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*see ‘The unbearable lightness of being’ by Kundera, 1984…

 

International crises keep unfolding, in Africa, the Middle East, Kashmir, Korea…and one institution keeps being absent, almost powerless. It is a shame, because they would enjoy worldwide legitimacy and global recognition. We are talking about the United Nations.

 

During the Cold War, the United Nations was very often a prisoner of the cross-vetoes of the two Superpowers. Yet, after its end, we were all somehow expecting a stronger role for it. A global world, many people thought, requires a global political organisation. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and the key reason is quite simple. What some called ‘global world’ was in fact dominated by the West and the USA in particular; hence, the UN has often been an instrument of Washington’s global power. After the highly questioned intervention in Libya, which had been authorised by the UN Security Council Resolution 1973, however, things have started to change. The United Nations has reached a stalemate; in its current form, it cannot work any longer. Russia’s, China’s and even India’s position on Syria stopped another US (and Anglo-French) attempt at intervening in the Middle East. The world in 2014 is very different from that of 1991 and 1945.

 

The UN paralysis is a tremendous shame and a mistake. We used to think that the UN was primarily a political organisation, that is, a political subject with a degree of power. The UN’s official aims are chiefly peace, democracy, and development. Art.1 of the UN Charter is absolutely clear; its goals are “1. To maintain international peace and security...; 3. To achieve international co-operation in solving problems...”. What kind of peace and security is the UN maintaining? What kind of problems is it…solving? The UN has become obsolete, devoid of strength, democratically neither unaccountable nor representative of the current world political system. Why do France and Britain keep veto rights in the Security Council? After all, the two countries together have some 130 million people, a tenth of the population of India, which does not have a permanent seat. Perhaps do they keep their veto rights to protect their interests in former colonies (have a look at French military activism in Ivory Coast, Mali and Central African Republic) where…development is now fostered by Chinese investment? As a matter of fact, democracy’s problems (and visible decline) start precisely at the highest level, that of the UN, and is visible at all levels. Emerging powers claim their share in the Security Council; Brazil and India have long voiced their intentions; Germany and Japan feel they have enough economic weight to gain their own seat; Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, South Korea, have all at different times made reference to some form of candidacy. What about then whole continents like Africa? Perhaps the Security Council should include representatives of each of the world’s regions; here the EU should lead by example, and bid for its own seat to replace the ‘old colonial’ masters, Britain and France. Yet, despite endless talks of reform, nothing has happened so far. The United Nations has remained both ineffective and non-democratic, and this impacts on democracy at all levels.

 

One example is the European Union. Its project was born during the Second World War with the aim of promoting peace, democracy, and economic recovery in Europe; yet seventy years later the EU is ridden with division and tensions. Its democratic institutions (above all, the European Parliament) enjoy little power, while only ‘technocratic’ bodies (such as the European Central Bank, ECB) play a major political role. The ECB has just (4 November) launched the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM), an instrument by which it will directly monitor the 120 most important banks in the Eurozone. This means that the savings of European citizens are mostly controlled by a non-elected body, which mainly includes economists, jurists, and other ‘experts’. While expertise is of course crucial, we wonder where democratic responsibility has gone. ‘Representative’ politics has mostly stayed at the national level, which, in Europe’s case, is clearly weak and ineffective, also because of the limited size of EU countries. National democracy is though constantly weakening, and xenophobic populism gains ground in both Western and Eastern Europe, from England and France to Hungary. Many European citizens, disillusioned by the rhetoric (and reality!) of neoliberalism and austerity, easily fall prey to populist sirens. Emphasis on the market and neglect of truly democratic politics are leading to that ‘degenerate’ model of democracy we often call ‘demagogy’ or ‘populism’.

 

That explains why many Western citizens are curious about the rising BRICS countries, and other ‘emerging powers’. China cannot be called a democracy in any way, shape, or form; yet it represents a model in which the State has not given up to the market economy; such model is in general shared by the other BRICS, including, of course, Russia. Yet the world does not need a new Cold War (maybe between the West and the BRICS) or a ‘balance-of-power’ order along the lines of the old Vienna Congress (1815). The world requires a stronger United Nations, one based on the inclusion of more States and citizens, more representative Security Council and General Assembly bodies, and strong, effective programs of development and security. In concrete terms, first more politics is needed. Politics can create trust, which is now in short supply. There is little trust even within the EU, let alone between the USA and the EU, or the West and Russia. China is often feared rather than trusted; India is as yet little known, and the Middle East, a cauldron of problems. From the point of view of the West, it is sad to notice how democracy, participation, the social market economy, European and world integration, have all given way to rule by the market. If the USA or the EU are unable, hopefully others will re-discover these old and always precious values. Time is though running out and action is needed.

 

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