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Target: Multilateralism

The Progressive Response at Foreign Policy in Focus

Vol. 10, No. 11
July 31, 2006

Editor: John Feffer, IRC


Target: MultilateralismMultilateralism took several hits this past week.

The most graphic was Israel’s rocket attack on a UN monitoring post in Lebanon on July 25. The UN had complained to Hezbollah that guerrillas were launching missile attacks from positions close to the observation posts. But nothing could justify what happened next.

According to a preliminary UN report on the incident, the Israeli military ignored ten phone calls from the UN peacekeepers as they endured twenty Israeli artillery air strikes. “UN sources alleged yesterday that the Israeli military ignored the plea after it was passed up through the chain of command,” according to a report in the British Telegraph. “A laser-guided munition is believed to have then dropped on the UN position, which is painted white and clearly illuminated. The four monitors inside—from Canada, Austria, Finland, and China—were killed.”

After the attack, the United States blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement condemning Israel. But that didn’t stop UN Secretary General Kofi Annan from being uncharacteristically blunt in his condemnation of Israel’s attack. He issued another rebuke on July 30, after an Israeli attack on the Lebanese town of Qana killed 37 children among the 57 victims. After the bombing, the UN sustained another attack, when a group of outraged Lebanese ransacked the UN headquarters in Beirut. There were no injuries.

Prodded by the United States, Israel has declared a two-day pause in aerial bombardment of southern Lebanon, which falls substantially short of the immediate ceasefire that the world community has called for (and which only the United States, Israel, and Great Britain have opposed).

FPIF’s Stephen Zunes, in an op-ed published in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on July 22, points out that Israel’s attempt to wipe out Hezbollah is not only quixotic but counter-productive, for it will, like the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, “create far more terrorists than it destroys.” FPIF contributors Frida Berrigan and William Hartung provide some background on where Israel has been getting its arms—$17 billion in U.S. military aid over the last decade, which works out to $2,000 in weaponry for every Israeli.

For perspectives on peace from the Jewish community, visit Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. To read the call for a ceasefire from prominent Arab-Americans, visit the Arab American Institute. For up-to-date information on the humanitarian crisis in Lebanon, visit this new service from the Oakland Institute, which collates information from the UN, international media, and humanitarian organizations.

Multilateralism Falters Elsewhere

Ethiopia’s armed intervention in Somalia on July 20 highlighted another failure of multilateralism. Two years ago, the UN helped create a transitional government in Somalia. Today, the Islamic Courts and their militias control the capital Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country. As FPIF’s Najum Mushtaq points out, the United States supported the warlords in the government against the Islamic Courts, which only increased popular support for the latter. Mushtaq sees a parallel with Afghanistan, with the Islamic Courts taking the role of the Taliban.

Ethiopia sent in troops to support the current Somali government. But the Ethiopian government also suspects its traditional adversary Eritrea of funneling support to the Islamic Courts. So the July 20 intervention may well reignite the long-standing conflict between these two countries.

In East Asia, meanwhile, the persistent failure of Six Party Talks to solve the conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program has certainly not restored multilateralism’s good name. At the ASEAN Regional Forum meetings in Malaysia last week, North Korea once again rejected calls to return to the talks, saying that the United States must first lift financial sanctions imposed in the wake of counterfeiting and money-laundering allegations.

To resolve this conflict, the Bush administration has insisted on multilateral discussions rather than the face-to-face talks North Korea prefers. This insistence is an important reminder that the Bush administration has never opposed multilateralism per se, only a certain kind of multilateralism: one that it cannot control. Whether in the form of coalitions of the willing or free trade talks that privilege the United States, the Bush administration has always favored an “America first” multilateralism.

While public sentiment against U.S. foreign policy remains strong throughout the world—check out the Pew Global Attitudes annual survey that came out in June—the United States has still managed to find allies in its philosophy. As FPIF co-director John Feffer argues, the United States has been joined by Israel and Ethiopia in a new “axis of intervention.” Japan, moving away from its pacifist past and toward developing a preemptive strike capability, is petitioning for membership.

Multilateralism Fails: Cause for Celebration?

Last week, as FPIF contributor Walden Bello writes, the Doha round of trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization fell apart, and this was good news for the global South. The Doha round was supposed to be a “development” round that would finally translate free trade into poverty alleviation. Not so, Bello argues: “From the very start, the aim of the developed countries was to push for greater market openings from the developing countries while making minimal concessions of their own. Invoking development was simply a cynical ploy to make the process less unpalatable.” The collapse of the talks thus offers an opportunity to construct other mechanisms that can make trade “truly beneficial for the poor.”

To end on a more positive note, residents of Washington, DC were cheered by a recent report from the UN Human Rights Commission. Washington has no voting representative in Congress. The UN argued that this anomaly is inconsistent with international law (not to mention the founding cry of the American republic: no taxation without representation).

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This entry was posted on 1 August, 2006 by in Empire, War and Terror, Geopolitics, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Palestine Peace, UN, USA.

Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"