Foreign musings

The Australian media produces a lot of pedestrian and sloppy thinking on foreign affairs. But thankfully, The Australian has in its employ one Michael Costello, the former Secretary of DFAT and later Chief of Staff to Opposition Leader Kim Beazley. Over the past two years, Costello has repeatedly produced clear-eyed commentary on issues international, bringing to the table a wealth of experience and knowledge and eschewing feel-good, wishful analysis. This is especially reassuring for a Labor boy like me: Costello is prepared, in the best tradition of Labor foreign policy (from Evatt to Evans), to peddle hard-headed idealism rather than the foreign policy posturing so often served up in Labor circles these days.

In today’s Australian, Costello has written an interesting article on the possibility that Israel may, sometime in the next year or two, decide to strike Iran’s developing nuclear weapons facilities. This issue has been receiving a bit of press in US foreign policy circles recently and is definitely something to keep an eye on. But what is of note in Costello’s article is his blistering attack on some sacred cows of the left: the UN, Hans Blix, and France. He asks why Israel should rely for its protection on the international community and the UN, when it has shown itself recently to be so incapable of taking proactive decisions. Costello rightly ends his article by chastising the international community – whether in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Rwanda or Darfur – for failing the great promise of those who founded the UN with such high hope.

While on this topic, I read in today’s papers that UNSG Kofi Annan has for the first time expressed his view that the war in Iraq was “illegal”. John Howard responded by saying that the UN was a “paralysed” institution and challenged the UNSG’s interpretation of international law. Interestingly, here’s what Michael Costello had to say about the legality of the war at the time: “This is the simplest international legal issue I have ever seen. It is clear, uncomplicated, straightforward, the legal authority is there.” Whatever the case may be, it’s certainly strange for the UNSG to weigh into such a controversial issue.

I quite like Kofi Annan, from what I read about him. He clearly holds a very difficult job, where it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, as Boutros Ghali eventually discovered in the mid 1990s. But I have always found it strange that people repeatedly call for the resignation of, say, a Donald Rumsfeld or a Paul Wolfowitz, for their miscalculations in Iraq, yet the world is silent on Kofi Annan’s ever increasing list of policy mishandlings (in his capacity as UNSG and, before that, Under Secretary for Peacekeeping): Rwanda, Srebrenica, the Oil for Food program in Iraq, and now Darfur. Maybe the analogy is not fair and I’m doing a grave disservice to Kofi Annan. But I would have thought that policy accountability was equally important at the UN as for a nation-state?

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