Friday, February 8, 2013

Interventions by Kofi Annan

Something odd struck me, as I was reading this autobiography. It seems that many who write their stories have these deep insights into who their parents were, and what motivated them, what sort of inner conflicts they faced, and so forth. It occurred to me that I really have no idea who my parents were in that sense. I can relate their basic history about where they grew up, in what era, and so forth, but inner conflicts...emotions? We never spoke of such things. Probably never will.

I found this a difficult book to push on through and finish. It seemed that Annan went into deep details at times that weren't all that interesting to me, while glossing over things quickly that I'd have been interested in hearing more about, and he also assumed a little too much historical knowledge on the part of his readers regarding some of the conflicts on which he focused. I lived through all the years he was Secretary General of the UN, but I was busy raising a family most of the time, and our mediocre media here in the US has not done a great job of covering world events - Michael Jackson and Lindsay Lohan and Beyonce's lip synching are far more important.

I found it interesting that though he condemns Israel quite harshly in the chapters actually dealing with the Palestinian question, he has something different to relate in an earlier chapter about the civil war in Lebanon.

"I concluded that 'whatever other agendas they may serve, Hizbollah's actions, which it portrays as defending Palestinian and Lebanese interest, in fact do neither. On the contrary, they hold an entire nation hostage.'"

He's also quite frank about the source of many of Africa's problems, even though he looks to the West to provide (as always) more funding.

"In a telling, if tragic - sign of Africa's many false starts on the path to development, it is widely recognized that the two principal obstacles to African development are energy and infrastructure. To recall how clearly this was understood forty years ago is to realize the price all Africans have paid for bad governance ever since."

and regarding the Africa Report,

"It emphasized the failures of the international community, too, including the UN's failure, in helping the peoples of Africa, the failure of all to help them ensure peace and create the conditions for sustainable development. But it stated these failures as orbiting features of a core problem: internal African politics and African leadership."


"The problems of Africa, however, have always stemmed from a lack of institutions: a lack of the institutional resources necessary to deal with the complex political, social, and economic problems faced on the continent. But irresponsible, unaccountable personalized systems of rule are the enemy of these. Cultivating the authority of a single individual over an entire and diverse population means that any institution that empowers the population's various constituencies has to be blocked or crushed. It means institutions that uphold a system for the peaceful transfer of power between political parties and between leaders have to be eroded or eradicated. Civil society institutions, organizations, and activists independent of the state, and so beyond the control of the Big Man, can never be allowed to flourish. Free enterprise, underpinned by free societies and systems of regulation and law independent of the day-to-day whims of the leader - an essential feature for private sector driven development - cannot be allowed."

The applications implicit in that last passage seem a bit scary to me, given the hero-worship some on the left have for the Obama presidency.

Annan was, it appears, responsible for the changing mission and vision of the UN in the modern era. As he says,

"Before 1988, only a dozen peacekeeping missions were launched in all of the UN's forty-three years. But in the brief period between 1988 and 1992, the Council created another ten."

The ideas below are, perhaps, what alarms some folks in this country - we seem to be quite jealous of our sovereignty, having won it a couple of centuries ago through blood and sacrifice. He whines a bit about how the U.S. would never agree to submit itself to the authority of the International Criminal Court. Given the composition of the General Assembly and most of the commissions established by the UN, I can't see that it would be a good thing, myself, as far too many of the rogue states would like nothing better than to drag our leaders and soldiers into trials there.

"the opportunity that the crisis in Kosovo provided: to draw a new line in international affairs, to set a new standard in how we held states responsible for the treatment and protection of the people within their own borders. We had to make clear that the rights of sovereign states to noninterference in their internal affairs could not override the rights of individuals to freedom from gross and systemic abuses of their human rights."

I found his take on the situations in places like Somalia and the Sudan enlightening.

"...civil wars have a security impact far beyond their source. They suck in their neighbors, send thousands of refugees spilling into other countries, create havens for armed groups and terrorists, and they cause the spread of criminal networks and cross-border lawlessness, including piracy."

One interesting thing regarding Iraq's intransigence when it came to allowing the UN weapons inspectors to fully verify that all of the WMD's had been destroyed,

"Tariq Aziz...once asked a senior member of the UN's inspection team...'You know why we can never allow you to certify that we've rid ourselves of our weapons of destruction, don't you?' The UN official replied incredulously that this was the entire purpose of the inspections, and that once free of the stigma, Iraq could come in from the cold. Aziz replied, 'The Persians and the Jews.' For Saddam, in other words, sustaining the fear that he possessed WMD was all about deterring Iran and Israel, two countries that he considered mortal enemies."

Holy guacamole, Batman! It's all about face in the Arab world.

All you international affairs freaks might enjoy this one, and I felt it was good to hear Annan's perspective on things.

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