Can the UN’s new chief make it fit for purpose?

ONE of my old editors – a proud veteran of the Royal Marines, which provided some insight into his military terminology – had a stock query every time I hired a new staffer: “What are they like, Hugh? Are they clean about the neck?”

   This had zilch to do with army jarhead haircuts, but echoed Margaret Thatcher question to confidantes whenever a fresh face appeared during her tenure of 10 Downing Street: “Are they one of us?” she’d shrill.      Both were euphemism for: “Can we trust them?”   
   That was the perennial question Jews asked for two millennia every time they were confronted by change in a host nation’s management, whether it was a new emperor, czar, sultan, king or overlord by any other name.
   Not that Jews are innately neophobic, but they still have ample justification to ask the self-same query today, particularly regarding a future American president or a Secretary General of the United Nations.
  Certainly prevailing wisdom suggests either of the distasteful pair contesting tenancy of the White House can only be a vast improvement on ‘back-off’ Obama and his cockamamie foreign policy of love thine enemy, punish thy friend.
   Meanwhile, there is another name poised to take center stage. And, like a US President, his authority will greatly impact on Israel: UN Secretary General-designate, António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres.
   On January 1, the former Portugal prime minister assumes responsibility for what is one of the most venal, inept, flawed, biased, spendthrift and hypocritical of disorganizations.
   Now in its 72nd year, the UN’s founding fathers – notably President Franklin Roosevelt – must be whirling in their graves in disgust at how their vision of a body intended to bring peace to a devastated, post-war world has begotten a corpse of grubby self-interest, bare-faced cheating and vicious spite.
   Of the 51 original members, only the Soviet Bloc, China and the former Yugoslavia – all WW2 allies – weren’t democracies, even if the probity of some (e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and South Africa) was dubious.
   Nonetheless, all were signatories to the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which ‘reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights and dignity, and worth of the human person’, while committing all member states to promote ‘universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’
   Fine words, noble aims; but fast-forward seven decades and what have we now…193 states – plus two with observer status, one being the ‘State of Palestine’ – a disreputable number of whom couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for club rules apropos human rights, gender equality or inter-faith tolerance.
   So, only at the UN can indictable tyrannies like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Sudan – with their penchants for religious fanaticism, financing terror and judicial codes beyond the barbaric – bask in the fading ‘halo effect’ membership confers.
   Unsurprisingly, then, led by a succession of Secretaries General, some unfit to be short-order chefs, the liberal democracies find themselves victims of a naïve delusion that somehow their tools of egalitarian governance were beckoning to be adopted by countries where people-power registered zero or, if it dared show itself, was brutally crushed.
   Former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, nailed the UN splendidly when he noted, ‘No organisation embodies as many dreams, yet provides so many frustrations. For most of its history, the Security Council has been the prisoner of great-power maneuvering; the General Assembly a theater of empty rhetoric; the Economic and Social Council a largely dysfunctional irrelevance; and the Secretariat, for all the dedication and brilliance of a host of individuals, alarmingly inefficient.’
   At least, as High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres should have a vague notion of what a poisoned chalice he’s inheriting in taking charge of a fatuous waffling show, with so much extraneous CO2 it could blow a chasm the size of Alaska in the ozone layer.
   And if the man is the honest broker he claims to be, Guterres will quickly revamp several umbrella agencies, starting with – I earnestly hope – UNESCO, the educational, scientific and cultural organization, otherwise known as a platform for Third World dictators to trash the West and, specifically, Israel.
   Its latest, loony edict – slammed by its own director general, Irina Bokova – to eradicate Jewish and Christian history from Temple Mount, Jerusalem and the Western Wall, while recognizing only Islam’s claim to these holy sites, demonstrates the urgent need for UNESCO’s board members to be referred to a psychiatrist.
   Guterres might also like to probe the need for and vast expense of UNRWA, the Relief and Works Agency, dedicated for 67 years to solely supporting Palestinians. He might further ponder why the estimated 652,000 ‘exiles’ of 1949 mushroomed into a biblical-sized multitude of five million, as their descendants were bequeathed their forefathers’ refugee status.
   Indeed, the former engineering professor will have much to occupy him in 2017, as many sage voices call for a serious reappraisal of the UN’s fitness for purpose, not to say cost – a thwacking US$30-billion per annum, the tab mainly picked up by American and European taxpayers.
   Hence, an idea being widely touted is for the UN to be evicted from its palatial tower overlooking New York’s East River and packed off somewhere more in kilter with its skewered ethos – Doha and Khartoum have been mentioned.
   Then, maybe, a Western-leaning Organisation of Democratic Nations – even if it accommodates China and Russia on the basis they are political and economic powerhouses – may emerge, thus docking the preposterous Third World tail wagging the First World dog.
   Only then may it dawn on the post-medieval despots that the West has had a bellyful of their inanity and insanity, and they should dump their self-inflicted woes in their own lap, not ours.