Updated: Mar 5, 2022
How to check off "Save the World" on your bucket list?
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Patriotism, summed up in its simplest, clearest and most unmistakable meaning, is nothing more than a means for the rulers to satisfy their ambitions. For the governed, through voluntary subservience to the desires of the rulers, it means a pure and simple abdication of human dignity, reason and conscience. Patriotism is a form of slavery.
In September 2019, at the protests that are swarming around the globe on the sidelines of the UN Climate Action Summit, we could read on some of the activists' posters that they were demanding that the UN declare a state of climate emergency. But that is impossible. And it's not for lack of sensitivity to the cause or willingness on the part of its current secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who himself called this emergency meeting in New York.
Mr. Guterres simply cannot. The UN has no such authority.
We cannot solve the problems common to all humanity because the challenges are international, but we do not have institutions that have the legitimacy, but above all the authority to address these issues.
What about the plethora of international institutions that humanity has created since the mid-19th century to address these issues beyond the nation?
The United Nations, the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund(IMF), the G7, the G20, the International Labour Organization(ILO), the International Air Transport Association(IATA), the World Bank, the international courts of justice and criminal courts, the World Health Organization(WHO), United Nations Development Program(UNDP), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development(OECD), International Organization for Migration(IOM), United Nations World Food Program(WFP), International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA).
To name only a few of the best known.
What they all have in common is that they are excessively slow to produce the smallest reform proposal that will not be binding and that States, under lobbyist pressure, will be able to disengage from, without repercussions, if it does not go in the direction of some of their interests.
The Conferences of the Parties (COP 21-24-27...) are a very good illustration of this state of affairs. The representatives of the signatory states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (almost all the states of the world in 2018) meet once a year, since 1995, in order to give themselves common guiding rules for the reduction of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Invariably, year after year, the COPs conclude with a triumphalist press release: "We have reached a historic agreement! The nations of the world have finally reached an agreement! The planet is saved!''
However, after more than 25 years of procrastination, debates and negotiations, scientists continue to note, year after year, an increase in global greenhouse gases. In 2019, the UN revealed[i] that GHGs were still increasing by 1.5% per year while they should, in principle, decrease by 2.7% each year by 2030 if we want to limit global warming to 2.0 degrees (exit here the initial objective of 1.5 degrees which would require, as for him, an annual reduction of 7.6%).
And we are already feeling the consequences of these false advances, of this real inertia. In 2019, national records for heat since weather data has been recorded were broken in Australia, India, Japan and across Europe, where it caused 1,462 deaths[ii].
Globally, 2019 was the second hottest year in weather history. The years 2015 to 2019; the five hottest years on record, and the decade 2010-2019, the hottest ever. Each subsequent decade since 1980 has been warmer than any decade before it since 1850[iii].
And...sea levels are rising at an accelerated rate, mainly due to the thermal expansion of sea water and the melting of the largest glaciers, mainly in Greenland[iv] and Antarctica, where warming is three times greater than anywhere else on the planet[v].
That carbon dioxide emissions were 61% higher in 2013 than in 1990, the year serious negotiations for a climate treaty began, or that methane emissions[vi] into the atmosphere have exploded since 2014, has author and activist Naomi Klein sarcastically saying, "the only thing growing faster than emissions is the amount of words by which we commit to reducing them[vii]."
The problems of the UN, of its organs, including the Security Council, or of any other international organization, governmental or not (because there are also private ones) are almost always linked to nationalism, communitarianism or corporatism. Everyone defends the interests of his or her own nation, corporations or companies, before those of humanity, the environment and justice.
The people who are appointed to represent the nations are precisely appointed. They are not elected by parliamentarians and even less by the universal suffrage of the peoples of these different nations. They are appointed by the governments in place and are therefore answerable only to the powers that be and their respective agendas.
The election of these representatives by their parliaments or by their people would not change their mandate, which is to defend the interests of their nation, even if this goes against the universal good.
Moreover, the UN and its institutions are in constant conflict of interest. They are financially dependent on the contributions of member states, which are proportional to their GDP. This is especially true of the most important contribution, that of the United States (around 20% of the total budget of the UN system and its numerous programs[viii]), which has not been shy since the beginning of the 1990s in brandishing threats[ix] of cuts in subsidies when the orientations of the UN or one of its bodies do not go in the direction of the interests of the American government[x].
Only those who understand that the only homeland worth defending is the human homeland can still save us.
Another problem, a major one if ever there was one: the UN General Assembly has no binding power. The resolutions that are voted there are only moral injunctions.
The 193 nations would unanimously vote for resolutions that, for example, would call for an end to the abuses against the Kurds or Uighurs by the Turkish or Chinese governments: these resolutions would be nothing but wishful thinking as demonstrated, once again, by the recent UN resolution[xi] of December 28, 2019, adopted against the Burmese government by a near-majority by the General Assembly.
The resolution that severely condemned the arbitrary arrests, rapes, torture as well as the death in custody of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar has changed the situation strictly nothing. The UN, whose mandate is to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights and the ultimate achievement of world peace, cannot raise taxes. It does not even have its own army.
Funds, peacekeepers and equipment are loaned to it at the whim of the member states, starting with those of its Security Council. An organization with no police, no army, no coercive power, and no income of its own is subject to the goodwill of its member countries, regardless of its legitimacy.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, deplored this with this beautiful formula:
" The UN is the only fire station in the world that must, when there is a fire, hope that someone will be willing to lend it a truck and firemen to put it out... " [xii]
This was the intention of the instigators of the UN: the victors of World War II, the United States, Russia (USSR), Great Britain, France and China, which still possess the majority of the world's military forces.
Wishing to prevent the UN from having the capacity to harm them, they kept the real decision-making power in the Security Council, a sort of UN board of directors, an omnipotent structure at the top of the UN system.
In March 1943, a few months before the UN was founded, at a White House dinner, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt shared with British Ambassador Anthony Eden his vision of this body: "the great powers should disarm all other nations ... the small powers should have nothing more dangerous than guns. The real decisions would then be made by the United States, the United Kingdom, the USSR, and China."[xiii]
As the only body competent to determine whether a state has violated its international security obligations, the Security Council can decide on an economic embargo or, in extreme cases, on military action. These prerogatives are exercised by a body composed of 15 representatives of member states, 10 of whom are elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term.
The five victorious nations have the status of permanent members and an extraordinary power: the right of veto. It allows them to block any resolution that is even very indirectly opposed to their interests. Since 1945, it has guaranteed the paralysis of an organization that is supposed to protect human rights and peace, but which is powerless to act even where action is most needed.
Concretely, this means that a resolution legitimately adopted by more than 2/3 of the 200 or so nations of the UN General Assembly and then endorsed by up to 14 of the 15 member countries of the Security Council, if it is a security issue (and since it is the Security Council that determines what is a security issue or not... anything and everything can be) well, this nice majority can be rendered null and void by the veto of only one of these five nations...
And among these five nations with veto rights, two in particular do not hesitate to do so: the U.S.S.R./Russia and the United States. Together they account for 80% of the approximately 300 uses of the veto since 1945. And in recent years, China has joined this infamous club of obstructionist champions.
I am sure that the Great Architect of the World will perfect it so that it will eventually become a single nation, and armies will no longer be necessary.
Ulysses S. Grant
To give just one example of the entity's moral debacle: in 2013 during the Syrian civil war, UN inspectors confirmed that sarin, a highly toxic chemical weapon, had been used by Bashar al-Assad's regime against civilians in Ghouta[xiv]. xiv] Its use may have caused up to 1,700 deaths. Images of dead children, arms crossed over their chests, with no apparent wounds, are being shown around the world, provoking the indignation of an international public opinion that demands sanctions.
The Security Council is considering the issue. Bitter negotiations are taking place between the United States and France, on the one hand, and Russia and China, allies of the Syrian regime. Resolution 2118, which has been reworked several times, can only be adopted by the Council once it is totally exhausted of all possibilities of intervention or sanctions against the regime, which is not even named as an aggressor[xv].
The text does not authorize the use of force in the event of non-compliance with the resolution, but it does provide for the possibility of sanctions which, before being applied, will require a second resolution in which the vetoes of Russia and China can be used, as they were until the vote of September 27.
Strategic alliances and national interests have long dictated the decisions of each member of the Council. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later deplored the inability of Council members to agree on the Syrian issue: "for two and a half years, not a single resolution has been adopted by the Security Council, not even on humanitarian issues. This is an incredible situation. It is a failure of the United Nations[xvi]."
In 2020, in the midst of the 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) storm as the pandemic affects the entire planet, his successor in the same position, Antonio Guterres, comes to the same conclusion when he has to beg Council members to stop playing political games in order to provide some leadership in the crisis[xvii].
70 years after its creation, the closed group of permanent members of the Security Council has not moved one iota. Logic: any change to the UN Charter must be ratified by two-thirds of the UN membership AND ALL the permanent members of the Security Council...
However, according to its own admission criteria (economic, military and demographic power), Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and Turkey should logically be permanent members of the Security Council today and also hold a veto right.
This would be fair, but the fate of the planet would not be any better for it.
Another problem with the UN is its profoundly undemocratic structure, in which each human being should have one vote. There are 40 member countries of the UN with a population of less than one million. 13 of these countries have even less than 100,000 citizens. Yet each nation in the General Assembly has one vote - and one vote only.
The vote of each of these nations at the UN carries as much weight as that of China or India (whose population will exceed China's by 2030).
Currently, the six most populous countries on the planet constitute 50% of the world's population. At the other end of the spectrum, 93 nations constitute less than 0.1% of the world's population.
The representatives of nations at the UN, as well as in its organs, are more concerned than ever with preserving the interests of the nations they represent, even if it means sacrificing justice and the general good of humanity. Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein, the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, denounced it thus:
"Oppression is back in fashion; the security state is back and fundamental freedoms are receding in all regions of the world. Those responsible immediately after those who kill and maim are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council .... The international system could become dangerously unstable. Yet rather than confronting it, we seem to be turning away from it and turning inward."[xviii]
On this issue and on a multitude of other issues affecting the whole of humanity, the inertia of international organizations is no longer acceptable.
That's it for chapter 3.
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[i] United Nations, Executive Summary of the UN Environment Programme's 2019 Report on the Gap between Emission Reduction Needs and Opportunities. https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/30798/EGR19ESFR.pdf?sequence=15
[ii] World Meteorological Organization (WMO) "Inter-agency Report Highlights Growing Impacts of Climate Change on Atmosphere, Land and Oceans," Press Release No. 10032020, March 10, 2020. https://public.wmo.int/fr/medias/communiqu%C3%A9s-de-presse/un-rapport-interorganisations-met-en-%C3%A9vidence-les-r%C3%A9percussions
[v]AFP dispatch, "Warming three times faster at the South Pole than in the rest of the world," Geo, June 29, 2020. https://www.geo.fr/environnement/rechauffement-3-fois-plus-rapide-au-pole-sud-que-dans-le-reste-du-monde-201094
[vi] Alain Labelle, "Worrying methane boom in the atmosphere," CBC News, December 12, 2016. https://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelle/1005320/boom-inquietant-methane-dans-atmosphere?fbclid=IwAR1L71IAHEutDuwadx8n665zADQgzvWyxOmCn9R2Oz6xLv2IvVZUgMqkK9k
[vii] Naomi Klein, Everything Can Change Capitalism and Climate Change, Actes Sud/Lux, Montreal, Collection futur proche, 2015, p. 23.
[viii] Council on Foreign Relations, Amanda Shendruk, Laura Hillard, Diana Roy, "Funding the United Nations: What Impact Do U.S. Contributions Have on UN Agencies and Program," https://www.cfr.org/article/, April, 24, 2020.
[ix] Andrew Restuccia, Gordon Lubold, Drew Hinshaw, "Trump Threatens to Permanently Cut Funding to World Health Organization," The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 2020.
[xi] Associated Press, "U.N. Resolution Condemns Myanmar's Abuse of Rohingya," New York Times, December 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/28/world/asia/united-nations-rohingya.html
[xii] Full text of an interview given by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to RFI, broadcast on September 10, 2005 http://www1.rfi.fr/actufr/articles/069/article_38545.asp
[xiii] David L. Bosco, Five to Rule Them All: the UN Security Council and the making of the modern World, New York, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 15.
[xiv] Collective, School of Applied Politics, University of Sherbrooke, "Use of chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria," World Perspective, August 21, 2013.
[xv] Anne Bernas, "Le goût amer de la résolution de l'ONU sur la Syrie," RFI, 01 October 2013.
[xvi] Collective, School of Applied Politics, University of Sherbrooke, Ibid.
[xvii] United Nations, "Covid-19: Guterres calls for Security Council unity to confront threats to peace," Onu info, 9 April 2020.
[xviii] Address by Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights quoted in UN Info, February 17, 2017: https://news.un.org/fr/story/2017/02/352512-le-chef-des-droits-de-lhomme-de-lonu-appelle-defendre-le-droit-international