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Tsunami Relief: UN v US « Previous | |Next »
January 8, 2005

There has been a bit of politics being played out between the UN and the US around the emergency relief for the countries devastated by the tsunami. President Bush initially said that the US was in charge:

"We've established a regional core group with India, Japan and Australia to help coordinate relief efforts."

As Simon Tisdall, writing in The Guardian, observes Bush made no mention of the central coordinating role of the United Nations, nor did he offer direct assistance to the several UN agencies that were already tackling the disaster. The impression given was the ambivalence of the US to the UN's leadership role. The US did a big emergency number with money ships, marines and helicopters.

After the Jakarta summit the "core group" was disbanded and the UN's overall control of reconstruction was acknowledged. The UN sees this as an opportunity to regain some credibility.

At issue are long-standing, fundamental tensions between the world's only superpower and the pre-eminent global political organisation. Tisdall says:

The Bush administration craves the legitimacy that only the UN can confer on its policies in places such as Iraq. On the other hand, it resents attempts by other countries, acting through the UN, to place restraints on its exercise of power.

Since the cold war ended, the UN has become the principal battleground where states' practical and ideological differences over the application of international law, multilateralist versus unilateralist solutions, and the "Bush doctrine" of pre-emptive force are fought out.

However, the conflict is more than this.It is also about the kind of development of the Southeast Asian region that needs to take place to restore lost livelihoods. The UN is going to use the reconstruction to go beyond delivery aid to push for its Millennium Development Goals of reducing poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women.

The US and Australia are not that happy about this socially driven agenda since this kind of reconstruction delinks aid from western business interests, American influence in the region, and Washington's demands for US-style democracy and a market economy to be imposed everywhere.

Australia has already opted out of the UN with its bilateral arrangment with Indonesia. No doubt the US will seek to head off a revitalised UN. The UN will be allowed some independence but only up to a point.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:55 PM | | Comments (0)