By Aijaz Zaka Syed
October 25, 2013
The UN is past its sell-by date remember Muammar Qaddafi? Of course, who could forget the inimitable colonel and his matchless antics at home and abroad! There are lessons for all those given to delusions of grandeur in the tragic end of the Libyan leader that came far from his seat of power. Qaddafi died like he lived – unpredictably and dangerously.
In life, he made both his friends and foes uneasy with his cavalier approach to international relations and his far-from-presidential deportment and sense of humour. But the colonel had his uses.
In 2009, in what was to be his swan song at the United Nations, Qaddafi spoke for nearly 100 minutes, slightly stretching his allotted 15 minutes. But that was nothing compared to the all-time record of Comrade Castro – a mind-numbing four-and-a-half hours in 1960. No one remembers that rambling speech of the ‘Leader of the Revolution and the King of Kings of Africa’, as Qaddafi was grandly introduced to the General Assembly.
What no one can forget though is his lone act of defiance when Qaddafi solemnly waved the UN Charter and casually ripped it before launching into his long tirade. His august audience was aghast. Across the world, though, the antics struck a chord with millions of dispossessed and voiceless people. Especially in the global south.
Of course, no parallels can be drawn between the reckless ways of the late Libyan strongman and the calibrated and measured foreign policy of Saudi Arabia and its engagement with international institutions.
Unlike the impetuous, eccentric late colonel, who was seldom taken seriously, Saudi Arabia is the undisputed leader of the Arab and Islamic world and the world’s largest oil producer. The Saudis are not known to take a single step, at home or on the world stage, without deliberating long and hard beforehand about its possible implications.
This is why if Saudi Arabia has concluded that it has no use for the United Nations or the much prized seat on the Security Council, there is something seriously and irrevocably wrong with the world body and the whole system that came into being ostensibly to maintain world peace and resolve global conflicts.
The Saudi rejection of the coveted Security Council seat that had come its way on a rotational basis has stunned world powers, including those who claim to be the kingdom’s friends and allies.
The move came as a surprise to everyone, especially since the kingdom had been waiting for its turn at the UNSC for the past three years and had even trained its diplomats for the responsibilities ahead. Russia, from the other side of the fence, saw the Saudi move as “particularly strange”.
But is it really that strange?
Riyadh’s rejection of the UNSC seat is obviously motivated by its frustration and outrage over the utter spinelessness and spectacular failure of the world body in responding to the humanitarian catastrophe inflaming Syria.
Around 150,000 human lives have been lost and nearly six million Syrians, driven out of their homes, are living as refugees in their own land or in neighbouring countries. There are reports of Syrian girls, as young as 10, being bought and sold like cattle for as little as $100 dollars by fellow Arabs, westerners and even the enterprising Chinese.
And all that the UN and the international community have done so far is sit around and offer platitudes and pity. The Syrians do not need the world’s platitudes and pity – they need real, meaningful help to put an end to their nightmare.
Perhaps it is unfair to blame the UN or the international community that it is supposed to represent and lead. After all, the UN does as it is told by its masters. The world body, thanks to the undemocratic, flawed nature of its charter, hastily fashioned in the fog of the World War II, remains a mere tool in the hands of the Big 5.
A special clause, something called the ‘veto’, somehow makes them, in Orwell-speak, more equal than others. It gives them absolute power over the planet and the destiny and the future of the six billion people who inhabit it.
For all practical purposes, the world body and with it the whole of humanity remains a hostage of the five powers that control the UN and the unfair and undemocratic world order that it supports and sanctions.
In the name of maintaining world peace and stability, world powers have only protected and perpetuated their own interests and agenda – and of those under their protection and patronage – repeatedly using the world body as an instrument of their policy.
Entire countries have been wrecked and governments brought down with friendly, pliant puppets being propped up in their place – with the blessings of the institution mandated to uphold peace. If in Afghanistan’s case the UN acted as a handmaiden of the empire, in Iraq the coalition of the willing did away with even that fig leaf of legitimacy.
The spontaneous support that the Saudi tough talk on the UN’s failures and irrelevance has evoked from fellow Arab and Muslim countries, and others, goes to show that it has tapped right into a deep reservoir of anger and frustration at the raw deal that they have repeatedly received from the world body.
Look at the lot of the Palestinians. Under the watchful gaze of the UN and its patron saints, they have managed to lose their country, their land, their homes and their places of worship in a remarkably short period of time.
Today, they live like prisoners and refugees in their own land, incarcerated and humiliated at every check post. Millions of them have been forced to scatter all across the globe. Isn’t an interesting coincidence that the history of Palestinian dispossession begins with the inception of the UN?
Will this rein of hypocrisy and double standards ever end? Nearly seven decades after the formation of the world body, has time not come for a new, more balanced and just world order?
Isn’t it time for the UN to wake up and adapt itself to new geopolitical realities? In this age and time, how can a handful of people determine and decide the affairs of the 6-billion-strong humanity?
What divine right do the five world powers enjoy to dictate terms to the rest of the world? The vast, overwhelming majority of humanity doesn’t find a seat at the high table of the elite cub of the P5 and remains locked out of the real decision-making process.
A big continent like Africa, a billion-strong nation like India and the whole of the Arab and Islamic world – 57 countries representing the world’s second largest community of believers – none of their voices are heard in the glass house that is the antiquated UN.
When and how will this change? Those responsible for this state of affairs are unlikely to willingly give up the awesome power at their disposal. If the long dispossessed, voiceless sections of humanity want their lot to change, they will have to do something about it.
Change is never voluntary. Power is seldom readily shared. This cannot go on forever. Something has got to give. It is well past time for the UN to change – to reflect and represent today’s global and democratic realities. God knows the world has waited long enough.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a commentator on Middle East and South Asian affairs.