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mr mahs

What future for the UN?

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Former UK cabinet minister Clare Short assesses US-UN relations in the wake of the Iraq conflict, and argues global security can only be achieved through the UN.

The United States is now, of course, the world's only great power.

Its economic and military might is massively greater than that of any other country, but too few Americans seem to understand that American power cannot make America safe.

If America continues to throw its weight around and to bully or punish anyone who gets in its way, it will stoke up more and more resentment and hatred across the world.

And this atmosphere acts as a recruiting sergeant for terrorism - the very enemy against which the post-11 September focus of American attention is directed.

Al Qaeda threat

The terrible reality is that the world is more fragile, divided, bitter and unhappy post-11 September, in exactly the way that Osama bin Laden would want.

The enormous tide of sympathy and support that flowed to America after the attacks - from all corners of the world - has now been dissipated.

I fear Bin Laden has won many more recruits, as the US response to 11 September has alienated more and more people.

The fanatical Right...think the UN is a conspiracy to create a world government and destroy America's freedom

Clare Short

We are living at a time of massive change in human history. There are now 6 billion of us sharing the planet. In 1900 there were just over 1 billion of us, and population is set to grow to 9 billion by 2050.

Obviously, this population growth strains our environmental resources and makes it crucial that we share and care for our planet much more carefully.

Nearly half the population of the world lives on less than the local equivalent of what $2 per day would buy in the US. Between one and two billion people live in abject poverty on less than the equivalent of $1 per day.

We have better communications than ever before. The world has become a global village and we now witness human suffering wherever it occurs in the world.

This has led to a growth of human solidarity, but also a growth in consciousness of how rich we are in the OECD countries and how poor they are in most of the rest of the world.

We also have capital aplenty, technology and communications and knowledge that can easily be transferred across the world.

Global justice

And thus we have two possible ways forward: either a commitment to greater global justice, sharing knowledge and technology to give everyone in the world the chance of a decent life; or a growth in inequality, bitterness, environmental degradations, disease, war and displacement.

Short: "The Clinton administration refused to pay its dues to the UN"

Obviously, greater justice is morally preferable, but it is also in the self interest of the people of the OECD countries and in particular in the interests of the people of the US.

If we are to build a stronger commitment to global justice, we need international law and rules that benefit all people and that are fair to all people.

And to achieve this we need the United Nations.

It is here that all nations meet and agree on international priorities, laws and conventions.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was agreed through the UN. Our commitment to fight HIV/AIDS, get all children to school, abolish polio and smallpox, end wars and send peacekeepers or to authorise military action and much more besides is all taken forward through the UN.

US 'disrespect for UN'

But many in the US hate the UN.

The US wants to use the UN to tell everyone else what they must do

Clare Short

The fanatical Right - represented by people like the Oklahoma bomber - think the UN is a conspiracy to create a world government and destroy America's freedom.

The current administration has shown its disrespect for the UN throughout the Iraq crisis.

But the same attitudes were present during the Clinton administration which refused to pay its dues to the UN, to sign the Kyoto Agreement, accept the authority of the International Criminal Court or even to support the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It isn't that the US does not operate in the UN system. It finds it useful when it is ready to do America's bidding.

But is soon very exasperated if countries have differing views.

The US wants to use the UN to tell everyone else what they must do and is increasingly willing to use its power to bully and punish those who get in its way.

The sadness of all this is that it is in the interest of the US and the American people, as well as all the rest of us, to build a commitment to international justice and the rule of law.

And we cannot build such a world without a strong commitment to work together through the UN and work to increase its effectiveness and decisiveness.

Let us hope that we will soon begin to learn the lessons of the divisions over Iraq and begin to unite through the UN in a commitment to build a more just, stable and safe world order.

If not, we will see more division and bitterness and, I fear, more terrorism in the years ahead of us.

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