For those in the United States who view the United Kingdom as a staunch ally, Jack Straw's speech today on the reform of the United Nations, shed light on the agenda of Blair's administration. One of the most important objectives that Blair has set himself is the institutionalisation of a system of 'collective security' building upon the foundations of the United Nations. This shares many of the idealistic traits that liberal internationalism upheld in the early years of the twentieth century, recast in a more limited and hawkish mould. This goal was also one of the primary motivations for Britain acting as a partner in the Iraqi war. Blair realised that no system of collective security could function without the participation of the United States.
Jack Straw praised the United Nations for its perceived role in managing and preventing conflict. The failures are omitted:
UN peacekeeping, for example, is nowhere mentioned in the Charter, but it has been one of the Organisation's great successes. Since they won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988, the 'blue helmets' have helped to bring peace and democracy to countries such as Namibia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Mozambique and East Timor, and continue to maintain stability from Haiti to Sierra Leone to the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.
Standing in mainstream opinion, Straw argued that the multicausal nexus of contemporary security failures, attributable to disease, war, conflict and other divisions required an expansion of UN power. He set out three areas of reform:
- An expended role for the Secretary General, using Article 99, to bring threats to international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council;
- More effective tools for collective action. Tellingly, Straw mentioned gun control through the Transfer Control Initiative, as well as acting by proxy, through regional bodies such as the African Union, that would do the Security Council's bidding;
- The right to intervene in the affairs of a nation-state with all tools, up to and including the use of military force. The preconditions for intervention were couched in the communitarian humanitarianism beloved of Blair, dwelling upon balancing the right of non-interference with the responsibilities nations had towards their own people and the international community.
This is a charter for a global Concert of Powers, focused upon the Security Council, wielding imperial power in the name of humanity, even if only one of the powers observes the right to liberty. The United Nations also gains the power to assess and promote 'good governance' in individual states and coordinate international aid to help those who are unable to govern well.
The first is good governance. Well-governed, capable and accountable states are less likely to act aggressively, descend into conflict, or harbour terrorists and criminals – so we all have an interest in supporting them. The United Nations is well-placed to develop international norms on good governance, provide practical support for their implementation, and set up mechanisms for their review. And it also has unique legitimacy and expertise in spreading practical democracy.
Straw's world view ignores the damage that the encouragement of the state and the construction of our contemporary international architecture has sustained. They want to preserve the forms with added firepower, arguing that a militaristic approach will work where money was unable to. You've tried the carrot, now apply the stick.
Unfortunately, Straw's vision may out, although not in the form that he has described. As a system of liberal internationalism, the United Nations would always founder under the suspicions of its members, who keenly support national sovevereignty. However, whilst our Foreign Minister thought he was making the case for British membership of the Security Council, he was also demonstrating that the current forms make the perfect cloak for projecting global power if the United States chose to mask a unipolar world in collective security.
(23.17, 2nd September 2004)
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