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Reforming the United Nations

Reforming the United Nations

By Peter Dunne

After the failure of the United Nations and the diplomatic process to resolve the Iraq crisis, many are leaping to the extreme conclusion of writing off the United Nations as an effective guarantor of international peace and security. In doing so they are effectively arguing that the rules-based system of international relations that has been in place since 1945 is now no more, and that instead a curious new form of "might is right" is the real determinant of international order.

Such thinking is extremely short sighted and a knee jerk reaction, and a gross over-exaggeration of the current situation. The United Nations failed to resolve the Iraq crisis not because the concept of the nations of the world acting in concert to prevent war is an outdated or unrealistic one, but because a long-feared flaw in the United Nations' process stalled any chance of the Security Council agreeing a course of action.

>From the time of the 1945 San Francisco Conference that set up the United Nations, the existence of the great powers' veto has been controversial. New Zealand's wartime Prime Minister Peter Fraser described it as encouraging "legalised defiance" of the Security Council's actions. In words which have a chilling relevance to the actions of some of the great powers' actions on Iraq, he told the San Francisco gathering that "if a great power could cast a cloak of protection over a small aggressor power with the exercise of the right of the veto, then the work of the Security Council would be reduced to complete futility." And so it proved to be on this occasion. The United Nations was reduced to impotence and its efforts both to prevent war and bring an errant Iraq to heal were left looking somewhat pathetic.

But the answer is to not to accept, as some would no doubt prefer, that we now effectively live in a post United Nations age, that the notion of collective security is a bygone dream, and, to paraphrase Bismarck, it is true, after all, that the great questions of the day will not be solved through debates and the resolutions of majorities, but through blood and iron. The answer is to make the United Nations work.

And that is where New Zealand comes in. Helen Clark's admiration for Peter Fraser as a great New Zealand Prime Minister is well known. Fraser made his mark as the voice of the small nations of the world at the San Francisco conference. His arguments about the rights of small nations in the General Assembly and against the veto in the Security Council struck a powerful chord. Although not adopted by the majority at the time, his views are still relevant, as recent events show. Moreover, his fears and analysis are justified by the experiences of the last six decades.

In the aftermath of the Iraq crisis, the case for reform of the United Nations, including the removal of the veto, is compelling. All it requires is a passionate and committed national leader to lead the campaign. Maybe it is time for Helen Clark to acknowledge that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


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