A World Astir|Jul 12, 2003 3:11 PM| by:

The “Iraq Crisis” and the Role of the United Nations

After the downfall of the communist governments in the former Soviet Union and the so called “Eastern bloc”, we can observe – within the United Nations – a new, dynamic and encouraging development replacing the undermining and often bizarre policy of blockade and “veto” by a constructive dialogue and growing atmosphere of trust, not only among the so called “superpowers”, but as well between them and the until then largely neglected “smaller nations”.

The Iraq War and the preceding decision-making processes, however, seemed to have disrupted, at least overshadowed, these significant achievements, the basic unity and understanding within the United Nations – even the value and meaning of the institution as such.

What is the reason for this sudden and unexpected “failure” of the United Nations? Do the United Nations- considering these recent developments – have any future at all? Or have they degenerated into a “talk-shop”, into a mere instrument of certain nations or coalitions deriving its “right to exist” only from serving their particular interests? Do we still need them at all?

Before we try to shed some light on the current situation and the deeper roots of the crisis within the United Nations, we may define the ideal of an international community, an international organisation in the words of Sri Aurobindo:
“The ideal society or State is that in which respect for individual liberty and free growth of the personal being to his perfection is harmonised with respect for the needs, efficiency, solidarity, natural growth and organic perfection of the corporate being, the society or nation. In an ideal aggregate of all humanity, in the international society or State, national liberty and free national growth and self-realisation ought in the same way to be progressively harmonised with the solidarity and unified growth and perfection of the human race.”

And indeed, we find this ideal differently but beautifully expressed within the charter of the United Nations:

Article 1
The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1.    to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;
2.    to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;
3.    To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and
4.    to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends

Article 2

1.    The Organisation is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.
2.    …………..

The Iraq Crisis has highlighted the fact that this ideal cannot be realised within the current structures, bodies and decision-making processes of the United Nations. The international community as defined by article 2 of the UN-Charter did never act (and was not even consulted), but just a small selection represented by the members of the UN Security Council. From the very beginning the potentially binding vote of this selective body was already reduced to absurdity by the “threat of veto” of one or the other interest group or nation.

Even worse – there was and is still remaining the strong impression that the United Nations should have been misused to formally and morally justify – with the label “in the name of mankind”- a decision already taken and motivated by a purely national interest. When it became more and more obvious that this could not be attained through the international community and their respective bodies, the United Nations were simply ignored.

And indeed, here we could observe “in practice” what Sri Aurobindo has elaborated on in his work “The Ideal of Human Unity” about 90 years ago:
“But here the constituents would be a small number of nations, some of them powerful empires, well able to look around them, measure their own force, make sure of their allies, calculate the forces against them; the chances of success or failure would be all that they would have to consider. And the soldiers of the composite army would belong at heart to their country and not at all to the nebulous entity which controlled them. Therefore, pending the actual evolution of an international State so constituted as to be something other than a mere loose conglomerate of nations or rather a palaver of the deputies of national governments, the reign of peace and unity dreamed of by the idealist could never be possible by these political or administrative means or, if possible, could never be secure…….. The law is always the same, that wherever egoism is the root of action it must bear its own proper results and reactions and, however minimised and kept down they may be by an external machinery, their eventual outburst is sure and can be delayed but not prevented for ever.”

Thus, in the end, it is the “Ego of Nations” that thwarts all efforts to manifest the ideal of the United Nations in international politics. It is, therefore, the “Ego of Nations” that has to be transformed or overcome. How may this tremendous goal be achieved?

As in the individual, as well in a collective body the ego can only be overcome, finally delivered or surrendered to the Divine, if some kind of “person” has been developed in the first place, has emerged from a dumb and more or less indefinable mass to an individual and individualised, somehow “self-conscious” entity – or, to translate this into “political terminology”,  through a true “self-determination of the nations”.

How do we have to understand, how can we define this rather vague and broad term of “self-determination”?
In the words of Sri Aurobindo:
“But the new principle proposed, that of the right of every natural grouping which feels its own separateness to choose its own status and partnerships, makes a clean sweep of these vital and physical grounds and substitutes a purely psychological principle of free-will and free choice as against the claims of political and economic necessity.”

And considering this “psychological principle of free-will” set against the claims of “political and economic necessity” the Iraq Crisis might have triggered – for the first time since the end of the Second World War – an astonishing and very encouraging development. Instead of strengthening existing structures, alliances and interest groups, we could observe the initial stages of an unexpected, even breathtaking process of world-wide individualisation. Almost every nation has – in one way or the other –encountered, has been confronted with its own “consciousness”, its values, moral standards, historical responsibility, but as well with its fears and deep rooted uneasiness. It was forced to “look upon itself”, “turn its gaze within”, to define its view and standpoint, to openly express and “justify” it. Whatever motivation did form the basis of the final decision taken by its government, if this decision was considered to be “right” or “wrong”, will, in the end, be of no major importance. Nations like France, Poland, Germany, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Australia, Turkey, the United Kingdom as well as, of course, the United States of America, have been undergoing an amazing process of  “self-determination”, an important and very encouraging step towards “individualisation”. The disruption of the so desperately evoked “European Unity”, this potential seed of an, in the end probably reactionary and even dangerous concept of the “United States of Europe”, might have been a quite positive and welcomed “side effect” of this global development.

In this light the Iraq Crisis has not only uncovered the always existing problems within the United Nations, but at the same time initiated the indispensable world-wide process of the “individualisation of the nations”, the initial phase of a true “self-determination” on psychological rather than political or economic principles.

Thus, there is good reason to look upon the “Iraq-turmoil” with a positive attitude and optimistic confidence.

Since even when the political organisation of the world and the individualisation of the nations are still based, in fact, mainly on physical and vital interests – in other words, dominated by geographical, commercial, political and military concepts – the great majority of nations as well as the United Nations as current expression of the international community bear and embody within their respective constitutions a different, progressive spirit and ideal, which is gradually manifesting and slowly but with certainty replacing the old motives as well as the outdated national and international structures.

In this context, may the “failure” of the United Nations be judged differently as an “intuitive” rejection to sanction or serve neither the one nor the other physical-vital national or imperial interest? Of course, in the end, this as well is nothing but a mental “conclusion”, another “concept”, but may prove to be equally valid as the widely accepted contrary viewpoint: the condemnation of the United Nations as a mere “talk shop” incapable of proper action.

Upon this background the future role and the simple “existence” of the United Nations in their current form might depend, first, on the rapidity of the process of individualisation among the nations, secondly, on the UN’s capability to keep – in spite of “counteracting” international crisis – their ideal of the peoples’ self-determination within a harmonious “togetherness”, of the free development of nations within an international community based on a common psychological understanding.

In this context, it may be of crucial importance, to what extent the United Nations are prepared to give room for the unfolding of this ideal within necessarily existing administrative and political structures, to what extent they are willing to keep an utmost flexibility to adapt these structures to new political and psychological developments. As an important mile and touchstone could serve – in this respect – the sacrifice of the historically motivated and definitely outdated “right to veto”, granted only to a few representatives of the international community.

Georg Stollenwerk

(Georg Stollenwerk is from Germany. His work has taken him to all parts of Germany and to many countries outside and also given him the opportunity to watch at close quarters the evolving political, economic and social situation. Being a spiritual seeker he attempts here to look at these from a deeper insight.)