‘International’ redefined

A great article by Simon Jenkins, published May 30,2008 in the Guardian –

GAZING briefly at the Eurovision song contest this week I could not rid my mind of a quite different image, that of Nato’s multilateral force headquarters in Kabul.

There was the same flag-waving and confusion of purpose, the same small-state rivalry and cynical balancing of interests. There was the same belief that, simply by being international, a so-called community of nations was forged.

Today the word “international” suggests tailored suits, tax-free salaries, white Land Cruisers and Geneva. The Eurovision contest is run by the European Broadcasting Union with 400 staff in Switzerland, with no risk of oversight or reform.

It may seem crude to leap from such mundane activities to world peace, but the ruling assumption is the same, that internationalism legitimises itself. It rises above (never below) the nation state and its rulemakers owe allegiance only to an ideal of global community, which means whatever they choose. The ever-more numerous world bodies to which nations subscribe need never pass the eye of any national audit Office.

It was only when America briefly withdrew from Unesco and capped its contribution to the UN that steps were taken to curb that organisation’s waste and corruption, which culminated in Kofi Annan’s obscene 2000 “poverty summit”. The only good thing to emerge from the warped brain of America’s former UN ambassador, John Bolton, was his reform package, and he blew it. Nor can Europe talk. The EU still cannot get its accounts past any reputable auditor nor control the outrageous expenses of its parliamentarians.

This laxity turned to ghoulishness when Save the Children last week revealed the atrocities against women and children committed by UN peacekeeping troops in Africa. Soldiers thought that the sacred carapace of the blue beret put them beyond ordinary jurisdiction.

We are all still hardwired to treat international as a good thing. In the process we have abandoned the constitutionalism and accountability that should govern any form of government if it is not to run amok.

It took the UN three weeks just to visit Burma, despite the clear threat to humanity of the regime’s response to the cyclone. Meanwhile an American relief convoy is still sitting inert offshore.

In the London-based Guardian earlier this week, the former UN undersecretary, Shashi Tharoor, rang an alarm over the emergence in America of a demand for a “league of democracies,” substituting for the UN’s globalised inertia. Proposed, by left and right alike, is a coalition of the voting classes, somehow defined and clearly under the leadership of America, to stand out against the half of the world still in the grip of authoritarianism.

Tharoor argued cogently that this would be a regressive move. Excluding China and Russia and polarising the world into goodies and baddies was not the way to get things done.

A league of democracies would soon turn into another G8, Council of Europe or Nato political committee.

The Americans are right, that if you want something done in the world, get a nation to do it, not an inter-nation. I may be opposed to both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is a significant difference between them noticeable to any visitor to their capitals. In Baghdad, America is unmistakably in charge and the world follows. There is a clear line of command that leads, however misguidedly, to Washington. Things get done.

Afghanistan is the opposite, the embodiment of Tharoor’s globalism in practice. Some 30 nations piled into Kabul after 2001, under the banners of Nato and the UN. There was and remains no coherence. Yet because the “international community” has given Afghanistan its blessing, the intervention must be benign. It is the ultimate feelgood war.

Some of the best people I know have struggled to do good abroad. Thus there are worthy campaigners for a global rule of law, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, but they are let down by the longwinded international court in The Hague.

No organisation has a right to live forever purely for being international. Yet such are the bureaucrats who crowd Geneva’s nameplate-land, with no more accountability than their neighbours, the Swiss banks. And they grow incessantly.

Until internationalism can acquire a more robust accountability, there will be more Burmas and more Iraqs.

—The Guardian, London

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Filed under Aid, Globalization, International Aid, International NGOs, Multilateral Institutions, peacekeeping, World

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