Turkey, North Korea, Syria and Venezuela: hypocrites with no UN veto

Friday April 21 2017

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In international politics, there is not much difference between a camel and a horse.

In fact, a camel is a horse, the final result of a commission of international experts who came together to design a horse.

One delegate said the horse’s legs should be a little longer, while another said that a horse should retain more water so as to be more efficient.

A longer nose to smell further and possibly bigger ears and a longer tail, and so it went, until the end result was a different animal altogether. 

This anonymous camel-horse story, which I always like telling, portrays how difficult it is for people from different cultural and legal backgrounds to reach any sort of consensus on anything.

It also shows why it is impossible to create an effective, efficient international institution without a strong, resolute and sincere common goal.

Several years ago, I sat in one of the UN meeting rooms with one of the world's best experts in treaty drafting. The meeting had been dramatic and frustrating.


After long hours of empty talk, there was still no consensus. Permanent representatives had agreed to disagree. It was madness.

They were not experts, yet they were deciding the fate of key scientific and legal agreements. They mutilated them at will, sometimes with no instructions and directions from their own governments, but simply their own personal and political imagination.

The original document had changed so drastically that it now looked disjointed and was on its way to be adopted in its dysfunctional form. It was clear to me that some ambassadors had derailed the whole discussion. 

Undoubtedly, most of the vocal gentlemen (all of them were old men) were not experts, just political appointees with a very limited grasp. They were supposed to be the negotiators, the driving force of a technical document they couldn’t understand.

I have nothing against political appointees, provided they keep quiet when they are not conversant with the subject matter. Political appointees are essential for the smooth functioning of international bodies. After all, international bodies are, essentially, political bodies.

But I always had many reservations against political appointees who talked, made noise and demanded their will to be followed when they knew little or nothing about the subject under discussion.


In 1945, we created the United Nations, an amazing, unique body. Its goal was to bring humanity together to prevent devastating wars and its essence was dialogue and peer pressure in the pursuit and maintenance of peace.

In the following years, key institutions were created with similar, though more concrete and restricted roles. These included almost 30 UN agencies and programmes.

Besides the UN and its associated bodies, governments in the post-war period came together and created ideological political groupings and alliances, organisations to regulate, boost or endorse issues related to the environment, fisheries, finances, maritime operations, trade, migration, arms control, energy, culture, ethnicity, linguistics, education and other areas. Bodies also mushroomed at the regional level.

As time passed, any international meeting developed into a convention that established a secretariat. It looked like any problem had to be resolved by establishing an international body, which organised many meetings, in different venues, to discuss the same issues.

As conventions grew so did the size of the business class compartments in the airline industry. Everything was paid for by the taxpayer, and the burden of tax became also international.

This was all necessary to a certain point. The mushrooming of international bodies diverted tensions from guns to pens, from cannons to speeches. We have not had a world war in 70 years.


We may insult each other at the negotiating table, we may disagree and threaten our neighbours and enemies, but it all remains at the table. In the old days, a war would be declared; back then men were disposable.

Nevertheless, the fact that international organisations mushroomed all over, and that we signed and ratified every type of agreement, did not mean that our problems were solved, for there is a huge gap between politics and the law in the world.

For example, it is said that the United Nations has “193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations (UN) and have equal representation in the UN General Assembly.” They are all “equal” and they have signed and ratified the UN Charter. But, are they all really equal?

The top 20 countries in the world contribute 83.78 percent of the UN budget, while 173 countries pay only 16.22 percent. The US alone chips in 22 per cent, Germany pays for 6 per cent, while Tanzania brings 0.01 per cent. Are we all equal?

The biggest sign of inequality is the veto power granted to the five great world rulers, the permanent members of the Security Council: Russia, China, the United States, France and Great Britain.

Incidentally, they are not the biggest contributors, but they were the victors of a war that paved the way for the birth of the UN.


These five members can decide to stop the wheels of justice at the International Criminal Court and the execution of a decision by the International Court of Justice.

They can agree to jeopardise the responsibility to protect as has happened in Syria and look the other way when Turkey turns into a dictatorship.

They can choose not to see when human rights in North Korea are degraded and when Venezuela gasps her last, choked by tear gas in retaliation for demanding food and medicines from a government that has slowly and smoothly slipped into a dictatorship.

A country with the world’s biggest oil reserves, which used to be the fifth largest oil producer worldwide, until the government stopped producing statistics and the national budget became an enigma. An immensely rich country in tatters.

Nobody can preach democracy through a body that is so undemocratic, or equality through inequality or fairness through favouritism.

The veto power of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council is the biggest undermining factor to this so-called world equality.

Until the veto power is addressed and resolved, world equality, fairness, and international responsibility will be compromised by the political, military and economic interests of a small club, a club that has the power to destroy the world at their fingertips, with the push of a single button.

It will all be hypocrisy, and world peace will simply mean the temporary absence of war.