On October 12 the Nobel prize committee in Oslo announced that it was awarding the United Nations Organization and Kofi Annan, its secretary-general, a peace prize in recognition of their work in pursuit of “a better organized and a more peaceful world.” This is the first time that the UN as a whole and its acting head have received the award. Until now, only separate UN agencies had received the honour; one former UN secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjoeld, won it posthumously in 1961.
The UN under Annan’s guidance has encouraged its member-states to engage in efforts to deal with transnational concerns such as the spread of HIV-AIDS, global warming, poverty, drug-trafficking and terrorism. But it is not searching for solutions to crises such as global health, the environment or the uneven distribution of wealth and resources. The UN secretary-general is often viewed as the world’s diplomat-in-chief. As such, he is often expected to play a role in making peace and preventing war when government-to-government diplomacy has failed. It is on this count that Annan’s record is gravely wanting.
It is true that the ‘fundamental principles’ of peace, tolerance, justice and human rights are central to the UN’s Charter and mission. Yet the UN has rarely succeeded in ensuring that these lofty ideals are upheld. Until the closing days of the cold war era, the UN was in effect an arena for superpower rivalry. And in the increasingly unilateral post-cold war Pax Americana, the UN has been reduced to an instrument for legitimizing Washington’s military adventures around the world, and an engine for the march of American-style globalization.
The UN stood idly by as the genocide in Rwanda, where some 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered by Hutu tribesmen, unfolded. It failed to prevent numerous instances of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Balkans, including the infamous massacre at Srebrenica, where some 8,000 Muslims were slaughtered by the Serbs in a UN-designated safe haven. The fact that, when these atrocities took place, Annan was the head of UN peacekeeping operations makes awarding him the prize doubly distasteful. Moreover, the UN has completely abdicated its responsibility in many a hotspot around the world: its officials content themselves with vacuous resolutions, statements and appeals that largely fall on deaf ears.
Kofi Annan was born into an aristocratic Ghanaian family on April 8, 1938. He completed his undergraduate education in economics at McAlester College in St Paul, Minnesota, USA. In 1961 and 1962 he attended graduate school in economics at the Institut Universitaire des Hautes Etudes Internationales in Geneva. Throughout his career at the UN, the 63-year-old Annan has displayed remarkable skill in working his way through the ranks of the UN system. His ability to prosper in the bureaucratic nightmare that is the UN indicates a strong instinct for self-preservation and self-promotion. He joined the UN in 1962 as an administrative and budget officer with the World Health Organization in Geneva. Since then he has served with the UN Economic Commission for Africa in Addis Ababa, the UN Emergency Force (UNEF II) in Egypt, and at the UN headquarters (New York), as assistant secretary-general for human resources management and security coordinator for the UN system (1987-1990), and assistant secretary-general for programme planning, budget and finance, and controller (1990-92). Annan has also served as assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations (March 1993-February 1994) and as under secretary-general (February 1994-October 1995 and April 1996-December 1996).
In many ways the Nobel peace prize is a reward for being a good servant of the West in general, and of the US in particular. It is a reward for Annan’s obsequious silence about, and active efforts to provide a veneer for, the US’s efforts to tailor an international post-cold war order to its desires and interests. Since he became secretary-general in January 1997, Annan has never tired of repeating the platitudes of his patrons in Washington. He has also been propounding the end of sovereignty and the irrelevance of national boundaries. These are strange utterances from the head of an organization “based on the sovereign equality of all its Members” (UN Charter Article 2).
In August 2000 the UN issued a document reflecting the heart of Annan’s interventionist doctrine. The report called for the UN to be allowed to call on battalions from armies around the world to step into various hotspots. The problem with this so-called “Kofi Doctrine” is that in practice it is the five permanent members of the Security Council that determine what ‘international law’ is, and what punishment is appropriate against whom. The attitude of the UN toward Israeli violations of Security Council resolutions and of innumerable ‘principles’ of international law is instructive in this regard.
In his pandering to Washington’s whims and caprices, Annan has been ready to abandon every principle of the UN and to make a mockery of international law. His stand on the current US/British bombing of Afghanistan is a case in point. He recently interpreted the UN Charter to justify the US-led strikes on Afghanistan, saying that the attacks are an act of self-defence permitted under Article 51 of the Charter. But Article 51 permits states to defend themselves against ongoing or imminent attack as a temporary measure until the Security Council can restore international peace and stability. It says nothing about retaliation and offers no license to attack a country that harbours or might be harbouring a nation’s enemies.
Annan’s sanction of an American-led military action against Afghanistan also contravenes the express words of numerous articles of the UN Charter. One of these is Article 2.3, which states that: “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security are not endangered.” Another is Article 2.4, which states that: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” Article 39 states that: “The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken to restore international peace and security.”
In the light of this, it seems perverse that Annan and the UN, which for a decade have displayed unbridled eagerness to facilitate the US’s war-mongering, are being honoured for their contribution to peace. But for those who already know how the process of awarding the Nobel peace prize and other similar awards really works, it is no surprise. It is simply part of the normal quid pro quo of an international western-dominated system of patronage. Our comfort must be that who wins or doesn’t win such awards can make no practical difference whatsoever to any cause that we espouse.