The world the UN advocates looks good on paper. (1)
In June 1945, the Charter of the United Nations was signed by 51 member states. Several years later, the two great conventions for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights came into being, and in subsequent years, important conventions on torture, genocide, women’s and children’s rights followed. After long negotiations, the UN member states came to a consensus at the end of 2008 on a cluster bomb treaty – unfortunately containing limitations – on which several countries insisted, including Germany.
The existence of extensive international law shows that governments in all parts of the world know what is important for human security and what must be protected.
And yet, since 1945 international law has been continuously broken. Basic rights to food, health, housing, education, work, freedom of opinion have remained unattainable for many. Wars have been (and are) carried on, in utter violation of the United Nations Charter, e.g. against Yugoslavia, Iraq and in Palestine.
Torture is practiced, genocide carried out, weapons treaties ignored, the environment robbed of irreplaceable treasures. Uncontrolled financial transactions and economic activities and greed have given rise to an unprecedented crisis of worldwide dimensions.
Pragmatism flourishes while moral principles are shunted aside. “Ethics” has become a foreign word. Political lying prevails. The gap between the rich and the poor grows wider. The life and survival chances of people have become yet more unequal. Behind all this lie such significant causes as the lack of political will to speak out in defense of the community of the majority as opposed to the welfare of the few and the resulting neglect of rights and the rule of law. The United Nations strains to carrying out its mandate.
21st century born under the sign of worldwide hypocritical denial
It should thus come as no surprise that the twenty-first century was born under the sign of confrontation and of worldwide, hypocritical denial.
Western alliances such as NATO are being challenged by new alliances with weighty members such as Russia, China and India. The key word here is “rearrangement”. Dag Hammarskjoeld, the great man of the United Nations (2), in 1964 shortly before his death expressed his great concern that “ways out of the narrow, matted jungle in the struggle for honor, power and advantage” must be found. Looking back at the beginning of 2009, one can see that since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, two systems, communism and capitalism have collapsed. Maximization of profit hand-in-hand with dishonesty and ethnocentrism are among the causes.
The UN at a crossroads
The world of the 192 UN member states has come to a fork in the road. One way leads to a world focused on the well being of society, conflict resolution and peace, i.e. to a life of dignity and human security with social and economic progress for all, wherever they may be – as stated in the United Nations Charter. Down the other road is where the nineteenth century “Great Game” for power will be further played out, a course which, in the twenty-first century, will become more extensive and dangerously more aggressive than ever. This road supposedly leads to democracy, but in truth it is all about power, control and exploitation.
The peace dividend never existed
Nothing has ever been seen of the peace dividend that was expected from the end of the Cold War. The aggregate military budgets of all United Nations member states set a new record in 2007, reaching $1,200 billion. The United States military alone represents some 50% of this; the NATO countries 70%. (3) In the same year, development aid was $103 billion. (4) or 8.3% of the amount spent on the military!
Since 1969, the United Nations has requested that every year the tiny amount of 0.7% of the GDP of the industrialized countries be allocated to development aid. In fact, the figure for 2008 is around 0.3%. (5) This extreme inequality between military and development spending shows that the current emphasis is not on human security as envisioned in the United Nations Millennium Goals (6} but on countries’ military security. Those who point out how ludicrous such a comparison is willingly misunderstand that strengthening personal human security constitutes a decisive contribution to reducing the root causes of worldwide conflict. They refuse to accept that military security through alliances and the self-interest of governments encourages and deepens international conflicts.
UN and NATO: bonum commune or western interests
A comparison of the mandates of the United Nations and of NATO shows clearly how opposed the purposes of these two institutions are. In the 63 years of its existence, the United Nations mandate has remained the same.
The United Nations was created to promote and maintain worldwide peace. NATO exists to assure the self-interest of a group of 26 UN member countries. Its mandate, grounded in the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, originally dealt with the defense of its member states. At the end of the Cold War, in 1989, its mandate appeared to have been fulfilled. Nevertheless, the NATO members wanted to maintain this Western alliance. This launched the search for a new role for NATO.
21st century NATO incompatible with UN Charter
In 1999, NATO acknowledged that it was seeking to orient itself according to a new fundamental strategic concept. From a narrow military defense alliance it was to become a broad based alliance for the protection of the vital resources’ needs of its members. Besides the defense of member states’ borders, it set itself new purposes such as assured access to energy sources and the right to intervene in “movements of large numbers of persons” and in conflicts far from the boarders of NATO countries. The readiness of the new alliance to include other countries, particularly those that had previously been part of the Soviet Union, shows how the character of this military alliance has altered.
In the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the Charter of the United Nations was declared to be NATO’s legally binding framework. However, the United Nations monopoly of the use of force, especially as specified in Article 51 of the Charter, was no longer accepted according to the 1999 NATO doctrine.
NATO’s territorial scope, until then limited to the Euro-Atlantic region, was expanded by its member to encompass the whole world in keeping with a strategic context that was global in its sweep. At the Budapest summit, on 3 April 2008, NATO declared that it intended to meet the emerging challenges of the twenty-first century “with all the possible means of its mission.”
It added that the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty of the founding countries had been ratified by the current parliaments and thereby had become international law. This did not hold for later NATO strategies and doctrines.
UN-NATO-accord: serious threat to peace
In spite of this NATO declaration, which, officially, would serve only the interests of a small minority of United Nations member states, on 23 September 2008, an accord was signed between the United Nations and NATO Secretaries General, Ban Ki-moon, and Jaap de Hoop-Scheffer. This took place without any reference to the United Nations Security Council.
In the generally accepted agreement of stated purposes, one reads of a “broader council” and “operative cooperation”, for example in “peace keeping” in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. Both secretaries general committed themselves to acting in common to meet threats and challenges.
In these current times of confrontation, one expects from the United Nations secretariat an especially high level of political neutrality. The UN/NATO accord is anything but neutral and will thus not remain without serious consequences. The Russian representative to NATO in Brussels, Dmitry Rogozin, has characterized the United Nations agreement with NATO, a politico-military structure, as “illegal”; Serge Lavrov, former Russian ambassador to the United Nations in New York and current Russian foreign minister has declared himself “shocked” that such a pact has been ratified in secret and without consultation.
UN-NATO-accord: incompatible with UN Charter
Several important questions thus arise:
Is the United Nations accord with NATO – a military alliance with nuclear weapons – in contradiction with Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, which requires that conflicts be resolved by peaceful means? Can UN and NATO actions be distinguished when three of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are also NATO members? How can future violations of international law by NATO be legally prosecuted? Is an institution like NATO, which in 1999, without a UN mandate, unlawfully bombed Serbia and Kosovo, a suitable partner for the United Nations?
UN mandate makes NATO obsolete
Any evaluation of the UN/NATO pact must take into account that NATO is a relic of the Cold War; that NATO, as a Western alliance, is regarded with considerable mistrust by the other 166 United Nations member states; that a primary NATO aim is to assert, by military means, its energy and power interests in opposition to other United Nations member states and that the United States, a founding member of the NATO community, in the most unscrupulous ways, has disparaged the United Nations and broken international law. (7)
Finally, it must be pointed out that the Charter of the United Nations provides for a Military Staff Committee, whose mandate is to advise and assist the United Nations Security Council “on all questions relating to the Security Council’s military requirements for the maintenance of international peace and security.” (8) If it is thus a matter of NATO countries looking after the well-being of the international community and not the interests of small group of states, then the United Nations mandate makes NATO obsolete!
It is urgent that one or several member states petition the International Court of Justice to rule on the interpretation of the UN/NATO pact of 23 September 2008, in conformity with the Courts statutes. (9)
The people of the world have a right to request such a ruling and a right to expect an answer. It will be recalled that the preamble to the Charter of the United Nations Charter states, “We, the peoples of the United Nations, determined […] to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained,” and not “We, the governments”! (10)
Thus, the question of what road the peoples of the world should take would be answered. Whoever seeks to serve the cause of peace and conflict resolution must take the rough road of United Nations multilateralism and eschew the smooth road of the NATO alliance. As the Canadian foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy said to the Security Council in 1998: “We must find our way to multilateralism, which exists for the benefit of the world community and not for the self-interest of the few.” The way to it will be a long one, for there has never yet been a multilateralism of this kind.
In 1994, the United Nations began promoting the concept of “human security”. In so doing, it wished to emphasize how important it is to see human rights as part of the daily lives of individual persons – freedom from fear and freedom from want. In 2000, for the first time in the history of the United Nations, development goals were quantified. This represents real progress for the strengthening of human security. Eight so-called Millennium Development Goals in the fight against poverty, child and mother mortality, primary education etc. are to be reached between 2000 and 2015. “Military humanism” – deception for self-interests
In this way, the United Nations seeks to make clear that besides country-related (national/military) security, there is also human-related security. Advocates of national security, for example governments, whose goal is military security through the strengthening of alliances such as NATO, know this.
They openly speak of “military humanism”. They pursue their legitimate interests. From this comes their interpretation of the new concept of “responsibility to protect”. (11)
This is a sham, for it is a matter of advancing specific, individual interests and not of simply protecting the innocent. Were this really the case, it would be obvious in Afghanistan, Darfur, Gaza, Goma, Somalia, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
In all areas of human security, there has been progress. Yet it improbable that the Millennium Goals will become reality by 2015. A sum of $135 billion will be needed for the attainment of these goals in the remaining time of 2009–2015. This comes to $ 22.5 billion per year. Those who claim that this is a huge sum probably do not realize that the United States spends $ 180 billion per year for its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – or that in late 2008 the countries affected by the economic and financial crisis made available at a few days’ notice some $ 3,000 billion (!) for the bailout of mismanaged institutions in need of reform within their borders.
The possibilities are available – the political will is required

The success of the United Nations Millennium Goals is not a question of money even in the context of the present economically critical times. Progress in the area of increased human security requires political will for such a transformation. Over the previous decades of international discussion about financing international cooperation, it has been repeatedly demonstrated that it would be easy to create innovative financing alternatives. (12) Plausible suggestions are ignored or rejected. Many governments fear that the independence of international institutions such as the United Nations might become too great.
Those who in the twenty-first century want to live in peace will encounter no difficulty in choosing the road to follow. Access to this road is open. The Charter of the United Nations, which is to be the means by which we beat swords into ploughshares and not ploughshares into swords, remains the basis for human progress and security.
1. The new alliances include i) the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), founded in 2001 by China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Its main objective is security in Central Asia. India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia enjoy observer status with the SCO. ii) Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) created a political and commercial community in 2001, and iii) Brazil, India and South Africa, a combination that has on several occasions brought about the downfall of the WTO Doha trade round on the grounds of a dispute on tariffs. 2. Dag Hammerskjoeld, born near Lund (Sweden) in 1905. He was the second UN Secretary General from 1953 to 1961, when he was killed in a mysterious air crash near the Congo border in Rhodesia. 3. See: Swedish International Institute for Peace Research (SIPRI), 2008 Almanac, 9 June 2008. 4. See: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Aid Targets Slippage out of Reach? DAC 1 Official and Private (Aid) Flows. 5. According to a 1969 UN guideline, donor countries should provide 0.7% of their GNP each year for international development cooperation. Only Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden have so far achieved this target. 6. In 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted eight development objectives for the period 2000–2015. These include reducing hunger and poverty by 50%, basic schooling for all children, equality of men and women, reducing child mortality by 66% and mortality rates for women in connection with childbirth by 75%. 7. The keywords are the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and torture flights. 8. Chapter VII Article 47 of the UN Charter provides for a Military Staff Committee consisting of the chiefs of staff of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Although it has never been convened since 1945, the Article has remained in effect. 9. The statute of the International Court of Justice is given jurisdiction for the interpretation of treaties by Chapter XII, Article 36. 10. See Preamble to the UN Charter. 11. This concept is mentioned in the UN Document 2005 World Summit Outcome (A/60/L.1 – 15 September 2005), paras. 138 and 139, see also para. 79). In this document, the UN General Assembly clearly states that only the Security Council has the right to use Chapter VII of the Charter to protect populations against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, if necessary using force. 12. The innovatory proposals for financing also include the “Tobin tax” named after James Tobin, an American economist, who in 1972 proposed that a tax (0.05-1.00%) should be levied on international currency transactions that could be used inter alia to finance development aid.
Seven challenges for the present:
1) Progress towards a fundamental reform of the UN as a global objective. Multilateralism in the interests of humanity can be achieved; 2) Return to the principles of the UN Charter. The UN must no longer simply be a political toolbox; 3) Recognition and furtherance of human security as the priority for dignified survival. Military security cannot substitute for human security; 4) Compliance with international law. Political responsibility without having to render accounts for the consequences of actions must not be permitted; 5) Abandonment of the free (and anarchic) market economy. Order, supervision and control of the economy and of the finance industry are a guarantee and not a threat to democracy; 6) Urgency of a UN declaration against double standards. The elimination of special rights for alliances is a precondition for settling conflicts and serves peace; 7) Development of ethical principles for state and governmental information and media standards. Organized untruths must be punished. Finally, an appeal to the general public to continue to make demands of the body politic and to take a more active role in contemporary events. Dag Hammerskjoeld used the term “negotiations with oneself.”

Hans von Sponeck is former UN Assistant Secretary General and Chairman of the Centre for the UN Millenium Development Goals in Basel, Switzerland. He is a Councilor of the World Future Council.