Decline of The West
by George Szamuely

January 11, 2000

Kofi Annan: Drooling Visionary

In a typical piece of dishonesty the New York Times the other day ran a fawning profile on the United Nations Secretary General, entitled "Kofi Annan Unsettles People, As He Believes UN Should Do." Annan, the reporter gushed, "is turning out to be one of the most provocative leaders the United Nations has known." Gosh! What has Annan—"a soft-spoken aristocrat from Ghana…with a gentle sense of humor"—done? Recently, he published a report deploring the passivity of the major powers and the United Nations itself over the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. He also goes around making speeches announcing the end of national sovereignty. Far from being provocative then, Annan, is merely mouthing the platitudes of his patrons, the Clinton Administration. Back in August 1995 it had used Srebrenica as the excuse to the launch bombing attacks on Bosnian Serbs. As for the irrelevance of national boundaries, Clinton, Albright and Talbott have as little use for them as Annan.

Srebrenica had been designated one of five so-called UN "safe areas" for civilians. These "safe areas," however, served to garrison Bosnian Moslem armed forces. The Moslems would regularly launch offensives against Serbs living in the surrounding countryside to drive them out. By protecting one of the armed protagonists of the war, the United Nations, in effect, was taking sides in the conflict. There is no admission of this in Annan’s report and you would not expect to find it there. It is worth recalling how Annan got his present job. Richard Holbrooke gives an account of it in his book To End A War. In August 1995 the United States was itching to bomb the Serbs. But UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the Europeans kept getting in the way. Finally, the Clinton crowd got a lucky break. Boutros-Ghali was on route somewhere and could not be reached. His deputy, Kofi Annan, who was responsible for UN "peacekeeping" operations, took charge and informed the Americans that "he had instructed the UN’s civilian officials and military commanders to relinquish for a limited period of time their authority to veto air strikes in Bosnia." At last, the armchair warriors got to don their flak jackets. "For the first time in the war," exults Holbrooke, "the decision on the air strikes was solely in the hands of NATO." He means the United States, of course—a common slip of the tongue for our policymakers. Annan was handsomely rewarded for his toadying. His "gutsy performance in those twenty-four hours," explains Holbrooke, "was to play a central role in Washington’s strong support for him a year later as the successor to Boutros Boutros-Ghali."

Annan was nothing if not grateful for his elevation. In his shameless pandering to Washington’s whims he has been ready to abandon every principle of the United Nations and every precept of international law. By June 1998 his speeches on Kosovo sounded as if they had been drafted for him by the State Department. "Already, the shellings, the ‘ethnic cleansings,’ he droned on, "the indiscriminate attacks on civilians in the name of ‘security’ are taking place. Already thousands have fled…Already excuses for the inexcusable are being offered by those who seem to have learned little…from the war in Bosnia. This time, however, we cannot be taken by surprise…This time ethnically driven violence must be seen for what it is." The phrase "ethnically driven violence" is the giveaway. Since almost all of the world’s conflicts pit one ethnic group against another, "ethnically driven violence" will end only when war is abolished. Annan was, in effect, asking for a mandate to intervene everywhere.

Last January Annan was brutally threatening the Serbs: "The issue of the use of force has been in the air for quite some time. Everyone had hoped that the issue can be resolved peacefully without the use of force, but [if] the situation continues, as NATO has indicated, it may be unavoidable." A few days later he was in his drooling visionary mode: "The success of the NATO mission operating [in Bosnia] under a United Nations mandate is surely a model for future endeavors." Two months later, as the NATO bombs were raining down on Belgrade there was no longer talk of a "United Nations mandate." This was scarcely surprising. By launching its unprovoked attacks on Yugoslavia, NATO had broken innumerable Articles of the United Nations. There was Article 2.1: "The organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members." There was Article 2.3: "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security…are not endangered." There was Article2.4: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" There was Article 2.7: "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State." There was Article 39: "The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace , breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken…to maintain or restore international peace and security." And so on.

The United Nations is what its name implies: a body comprising sovereign nations, no one of which has any authority over another. The United Nations does not even have a collective will that it can impose on anyone. It was founded on the principle of national sovereignty. It is this principle that Kofi Annan, in accordance with the dictates of his masters, is determined to destroy. Writing in the Economist last September he outlined his basic idea:

"The world has changed in profound ways since the end of the cold war, but I fear our conceptions of national interest have failed to follow suit. A new, broader definition of national interest is needed in the new century, which would induce states to find greater unity in the pursuit of common goals and values. In the context of many of the challenges facing humanity today, the collective interest is the national interest…The charter requires the council to be the defender of the ‘common interest’." With supreme contempt Annan is announcing that nations no longer have the right to defend themselves, that international law today requires that certain states intervene in internal affairs of other—weaker—states. As justification, they can come up with some hooey about the "common interest." This, of course, is exactly how the United States sees things. The United States will define what international law is and what punishment is appropriate against whom. International law, of course, does not apply to the United States.

Nowhere is this more evident than on the issue of "war crimes’ in Yugoslavia. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in May 1993 by means of a UN Security Council resolution. Its chief promoter was the US Ambassador. She came up with the $6 million startup money and she hired the first legal team of 25 jurists. Its mission was clear from the outset. It would use the aura of "international law" to punish and humiliate the Serbs—and only the Serbs. The Tribunal, of course, had nothing to do with international law. An international penal tribunal can have jurisdiction over individual states only if they voluntarily transfer to it their sovereign rights by means of treaty. They had not done so. The UN Security Council simply imposed this judicial body on the states of the former Yugoslavia—which it had no right to do.

The attitude of the United States is most instructive. For years people have been talking about setting up some kind of an International Criminal Court that will have jurisdiction over all nations. Such a body can only come into being by treaty and the voluntary surrender of sovereignty. The United States, of course, has refused to ratify the treaty. Prosecutions, the Americans argue, can only be sanctioned by the Security Council. There the United States will always be secure behind its right of veto. The Serbs are not so fortunate. The Tribunal that convicts and punishes them is financed by the very states that seek to destroy them. The Serbs have no right of veto. Last April, while NATO was cheerfully murdering away, the Tribunal’s presiding judge Gabrielle Kirk McDonald told the US Supreme Court that the ICTY "benefited from the strong support of concerned governments and dedicated individuals such as Secretary Albright. In May in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations she thanked the US Government which "has very generously agreed to provide $500,000 and to help to encourage other States to contribute." And there were other benefactors to thank. Corporations, with financial interest in the outcome of the conflict in the Balkans had also chipped in: "The moral imperative to end the violence in the region is shared by all," she rhapsodized, "including the corporate sector. I am pleased, therefore, that a major corporation has recently donated computer equipment worth $3 million, which will substantially enhance our operating capacity."

We get a clear idea then what the United States means by international law. It is the establishment of the right conditions for uncontrolled US investment. And how nice, that nations can be destroyed by cluster bombs and fancy criminal tribunals! The poor Serbs just don’t get it. They are under the impression that the ICTY will seriously investigate their complaints about NATO’s destruction of a bridge while a passenger train was crossing it, or the bombing of the refugee convoy near Djakovica, or the targeting of the Serbian television building in Belgrade. The White House was outraged that someone would even dare suggest such a thing. "Completely unjustified," spluttered Clinton flunky Jim Fallin. When asked whether she would look into the charges against NATO, Tribunal prosecutor Carla del Ponte explained:

"It’s not my priority, because I have inquiries about genocide, about bodies in mass graves." Of course. Her priority is to come up with charges against the Serbs. Otherwise, she is out of a job.

Today the worst crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in the name of international law.

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