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Martin LeFevre: Two Empires Down, One to Go

Meditations (Spirituality) - From Martin LeFevre in California

Two Empires Down, One to Go

After being booed and berated for days, the US led coalition of the swilling—Canada, Japan, and Australia—ended its opposition in Bali to launching negotiations on a new pact to fight global warming. "It was exactly what we wanted. We are indeed very pleased," said Humberto Rosa, head of the European Union delegation.

Yes indeed, it was a great victory for the Earth. The world is on fire, and two years of negotiations are now set to begin. "All three things I wanted have come out of these talks -- launch, agenda, end date," said Yvo de Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

The Bali conference on climate change has already been forgotten, but something important did happen there. Tiny Papua, New Guinea brought down an Empire. The US delegation reversed its opposition after Kevin Conrad, the representative from Papua, made this stinging indictment of American ‘leadership’: “We ask for your leadership; we seek your leadership. But if for some reason you’re not able to lead, please, get out of the way.”

Bill Hare of Greenpeace put it more bluntly: “the US has been humbled by the overwhelming message by developing countries that they are ready to be engaged with the problem, and it's been humiliated by the world community. I've never seen such a flip-flop in an environmental treaty context ever." As Al Gore said, Bali was “the final shaming of America.”

Of course there are many people in the USA that will never get it. Advertising his obtuseness, Thomas Friedman entitled his recent column in the New York Times about the Bali conference, “What was that all about?” A nationalist to the end, here is his solution to the climate crisis: “Just make America the model of how a country can grow prosperous, secure, innovative and healthy by becoming the most clean, energy-efficient nation in the world—and let everyone follow us.” Way too late Tom.

What did the Bali conference on climate change achieve? It provides a "roadmap" for two years of talks to adopt a new treaty to succeed Kyoto beyond 2012, which may now include the United States. (We all know well the “roadmap” concept and metaphor have worked in the Middle East.) The Bali ‘success’ gives a false sense of time in dealing with the climate crisis, and by extension, the human crisis.

However, the Bali climate conference does mark a turning point--the victory of the ‘international community’ over American domination. But it is Pyrrhic victory for the UN system. As Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Science and the Environment in New Delhi, said, “at the end of the day, we got an extremely weak agreement…it's obvious the US is not learning to be alive to world opinion.”

“To have so comprehensively lost America as an international ‘force for good,’ at a time when the world needs more than ever that kind of energy and generosity of spirit that America brought to bear on post-war Europe in the 20th century, has to be just about the most depressing aspect of today’s disintegrating world,” said Jonathon Porritt, Chairman of the UK Sustainable Development Commission.

Ban Ki-moon flew over from East Timor and spoke again when the conference went into overtime, imploring the delegates to overcome the stalemate between the EU and the world on one side, and the USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia on the other. Coming as close as he ever does to exhibiting passion, Ban exalted in the ‘breakthrough’ by exclaiming, "This is the defining moment for me and my mandate as secretary-general." That may be true in more ways than he knows.

The United Nations was conceived and built in the United States. It is only slightly exaggerating to say that the UN has been a puppet of the US. The Bali conference marks the point where America no longer calls the shots in the world, and with the UN. But few seem to realize that when the strings to a puppet are cut, it collapses into a lifeless heap.

If the United States is no longer ‘the leader of the free world,’ what will be the future of the UN system? The United Nations, as its diplomats are so fond of saying, is not an autonomous entity, but merely ‘the expression of the will of the member states’ (and until now, mostly the will of its most powerful member state). In short, there is now a vacuum of power and leadership in the world, and that is a very dangerous situation indeed.

Two Empires are now history—the Vatican, into whose coffin Rome’s cover-up of the priestly pedophilia scandal in America and elsewhere was the final nail--and the United States, where the ‘American spirit’ expired after the first Gulf War. As always, empires perish from within.

What country or international institution will step into the vacuum? The inward turning, outward spurning Chinese economic empire? China is ascendant all right, but beyond its nationalistic cum consumeristic bent, and the global ecological crisis, an increasingly irrelevant (if still very powerful) communist government mean there will be no genuine leadership from that quarter. The very idea and structure of empire is finished.

Therefore the United Nations system and process has to be radically transformed, or the UN will not survive. Transformation will not come from within the UN system. It will take another component—not another institution, but a body of world citizens—to give impetus, direction, and ‘moral authority’ to the UN, WTO, and IMF. Only then will the phrase ‘international community’ have any meaning.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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