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February 25, 2003

Define "Relevant"

The rhetoric of "relevance" coming from the Bush administration is getting really tired. The most recent example came from President Bush in a speech to U.S. governors:
"It's an interesting moment for the Security Council and the United Nations. It's a moment to determine for this body, that we hope succeeds, to determine whether or not it is going to be relevant, as the world confronts the threats to the 21st century. Is it going to be a body that means what it says? We certainly hope it does," Bush said.
Does the administration really think its schoolyard bully tactics are effective? Who defines "relevant"? What does that mean? Why does the administration need to resort to vague, veiled threats like this? Of special note is the continuing pattern in Bush's speech -- his "hope" that the UN "succeeds" came as an afterthought. Listen to every statement Bush makes about the UN and you'll find that his main point is to goad, bully, and threaten, while his supportive remarks always appear in subclauses and parentheses. The global resistance to the Bush administration's agenda of war demonstrates utter failure of the administration's weak attempts to wrap that agenda in a cloak of good intentions. Yet, as the UK's Independent argues, the UN must respond to the Bush administration's repeated challenges to be "relevant." The UN must show the world that it will not be bullied into doing whatever the U.S. demands.
Over the next three weeks, therefore, the member countries of the UN, and especially those that are members of the Security Council, face a historic duty. They must decide how to respond to President Bush's challenge, issued repeatedly in recent weeks, to make the UN "relevant". They should ignore cheap insults accusing opponents of war of wanting the UN to be as ineffective as the League of Nations: Saddam is not Hitler and Kim Jong Il is not Mussolini. The test of the UN's relevance cannot be the extent to which it comes into line with US policy. On the contrary, the test must be the extent to which it encourages US policy to come into line with the concept of international law. That is why those opponents of the war who accuse the UN of simply being a puppet of the US are as mistaken as Mr Bush. The UN may be imperfect, but it does embody the idea of international law. Last year, the US dismissed the idea of restoring UN inspectors to Iraq as a waste of time. Now, the inspection regime has opened up the possibility of an alternative way in which the law-abiding world can restrain the threat from Saddam.
But Saddam is only the threat du jour; beyond the immediate crisis, the "law-abiding world" must address the larger problem of the continued proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. And as Jonathan Schell puts it in his recent Nation cover story, while we confront this proliferation, we must remember that:
Nuclear [and other WMD] proliferation, when considered as the global emergency that it is, has never been, is not now and never will be stoppable by military force; on the contrary, force can only exacerbate the problem.
Schell's arguments in support of this claim are very compelling and highly recommended.

Posted February 25, 2003 07:34 AM | general politics

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