`The U.N. is in crisis'

Print edition : March 11, 2005


Interview with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former U.N. Secretary-General.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, was in India in the second week of February. Currently the Chairman of the South Centre, a Geneva-based think tank, Boutros-Ghali was in New Delhi for its annual board meeting. The South Centre seeks to act as a catalyst to advance the objectives of and proposals made by developing countries in the international arena. It owes its origins to the South-South Commission, whose first Chairman was the late Julius K. Nyerere, former President of Tanzania. The broad mandate of the think tank includes promoting South-South cooperation and North-South relations. The South Centre's aim is to create an institution for developing countries at the global level similar to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which supports the collective actions of countries of the North.

Before he became U.N. Secretary-General, Boutros-Ghali was an important personality in the Arab world and beyond. He has been a consistent supporter of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) from its very inception and still vividly recalls his meetings with Jawaharlal Nehru, Marshall Tito and Sukarno. Boutros-Ghali used to accompany Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser on his frequent visits to New Delhi and other capitals of important nations in NAM.

A few days before Boutros-Ghali reached New Delhi, the interim report of the independent committee that inquired into the U.N.'s oil for food programme for Iraq was released. The report contained some critical remarks about the role of Boutros-Ghali. Reports in the Western media spoke about a close relative of the former U.N. Secretary-General profiting from the programme. Boutros-Ghali, however, described the allegations as baseless. Excerpts from the interview he gave John Cherian:

What are the goals of the South Centre?

The South Centre is an inter-governmental organisation, which grew out of the work of the South-South Commission, chaired by Julius Nyerere. Its most important aim is to strengthen South-South cooperation. In view of what happened in Cancun last year, the need for South-South cooperation has become even more important. In a bipolar world, the South was able to play a role. Since the collapse of the bipolar system and the coming into existence of only one superpower, there has not been a real dialogue between the North and the South. The main job of the South Centre is to act as a think tank providing technical assistance for small countries on economic issues. The G-77 and NAM have asked us for position papers. Certain governments of the developing world, like India, do not need our assistance. We need their assistance.

The important thing is to avoid the stereotypical image, to be able to dissent, to project another approach and a certain image. Already there is a change on the international scene. Look at what happened in Porto Allegro and at Davos this year. In both places they are talking about poverty. The rich countries are becoming richer and the poor countries poorer. Something has to be done. Put it in another way. The North has more than a thousand research institutes and think tanks. We in the South have only a few, in comparison. The South Centre is one of these.

At the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, unloading food received as part the U.N.'s "oil for food" programme. A file picture.-KARIM SAHIB/AFP

Is NAM still relevant? There are many in countries like India and Egypt that question its relevance.

NAM was based on five principles. One, between the East and the West we are neutral. Two, in the struggle between the North and the South, we are not neutral, we are aligned. Three, NAM members are not allowed to participate in any collective military alliance. Four, NAM members are not allowed to participate in bilateral military alliances. Five, NAM members are not allowed to permit foreign military bases on their territory. These are the five principles. But the most important principles are the first two whereby NAM members have to stay neutral in the confrontation between the East and the West and take sides in the political struggle between the North and the South.

However, the confrontation between the East and the West is over after the victory of the West over the East. The political confrontation between the North and the South was also over after the dismantling of the apartheid system in South Africa. So the two basic philosophical underpinnings of NAM do not exist anymore. This is the problem. Therefore we have to reinforce the alliance on the economic level.

We have to take into consideration something new, the issue of globalisation, and participate in the democratisation of the globalisation process. Unless we manage to achieve the democratisation of globalisation, globalisation will destroy national democracies. You cannot have national democracy at the bottom and at the top an undemocratic system. You will not be able to solve problems at the national level or at the local level, like problems of disease, problems of finance, problems of international trade. Who will take decisions on these problems - a democratic authority or a non-democratic authority? So here is a new role for NAM - to try and contribute to the democratisation of the international community, to defend the U.N., to defend multilateralism. Defending multilateralism is defending democracy at the international level.

There have been attempts to undermine the credibility of the U.N. since the time you assumed charge.

The U.N. is in crisis, but over the last 50 years it has overcome many crises. There is no reason why the U.N. will not overcome this crisis. The crisis in the U.N. began much before September 11. The crisis of the U.N. began with the end of the Cold War. There was no international conference, no new international machinery to manage the post-Cold War scenario. I always like to give this example. After the Napoleonic war, we had the Congress of Gentz. After the First World War, we had the Congress of Versailles and the League of Nations was created. After the Second World War, we had the Conference of San Francisco, which led to the creation of the U.N. After the end of the "Third World War", which is the Cold War, we had nothing. This is the source of the problem.

Is democratising the U.N. not the answer?

Expanding the U.N. Security Council can only be the first step. In my view we need to obtain the participation of civil society, the participation of non-state actors such as NGOs [non-governmental organisations], political parties, parliamentarians, multinational corporations. A way has to be found for their participation. I do not pretend to have a solution.

But will the only remaining superpower allow the democratisation of the U.N.?

In the next few years you may have new superpowers - India, China, the European Union and Russia. A coalition of NAM countries can create an international alliance that will be able to promote multilateralism.

Washington has the tendency to destabilise U.N. Secretary-Generals, especially when they near the end of their first terms.

I believe the pattern is to destabilise the U.N. as such.

Your views on the recent controversy regarding the "oil for food" programme for Iraq.

It is a very complicated problem. The way the interim report is presented, it shows as if I am the mastermind of the programme. My predecessor in office, Perez de Cuellar, created the programme. We tried to ameliorate the deteriorating situation in Iraq by creating the oil for food programme.

The U.S. was encouraging corruption by promoting large-scale smuggling of Iraqi oil when the country was under a U.N. embargo.

Iraqi oil was smuggled to Jordan, Turkey and Iran. Sanctions by themselves are not effective. When you punish a country by [imposing] sanctions, it is the poorest sections that suffer. The leaders are not affected. What are needed are smart sanctions where only those responsible for violations of U.N. resolutions are affected. Unfortunately, sanctions are mentioned in the U.N. Charter. Sanctions are negative. It contradicts one of the main goals of the U.N., which is development.

Your views on the new developments in West Asia.

There is a new momentum. We should ride on the momentum. But having said this, I must caution that it is a long road. We need a lot of patience and a lot of generosity. I am an optimist. I have been involved with the Palestinian issue for the last 50 years.

The latest agreement at Sharm-al-Shaikh is a new departure. Camp David was a departure. Oslo was a departure. We lost those opportunities. This time the opportunities have to be grabbed. You cannot sit down for a year and do nothing. Accidents will happen and we shall be back to square one.

In Iraq, it is a good thing that elections have taken place. They should now try to coopt the Sunnis into the process. My point of view is, let the Iraqis solve their problems by themselves. Foreign intervention only complicates matters.

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