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Can The UN Save Humanity From Hell?


Can The UN Save Humanity From Hell?

By Martin LeFevre

In another attempt to halt the hellish situation in the Sudan, Kofi Annan recently said, "While the United Nations may not be able to take humanity to heaven, it must act to save humanity from hell."

There is a bitter irony in those words. Kofi Annan was the main person through whom the inaction of the United Nations in the Rwandan genocide flowed. As Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) before and during the genocide, says in his book, “Shake Hands with the Devil,” “There was a void of leadership in New York.” There still is.

That’s not to smear Kofi Annan, as some in the US Congress are doing in their attempt to punish him and the UN for not rubber-stamping the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq. Even Dallaire, who was left twisting in the wind by the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) under Annan, bears no animus toward him. “Through the kindest of eyes and calmest of demeanors, Annan projected a humanism and dedication to the plight of others that I have rarely experienced,” Dallaire says.

The problem is that in style and substance, Kofi Annan exemplifies the tragic flaw at the heart of the United Nations. Leadership can be defined as pushing the limits of the status quo, and knowing when to step outside its boundaries altogether. As Rwanda and now Darfur demonstrate, Kofi Annan and the UN are constitutionally incapable of doing that.

Why has the inadequacy of the UN response in Rwanda spilled over into yet another debacle—the failure to stop the slaughter in Darfur? For one thing, the philosophy and architecture of the international/multilateral paradigm are utterly untenable.

Defenders of the United Nations say one cannot blame that institution, since the permanent members of the Security Council set and implement policy, not the General Assembly or the Secretariat. But that is a vicious circle: the UN cannot act because it can only carry out the mandates of member states (and usually the most powerful one at that). Conversely (and perversely), the most powerful member states, perpetually acting in their own self-interest, prevent the UN from acting with a degree of autonomy “to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.”

Describing a scene of horror that two of his Polish military observers were forced to watch, Dallaire describes how hundreds of people were murdered in the church where they had taken refuge: “methodically and with much bravado and laughter, the militia moved from bench to bench, hacking with machetes. Some people died immediately, while others with terrible wounds begged for their lives or the lives of their children…(but) there was no mercy, no hesitation, and no compassion.”

It could have been stopped. “The United States, France, and Belgium had proven with their evacuation exercise that this mission could be reinforced. It was certainly not a lack of means that prevented them from reinforcing my mission or even taking my mission under their command to stop the killings,” says Dallaire.

Can the UN “act to save humanity from hell,” despite the tragic flaw of the nation-state double bind? If it could, the Security Council and the Secretariat would have learned from Rwanda, and we wouldn’t be staring into the same abyss in the Sudan.

Three philosophical problems are at the core of humankind’s increasingly acute dilemma: the concept of sovereignty, the belief in progress and gradualism, and the problem of evil.

Evil is a vast river in human consciousness, fed by the division, self-centeredness, and hatred in every person who is not fully and unswervingly self-aware. Evil is no mystery; it is as old as thought and the division between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Can the first principle of political organization be radically changed? Can the voice of the poor and economically disenfranchised people of the world be fully heard? Even as the dark tide of history grows into a tsunami, more and more people are ending the ancient pattern of identifying with particular groups for security and survival, and thinking in terms of humankind first.

The UN is moribund. But it can still survive and be transformed into a genuine institution of global governance…if world citizens take the next step now, and manifest a Global Polity that embodies the undeniable fact of our underlying, shared humanity.

In practical political terms, an independent, non-power-holding Global Polity will provide a philosophical and ethical basis for global governance. The UN represents, at best, the community of nations. A GP will represent, at bottom, the community of human beings.

Martin LeFevre


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