A serious effort is being made by the Acting Director-General of the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) to “rebrand” his organization. Michael Møller, a Danish diplomat with extensive experience in the United Nations system, is energetically trying to give new life and a new image through a host of activities and presentations.
He is to be commended. Not only does the historic Palais des Nations need a serious face-lift if not major cosmetic surgery including implants and replacements, but many of the organizations associated with the UN in Geneva, such as the Conference on Disarmament and the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, could use some massive adrenalin (testosterone?) injections. Add to that the growing role of NGO’s, the private sector and competition from other cities for hosting conferences and organizations, and one can see that Mr. Møller has a lot on his plate. And he is officially only an Acting Director who says he is not actively competing for the regular position!
The classic definition of the New York expression chutzpah is that of an only child who pleads clemency to the court because he is an orphan after murdering his parents. Two new examples of chutzpah have appeared surrounding the proposed visit of the Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
According to an article in the New York Times of September 18, the President of Sudan has submitted a visa request to attend the U.N. meeting in New York. The United States, as the host country, is obliged to grant visas to foreign heads of states who wish to attend. The chutzpah of Mr. al-Bashir is that he is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) on genocide charges stemming from mass killings committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. If the visa were granted, he would be the first visiting head of state to visit the United Nations in New York while under indictment by the International Court. Leaders who have been violently opposed to the U.S. like Fidel Castro or Nikita Khrushchev were never under criminal indictment.
Unbeknownst to most of the world with France's new president, Facebook's IPO, the G8 meeting in Washington and the NATO summit, last Wednesday Switzerland, Costa Rica, Jordan, Singapore and Liechtenstein also made some headlines. Actually, it was not what they did but what they didn't do. The Small 5 - as opposed to the big P5 permanent members of the UN Security Council France, Britain, China, Russia and the U.S. - decided last Wednesday to withdraw a draft resolution which proposed to reform the working methods of the Security Council.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in Geneva for a short visit this week. The presence of the U.S. Secretary of State anywhere in the world is a major event. Those who complained about security measures at the United Nations Office and inconveniences in its neighborhood should be reminded of the power and importance of such events. Like it or not, Mrs. Clinton represents the world's major power - whatever that means - and is an important actor in her own right. Imagine the level of excitement if President Obama came to Geneva!
Mrs. Clinton "dropped by" Geneva in the midst of a whirlwind European tour, graphically described in the December 7 Tribune de Genève.
For over 350 years, since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, the international system has been fundamentally international, between nations. There are now over 190 countries in the world, and although non-state actors such as multinational corporations, media, armed groups, individuals like Bill Gates and supranational bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations are more and more players in the system, the basis of the world system remains the state, the highest legitimate control of violence.
All of this is fine, and what lawyers call the sovereign system. Besides the obvious challenges to this system by globalization and the actors below and above the state already mentioned, one of the system's inherent faults is its inability to deal with the birth and death of nations and recognition of authority within states. We congratulate the new state of South Sudan for coming into existence through a referendum and universally accepted legal process. It has become a member of the United Nations.
But what about Kosovo? The Western Sahara? Abkhazia? South Ossetia? These entities are recognized by certain countries, but not all. And now, the Libyan National Transitional Council (NTC) has been recognized by over 30 countries, NATO and the Arab League as the "legitimate authority" of the country. The entire international contact group co-ordinating policy on the crisis has given its benediction. The decision will allow certain countries to free up Libyan assets to the NTC, such as the United States with an estimated $30 billion held by American banks. The TNC leadership was "jubilant," it was reported by the Independent newspaper, "calling for more money to aid them in their push towards Tripoli".
There are several criteria for state recognition, including recognition by major powers. But the recognition of a government is even more political. Here is a clear example, unlike the South Sudan or even the Ivory Coast, where some major powers have decided to recognize a government for purely political reasons with little legal basis. Should we accept the justification that Colonel Gaddafi is under indictment? So is the ruler of Sudan.
Who are these people behind the NTC? And on what basis have they become "the legitimate authority" of the country? There has been no election, no referendum, and no selection process beyond a certain group deciding recognition. But, as I have already noted, the international system has great difficulty with the birth and death of nations and the recognition of legitimate authority within countries.
July 20, 2011