Monday, September 26, 2011

Clueless UN Debate

The United Nations is engaged in its annual "General Debate" in New York. It is the opening ritual of the gathering of the organization's 193 members, meant to map the world's problems and set the context for the work to be done in the next three months.

In theory, a "Report on the Work of the Organization" from the Secretary-General is meant to give focus and substance to the talk. That does not happen, for the Report has for decades been a scissors and paste job reflecting the morally challenged world view of weak-kneed UN bureaucrats.

As a result, the debate is a collection of national speeches, each centred on the concerns of the ruling elite, without coherence or focus. Attempts to give it focus by setting a "theme" for the debate ("mediation" this year), have been ineffective. The only focusing factor is media coverage by the major news agencies, all Western except for Xinhua, which caters to the global underdog with its own special blend of propaganda and (mis)information.

For the rest, the media, represented at the UN by some 600 correspondents (some more notional than real), report what they are paid for; that is to say, they report mainly for national outlets with very narrow interests.

Not surprisingly, the net result is a "debate" out of Bizzaro World, providing a fractured, incoherent view of a deeply troubled time.

In keeping with tradition, the debate began this year with speeches by Brazil (represented for the first time by a woman, newly elected President Dilma Rousseff), and the United States in the person of President Barack Obama, one sounding the keynotes for the underprivileged majority of the world's countries, the other the view of the most powerful member State.

The global media majors focused on one element in the US speech, Washington's refusal to back a bid by the Palestinian Observer Delegation to upgrade its membership to that of full statehood. They genuflected disbelievingly in the direction of Brazil's call for Security Council reform.

The coverage of the Palestine item was entirely without meaningful background. Not a single major spent any time on what the Palestine issue is really about, how it was manufactured, and the uses to which it has been put. It was as if they were covering a football game. Who ran the ball, who kicked in the goals. Except, of course, there are no goals in this endlessly futile game.

Not that the major interventions on the subject provided any historical perspective. Nicolas Sarkozy of France offered to host a time-bound negotiating process to resolve the problem of statehood without spending a second on the deeply negative French/British role in the region. Britain's David Cameron was similarly lacking in hindsight.

On another aspect of Britain's manipulative record in the region, he credited the UN (i.e. Britain and France), for avoiding a "Srebrenica" in Libya. He forgot to mention that Mouammar Gadhafi was a British proxy, replacing "King Idriss" who its Secret Intelligence Service had earlier placed on the throne of Libya.

In general, the debate was soporific.

Manmohan Singh made a pitch for international cooperation to face the current spate of global economic problems. It had as much impact as Antigua and Barbuda calling for compensation for the slave trade out of Africa.

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