Few sacred borders to new UN
From Kosovo to E. Timor, the world body favors guarding lives over
As Australian soldiers fanned out this week to restore order in East Timor, and United Nations diplomats voted to launch an international investigation of alleged murders, pillage, and rape there by Indonesian forces, they were doing more than trying to heal a broken land.Skip to next paragraph
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They also were acting as shock troops in a dramatic clash that could reshape international relations. Four months after the war in Kosovo, the world was again meddling in a nation state's business, and claiming a "humanitarian" right to ignore national sovereignty.
"This developing international norm in favor of intervention to protect civilians from wholesale slaughter is an evolution that we should welcome," UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan said in his opening speech to the UN General Assembly last week.
No it isn't, retorted Chinese foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan in a speech two days later. National sovereignty and noninterference in another country's affairs "are the basic principles governing international relations," he insisted, reflecting the views of most governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
"There is going to be continuing tension between these two views for a long time," says Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. "It is not going to be resolved this year. In the meantime, you can expect a fair amount of messiness."
Horrified by the way the world stood by and did little or nothing to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda, Mr. Annan has become a passionate standard-bearer for the cause of humanitarian intervention.
"State sovereignty, in its most basic sense, is being redefined by the forces of globalization and international cooperation," he said, while "individual sovereignty ... has been enhanced by a renewed consciousness of the right of every individual to control his or her own destiny.
"Massive and systematic violations of human rights, wherever they take place, should not be allowed to stand," he said.
His speech shocked many observers. "The general principle of an occasional need to intervene where there are ghastly violations [of human rights] is a good one," says Adam Roberts, a professor and international law expert at Oxford University in England. "The risk is he may seem to be opening a door to lots of interventions and run headlong into national sovereignty concerns."
He did indeed. Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh argued that "The state continues to have a crucial role and relevance, also, therefore, national sovereignties." Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, speaking for the Organization of African Unity, described national sovereignty as "our last protection from the rules of an unjust world." Mr. Tang warned that "the outbreak of war in Kosovo has sounded an alarm for us all."
Coming to Annan's defense was President Clinton. "The outcome in Kosovo is hopeful," he said. "Ethnic cleansers and mass murderers can find no refuge in the United Nations, no source of comfort or justification in its charter."