Tue, Dec 07, 2004 - Page 9 News List

The UN floats a blueprint for the 21st century

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's report, in a radical development, gives short shrift to pre-emptive strikes and backs direct action in protecting individuals' rights

By Robin Cook  /  THE GUARDIAN , London

It would be good to think that the debacle over Iraq, which prompted this report, could yet end with the UN emerging stronger and reshaped to face the challenges of the present day rather than of the past century. Six million people have been killed in conflicts in the past decade. None of these was a war of aggression between states of the kind that preoccupied the founding members of the UN, but all were internal conflicts of the kind for which the high-level panel urges the international community to accept a responsibility to protect.

Whether the vision of the high-level panel is now converted into reality depends crucially on whether the government of the UN's most influential member can overcome its hostility to multilateral institutions and its reluctance to be bound by international agreements. That will not be the first instinct of many of those now being handpicked by US President George W. Bush for his second administration.

He has just appointed Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general, who has dismissed the Geneva convention as "quaint." That is not an opinion that sits easily alongside the high-level panel's call for the international rule of law.

If the Blair government in London does indeed retain any influence over the White House, it should now exercise that leverage to support this new vision for the UN and to prevent Britain ever again being confronted with a demand by Washington to back another unilateral adventure without international agreement.

Robin Cook is a former foreign secretary of the UK.

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