Multilateralism 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
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
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”
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
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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