The UN: It's only a paper moon
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The UN: It's only a paper moon

Nothing beats war at firing nationalism, although contests to select new UN Secretaries-General come a close second.

india Updated: Oct 05, 2006 02:53 IST

Nothing beats war at firing nationalism, although contests to select new UN Secretaries-General come a close second.As Shashi Tharoor goes down in UN history as an also-ran, he has a billion people shedding tears for him. If newspapers can be seen as a reflection of what is important in public life, it is interesting to note that while Indian, South Korean and Asian papers have placed the news of Ban Ki-Moon’s victory in Tuesday’s straw poll on their front pages, American newspapers have not deemed the event worthy of such notice. Most of the excitement for us was, of course, because an Indian was in the fray. But looking at the larger picture, this chasm in perceptions, and the politics behind it, is a bellwether of the problems facing the UN in the beginning of the 21st century.

Although based on liberal political principles of sovereignty and cooperation, the UN has always been a power club, set up as it was by the victors of World War II. The organisation’s record of fulfilling the obligation that are its raison d’être — preventing war and keeping peace — is rather dismal. Its handling of the conflicts in Rwanda, the Balkans and Sudan are some examples. The one problem is that the country that hosts the world body, the US, has chosen to pay attention to it somewhat fitfully. In the case of the Iraq invasion and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the US has simply ignored the UN. To make matters worse, the UN has come in for much criticism following some high-profile corruption scandals. Yet it is no one’s case that we dismantle the world body and return to the anarchic years that preceded WWII.

Given all these challenges, the new UN Secretary-General has an unenviable task on his hands. Mr Ban’s challenge will be to get veto-wielding P-5 members of the Security Council to fulfil their responsibilities, as well as to assure all nations big and small, weak and powerful that the UN has a continuing relevance. On the plus side, he has a resurgent Third World — led by India, Brazil, South Africa and China — to back him. But his real test will be to ensure that he has enough gumption to deviate from his predecessors’ path to make it to the front pages of US newspapers.

First Published: Oct 05, 2006 02:53 IST