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The Problem Facing the U.N.
Can Ban Ki-moon help solve the problem with the Security Council?
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-17 05:45 (KST)   
The official selection on Oct. 13 of Ban Ki-moon of South Korea as the new secretary general of the United Nations could not come at a more propitious time. Why one may ask? Hailing from the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Ban will have before him the daunting task of bringing the best possible contributions from the international community to bear on many of the difficult problems that erupt in the world. Along with his appointment to the post at the U.N. this past week, and the congratulations from diplomats from many regions of the world at a ceremony held at the General Assembly, was the event that took place the following day: the imposition of article 41, chapter 7 sanctions on North Korea by the Security Council as punishment for the test of a nuclear device several days earlier.

Though Ban does not take office for his new position until Jan. 1, a crisis has already developed that will require the best efforts and resources he can muster. In congratulating him on his selection, several of the diplomats noted the great achievements of South Korea in having transformed itself from "the status of least developed country, to an industrialized highly developed nation" and "as the 11th largest economy in the world" (in the words of Gambian Ambassador to the U.N. Crispin Grey-Johnson). Speaking about Ban, Grey-Johnson, who is chairman of the African regional group at the U.N., said "the developments in his own region of the world call for wisdom and cautious diplomacy" in order to be able to "mediate this very complex security situation that is now unfolding in the Korean Peninsula."

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In his acceptance speech to the General Assembly upon his appointment as the eighth secretary general of the U.N., Ban acknowledged that he was following "in a line of remarkable leaders." That "each of the men in his own way, came on board at the U.N. at a critical juncture in the organization's history." That "each wondered what the coming years would require as they took over the leadership role of the preeminent international organization."

The secretary general elect expressed his respect for the role played by the current secretary general, Kofi Annan, and promised to build on his legacy. Explaining the need to hear the views and concerns of all the member nations of the U.N., Ban pledged to consult widely in his preparations for assuming his new position. "I will listen attentively to your concerns, expectations and admonitions," he promised the 192 member states.

Congratulating Ban, South African Ambassador to the U.N. Dumisani Kumal proposed that in order for the secretary general elect to be able to act in the interest of the entire membership, he will need to "listen to the views of each and every member state."

How the future secretary general can help to solve the problems that come before the U.N. is not only a critical question for the international community, but also a critical task in the face of the increased tension being experienced on the Korean Peninsula.

While several of the speeches at the General Assembly ceremony spoke to the need for wide ranging consultations and discussions in order to diffuse tensions and determine how to solve difficult problems, recent actions at the Security Council the day after the appointment of Ban demonstrate that a very different process is practiced by that body.

Only after an agreement was achieved among the five permanent members of the Security Council and supported by the 10 temporary members, and voted on, did the Council agree to hear the party to the problem that was before them. And only after hearing the views of all the permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., France, Britain, China and Russia -- and some of the temporary members about why they voted for the sanctions on North Korea did the council allow the representative from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), Pak Gil Yon, to have a few minutes to speak. His talk was followed by a brief statement from the South Korean ambassador to the U.N., who spoke in support of the sanctions.

In the brief opportunity he had to speak, Pak indicated that his country felt it was the victim of hostile acts by the U.S. and that it had a sovereign right to defend itself from such hostile acts. Also, he indicated that the process of the Security Council in mandating sanctions on his country was more like the activity of gangsters than an activity representing a legitimate means of investigating a dispute and determining how to diffuse a tense situation.

Thus, the speeches supporting discussion and investigation in the General Assembly on Friday, Oct. 13, and the closed decision-making process that culminated the following day in the issuing of sanctions against North Korea, are in stark contrast to each other.

The statements by several of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the members who have the power to veto Security Council decisions, emphasized that their resolution imposing sanctions against North Korea reflected the condemnation of the "international community" and that all the nations of the U.N. now had a legal obligation to carry out the provisions of the sanctions.

While the Security Council does indeed have the power to impose such sanctions on a country in the name of the U.N., the process by which the sanctions were decided, is a sorry demonstration of power politics that involves very few of the 192 member countries that make up the U.N.

The chairman of the Latin American and Caribbean regional group, in his comments to the future secretary general, explained that there are important challenges for the U.N. in the role it plays in "today's world."

"International public opinion demands that the Security Council and other bodies of the organization should perform a much better job. There is a trend at this time for great and infinite opportunities as well as unprecedented risks," explained Ecuadorian Ambassador to the U.N. Diego Cordovez.

"The United Nations, it is said, should be a base, a forum, a mode that would enable the international community to take advantage of those transcendental opportunities and foresee and neutralize potential risks," Cordovez added. "For those reasons, it is important to insist on the need to reform thoroughly and deeply the organization and undoubtedly, that would be the main task and responsibility of our new secretary general." (He was referring to the failure of the member countries to reform the Security Council.)

"It is inconceivable," he said, "that we are discussing the reform of the Security Council for decades, preparing infinite numbers of formulas, doing report after report on that item, and yet it remains -- immutable and impossible to the critics for its lack of representation and its parsimonious conduct to confront [the] world's crises."

The act of bringing sanctions against a member state by the Security Council, with no investigation into the grievances that motivated North Korea's actions, stands as an egregious example of the failure of the obligation of the U.N. to hear from each member state and to provide a place where problems can be heard and discussed to find a solution.

North Korea says its problems are with the U.S. and that it has developed nuclear devices because of its need to defend itself from the U.S. That is a serious statement requiring investigation to see who has caused the problem and who merits the imposition of sanctions.

Another aspect of the current process that ended in sanctions is that the five permanent members of the Security Council are powerful countries that possess nuclear weapons. These very countries have failed to meet their obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to carry out disarmament. (1)

Some scholars and diplomats explain that they are not surprised that North Korea believes it needs to develop a nuclear capacity in order to protect itself from danger. Given the actions of the U.S. government in branding North Korea as part of the "'axis of evil" and attacking another, Iraq, which it had similarly branded, is but one of the reasons some scholars believe the U.S. government provided North Korea with a legitimate justification to develop nuclear weapons. (2) In its brief talk at the Security Council meeting, North Korea expressed one of its disappointments:

"It was gangster-like for the Security Council to adopt such a coercive resolution against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea while neglecting the nuclear threat posed by the United States against his country The council was incapable of offering a single word of concern when the United States threatened to launch nuclear pre-emptive attacks, reinforced its armed forces and conducted large-scale military exercises near the Korean Peninsula."

It must be remembered that the five permanent members of the Security Council possess thousands of nuclear weapons.

Although commentators and scholars who feel there is justification for North Korea's actions want to discourage the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they explain that punishing North Korea, while ignoring those countries who are in the club of nations possessing nuclear weapons, can only breed cynicism and hostility to antinuclear development and enforcement efforts.

That North Korea can claim that it felt compelled to develop a nuclear device, is a signal that the current regime of power politics is not working in a way that provides alternatives for a small nation that feels threatened by the nations that are nuclear powers. North Korea's situation is a demonstration that there is need for serious discussion by the 192 member states of the U.N. to understand the problems that North Korea claims compel it to develop nuclear weapons as a means of securing its borders and protecting its sovereignty.

There is indeed an international community, and there is indeed a serious challenge facing it. The five big nuclear powers who wield veto power on the Security Council can bring to bear punishment upon a small nation that endeavors to develop nuclear capability. This, however, will only compound the problem as it will only increase the hostility and resentment that the small nation feels from such unequal treatment at the hands of those who themselves possess nuclear weapons and who use the power this capability bestows on them in such a self-serving manner.

The two Koreas have brought to the world stage the need for a truly international organization, one that will consider all its members' concerns and needs, and find ways to support serious consideration of the problems such nations have but are unable to solve themselves.

The urgent problem facing the U.N. at this juncture in its history is not whether North Korea has developed and tested a nuclear device. It is the breakdown reflected by the lack of participation and investigation by the international community into how a crisis will be handled once it develops, and whether the concerns and problems of those who are involved in the crisis will be considered as part of the process of seeking a solution. It is how the U.N. functions when tensions reach a point where serious attention is needed to help to understand and solve a problem.

Unfortunately for the world, and for North Korea, there was no such process in the decision to impose sanctions on North Korea. The decision to impose sanctions on North Korea was not made by the international community. It was the decision of a small set of nuclear countries. Who was responsible for the crisis was not explored before determining blame, and thus the proclaimed solution is likely only to worsen the problem rather than solve it. Yet the actual problem exists and the fact that people of the world recognize it is highlighted by a recent poll taken in South Korea, which showed that 43 percent of the population blames the U.S. government for North Korea's test of a nuclear device, while only 37.2 percent blame the North Koreans. (3)

The actions in the Security Council to punish North Korea occurred without the needed exploration of what had motivated North Korea to turn to nuclear weapons as a means of self-defense. Can the U.N. be changed in the needed ways so that it will be able to handle such problems? This is the urgent issue facing the U.N. as the future secretary general takes over the post in January. This is one of the challenges facing Ban Ki-moon, member nations and people who are part of the U.N. organization as it embarks on a new chapter in the history of this needed global organization.
North Korea has joined the nuclear club. What do you think?  (2006-10-09 ~ 2006-11-13)
The Hermit Kingdom is a real threat to the world.
I'm more worried about Bush's reaction.
It's a ploy. They'd never use a nuke.
All nations have the right to self defense.
1) See "Pyongyang's Nuke Test Sparks Fission Over Response."

2) See "What About North Korea's sovereignty?"

3) See "U.S. Most Responsible for Nuclear Test: Poll."
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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