who is quite prepared to talk to its leaders, some of whom he knew from the Socialist International, but who will firmly remind them that they are not exempt from the UN Charter and International Law.
A Secretary General has many other problems to face. Climate Change, world poverty, the teetering international financial situation and great power conflicts more threatening than anything since the fall of the Berlin Wall. On all of these, he can do little or nothing without the backing of the world’s major powers, but the evidence of his career is that he is in position to do better than any other candidate would have been. His election is good news for the UN and the world.
While in internationalist mode, Guterres is a former President of the Socialist International, from which the Labour Party withdrew with no debate or membership consultation a few years ago. It is now only an observer party,  though it actually refounded it in 1951, Neil Kinnock is still listed as an honorary President and its headquarters is still in London. The new Labour leadership may have other things to think about,but it would be good to rejoin the SI and align with the New Secretary General.

Whitewash or Ignorance? The US and the Phillipines

Do we wonder why US foreign relations are strained when the self-style newspaper of record shows such abysmal ignorance, or wilful self-deceit?

From today's New York Times on Duterte..
"The United States took the Philippines from Spain in 1898, inheriting Spain’s war against Muslim rebels who were seeking independence. Fighting continued for decades in the southern Philippines, where Islamic rebels still operate today.
In 1906, American troops massacred about 600 people — including rebels, women and children — who had taken refuge in the Bud Dajo volcanic crater on the island of Jolo."

From the US State Department Official History site!

The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902

After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease.
“Battle of Manila Bay”
The decision by U.S. policymakers to annex the Philippines was not without domestic controversy. Americans who advocated annexation evinced a variety of motivations: desire for commercial opportunities in Asia, concern that the Filipinos were incapable of self-rule, and fear that if the United States did not take control of the islands, another power (such as Germany or Japan) might do so. Meanwhile, American opposition to U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines came in many forms, ranging from those who thought it morally wrong for the United States to be engaged in colonialism, to those who feared that annexation might eventually permit the non-white Filipinos to have a role in American national government. Others were wholly unconcerned about the moral or racial implications of imperialism and sought only to oppose the policies of PresidentWilliam McKinley’s administration.
After the Spanish-American War, while the American public and politicians debated the annexation question, Filipino revolutionaries under Aguinaldo seized control of most of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and proclaimed the establishment of the independent Philippine Republic. When it became clear that U.S. forces were intent on imposing American colonial control over the islands, the early clashes between the two sides in 1899 swelled into an all-out war. Americans tended to refer to the ensuing conflict as an “insurrection” rather than acknowledge the Filipinos’ contention that they were fighting to ward off a foreign invader.