Int. Herald Tribune
Annan's new United Nations is beginning to go its own way

William Pfaff

Paris, Tuesday, September 12, 2000

PARIS - Kofi Annan is proving as remarkable a secretary-general as the United Nations has ever had. He demonstrates a realistic grasp of what the United Nations cannot do and has failed to do, but also of what it might do and has never before thought of doing.

His Millennium Summit seems to have been a success. The guests all came, and the affair served, as he intended, to relaunch a United Nations that has taken a battering since the 1960s - the last time it tried to do something on its own, intervening in the Congo under Dag Hammarskjold.

Mr. Annan today has recovered for the organization a margin of freedom of action that it has not possessed since Hammarskjold's death in 1961. The parsimony of the U.S. Congress has actually helped him, reducing the overwhelming influence that the United States possessed in the past.

The Clinton administration has to explain that its hands are tied by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, apologizing that it wishes it could do better but that other countries will have to understand etc. Private individuals, such as Ted Turner and Bill Gates, step in, offering to compensate for their country's failure to meet its obligations.

Senator Jesse Helms cleared the air by plainly stating his own conviction (and that of a good many Americans) that the United States, because of its democratic virtues, possesses unlimited authority in dealing with less virtuous nations, and is accountable to no one in its practice of military intervention.

This might in the past have been the conviction of many in Washington, before the end of the Cold War, but until 1989 the United States was constrained in what it could do by the hostility of the Soviet Union. Today this claim to unilateral authority is simply unacceptable. No other nation can concede that its sovereignty should be limited by the unconstrained sovereignty of the United States.

The claim morally isolates the United States and promotes the standing of the United Nations as the body whose international authority the other states do acknowledge.

That is one unspoken reason why America's European Union allies are forming a 50,000-strong military intervention force and an independent, multinational police corps, trained and available for deployment in situations such as Kosovo's.

They are meant to provide international intervention forces that would be available to the United Nations, as well as for conducting independent European missions. The initiative promises to be of considerable importance and has strengthened Mr. Annan's hand.

He has just published an independent and highly critical report on UN peacekeeping and has made a formal acknowledgment of UN culpability in connection with the Rwanda genocide and the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia in 1995.

The peacekeeping report recommends recognition of peacekeeping as a core function of the United Nations; fundamental change in the UN department of peacekeeping operations; new intelligence and planning facilities; and command integration, with new measures for supporting operations.

It seeks "robust rules of engagement," autonomous, properly trained brigade-size units made available for UN assignments by member states, new money for headquarters pre-planning, and, most important, a halt to the pernicious practice by the Security Council of voting for peacekeeping missions without making money available to pay for them.

In 1997 Mr. Annan said the United Nations should become "a bridge between civil society and governments." Despite official indifference, he went ahead with partnerships with the private sector. The program has created 10,000 Internet sites serving hospitals and dispensaries in developing countries, a consortium to bring information technology to those countries, and a program, directed by the Swedish electronics giant Ericsson, to put mobile satellite phones at the disposal of humanitarian agencies in the field.

In July he launched a "global compact" with companies, unions and nongovernmental organizations to promote humanization of globalization through cooperation among the companies, environmental and human rights agencies and the International Labor Organization. This last, with the nongovernmental organizations and unions, oversees corporate observance of agreed principles of conduct.

Those innovations are controversial. Introducing corporate cooperation and private financing into the United Nations offends many who believe that it should remain strictly an organization of governments.

It displeases others because it gives the United Nations independence of governments, its own links with civil society and a novel degree of autonomy. That seems to suit Mr. Annan.

Original article