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Klaus questions global governance in UN speech

President wary of economic regulation, as Iran-U.S. war of words heats up

By Jack Buehrer




The Czech President Vacla Klaus addresses the United Nations in September, 2010.


New York. President Václav Klaus delivered pointed criticism of the role the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations have played in the wake of the world financial crisis and expressed support for a drive to reform key UN institutions like the Security Council during a September 25, 2010 speech.

Klaus spoke at the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly and argued intergovernmental bodies should reduce their role in policing the world economy.

The solution, Klaus said, to the worldwide economic crisis "doesn't lie in more bureaucracy, in creating new governmental and supranational agencies, or in aiming at global governance of the world's economy."

While President Václav Klaus spoke on the final day of the opening of the UN General Assembly Sept. 25, he was hardly the main attraction. Both at the podium and on the sidelines, big names in global politics made waves.

Ever the showman, Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad took the opportunity of a visit to New York to suggest that the "some segments within the U.S. government orchestrated the [9/11] attacks to reverse the declining American economy, and its foothold in the Middle East, in order also to save the Zionist regime," a reference to Israel.

The comments prompted representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, France and elsewhere to walk out of the assembly hall mid-speech Sept. 23.

In an interesting parallel development, Russia announced Sept. 22 that it would cease the sale of all advanced weaponry to Iran. A decree signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev brings Russian policy in line with the latest round of sanctions approved by the UN Security Council in June.

U.S. President Barack Obama reacted to Ahmadeinjad's speech, calling it "hateful" and "offensive." In his own speech Sept. 21, Obama emphasized a worldwide push for human rights and democracy, echoing, for some, the agenda of the previous Bush administration.

"Part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others," Obama said. "That belief will guide America's leadership in this 21st century." 

Instead, Klaus said international organizations like the UN should focus on trimming their own fat, echoing similar speeches the president has delivered on another intergovernmental body - the European Union.

"This is the time for international organizations, including the United Nations, to reduce their expenditures, make their administrations thinner and leave the solutions to the governments of member states," he said.

Klaus also criticized the world's collective response to the global recession, arguing that the collapse of the markets did not necessitate more government regulation.

"I'm afraid we are moving in a wrong direction," he said. "It is not possible to prevent any future crisis by implementing substantial, market-damaging macroeconomic and regulatory government interventions as is the case now. It is only possible to destroy the markets and, together with them, the chances for economic growth and prosperity."

Speaking on day three of the assembly opening, Klaus addressed a nearly empty General Assembly Hall, a room that just a few days earlier had seen controversial speeches by U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered before standing-room only crowds. By the day of Klaus' speech, which took place on a Saturday, many of the 192 presidents, prime ministers and kings and their delegations who had flooded the east side of Manhattan earlier in the week had left New York.

Dressed in a dark suit and a black-and-orange striped tie, Klaus joined several other EU leaders in criticizing the UN for failing to implement meaningful reform as the world's landscape has changed over the years. While Klaus did not mention it specifically, he seemed to allude to long-discussed proposals to reform the UN Security Council which still includes the same five permanent members it did when the UN was founded: China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Many have advocated permanent spots for major economic powers like Germany and Japan, as well as emerging powers like Brazil and India. Some also advocate a permanent spot for at least one African country, likely South Africa.  

Klaus, whose strong words were contrasted by a quiet, stoic delivery, rarely raised his head as he read from notes, and said the changing world has made it imperative that the UN look at itself differently than when it was created in 1945 with only 51 nations.

"It's 192 [countries] now," he said. "My country is deeply convinced that the structure of the United Nations needs to be different ... to reflect the geo-political, economic and demographic reality of the 21st century. It's frustrating that discussions about such reform have been going on for the past 16 years without results."

He added that the UN needs to be careful not to confuse reform with creating an over-reaching agenda of global governance.

"I don't think the UN needs to search for a new mission," he said. "[Its] role is not to push for global governance and to play the central role in it. The UN exists primarily to enhance friendly relations among its members and to look for solutions to problems which can't be confined to national boundaries."

In similar addresses to the General Assembly that offered criticism of the UN Sept. 25, Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende pointed out that the UN's social and economic targets known as the Millennium Development Goals are supposed to be reached by 2015 but have thus far achieved "mixed results."

Klaus' delegation, which included his political adviser, Pavel Fischer, and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, arrived in the United States Sept. 21. The president had a busy week as he attended Obama's speech to the General Assembly before traveling to Washington, D.C. to speak at Johns Hopkins University Sept. 24.

During his speech in the U.S. capital, Klaus had the EU firmly in his sights. He criticized the controversial Lisbon Treaty as a step backward and potentially "freedom and prosperity endangering."

"Some of us are not happy to be brought back to the centrally organized and controlled world that we got rid of more than 20 years ago," Klaus said.

He facetiously said he was "in favor of accepting anyone in the EU."

"I have problems explaining that an Estonian or a Lithuanian or a Greek representative of the EU mission can represent Czech interests in Namibia," he said. "I think that is total nonsense."

Klaus also called the concept of global warming "total leftist cosmopolitan nonsense," and said he will "try to kill this idea."

The U.S. visit also included a trip to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, about four hours northwest of New York City. Klaus briefly studied economics at the university in the late 1960s.



Copyright 2010 The Prague Post

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, News, Politics and Science, Nr. 160, October 2010