Last week Kofi Annan visited New Delhi. And, almost no one knew he had been there till he was gone. On April 28 he gave an immensely important, carefully structured, lecture at the India International Centre. Outside the centre the vans of the TV news channels were out in force, their aerials extended, generators humming. But when I decided to listen to him in the comfort of my living room, I found to my horror that not one of them was telecasting his speech.
What they were waiting for was a press conference (to which they devoted less than two minutes in the news) in which they asked him whether he backed India's bid for membership of the UN as a veto-holding power - a proposal that has never been on the cards, and has absolutely no chance of being accepted.. Annan came as close to losing his temper as he is capable of.
Perhaps the media were fatigued. They had just covered the visits of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf, and gone to town on the Muzaffarabad bus. But the explanation is not so simple. They gave the UN secretary-general's visit short shrift not out of fatigue but ignorance. Cocooned as we are in a stable although rickety democracy and a still highly regulated economy, we live in sublime ignorance of the epochal changes that are sweeping the world. We are therefore simply not equipped to understand the mission that brought Annan to Delhi.
Annan came to Delhi to unveil his latest report to the international community - In Larger Freedom: Towards Development , Security and Human Rights for all. This report is the culmination of more than half a decade's effort by him to create the architecture of a new international order that can stem the chaos into which the world has been plunged by globalisation. In India we consistently confuse globalisation with economic liberalisation from which most, if not all, of us have benefited. So we have not seen globalisation's dark face. But the rest of the world has not been so fortunate.
In the industrialised world globalisation has eroded the foundations of the welfare state, given birth to chronic unemployment and an acute lack of job security, and robbed the industrial working class of its future. Globalisation has admittedly spread manufacturing industry across the developing world , but it has done so very unevenly. For a quarter or more of the people of the world it has only brought exclusion from global markets, declining real incomes, disease, starvation, predatory elites, insurgency, warlordism, and the disintegration and failure of the state. Human rights have been the first casualties and more and more people live in a state of constant fear.
But the predatory elites of developing countries are not the only culprits. The chaos in the international order has been worsened by the knee-jerk efforts of powerful nations to impose their own conception of order upon the disintegrating international political and economic system. By degrees they have turned the defence of human rights into a pretext for attacking the sovereignty of otherwise stable states that have tried to resist the tide of globalisation. In doing so, in literally every case, they have upset the delicate internal balances on which an orderly society has rested, and opened the floodgates of violence and disorder. In this the US, by virtue of its military supremacy has been by far the worst culprit.
For most of his eight years as secretary-general Annan has devoted himself to finding an alternative both to chaos and to unilateralist attempts at control. In Larger freedom was preceded by two earlier reports, drawn up by panels of eminent persons. The first , titled The Responsibility to Protect, was commissioned in 2000, during the millennium meeting of the UN General Assembly, and devoted itself to spelling out basic principles for reconciling the sovereignty of states with the duty of the international community to protect their citizens when they failed to do so. The report stressed that military intervention for human protection was an exceptional and extraordinary measure justified only by large scale genocide or ethnic cleansing, and could only be authorised by the UN Security Council.
The report was to have been presented to the UN at the beginning of the General Assembly session in 2001 but was overwhelmed by 9 / 11.It was only presented a few days before the session ended in December and therefore went almost unnoticed. But it drew the battle lines between the increasing unilateralism of the US, which had displayed its impatience with the UN, and its penchant for direct action, by bombarding Iraq in December 1998 and orchestrating the bombing of Serbia in 1999.
When the US unveiled its doctrine of pre-emptive (in reality preventive) intervention and thereby served notice that the 400 year-old Westphalian state system that formed the backbone of the UN charter had become obsolete, Annan could simply have rolled over and allowed the US to plough the UN into the earth. But instead he once again took up the challenge of defining the new threats to human society, and rebuilding the case for collective, and only collective, action. To do this he set up another high level panel, which presented a second report in December 2004 titled A more secure world: Our shared responsibility.
The panel not only broadened the concept of security to include protection against disease, economic want, environmental degradation and high risk technologies, but also highlighted the fact that, like global terrorism and the trade in narcotics, these too were threats without borders. It concluded that "No state, no matter how powerful, can by its own efforts alone make itself invulnerable to today's threats. Every state requires the cooperation of other States to make itself secure. It is in every state's interest, accordingly, to cooperate with other states to address their most pressing threats, because doing so will maximise the chances of reciprocal cooperation to address its own threat priorities." It ended by giving a call for "a new comprehensive collective security system that will commit all of them to act cooperatively in the face of a broad array of threats".
In larger freedom, released in New York on March 21, is the distilled essence of the two previous reports. It is in a very real sense Annan's legacy to the world, for as he says in its introduction, "In preparing the present report, I have drawn on my eight years' experience as secretary-general, on my own conscience and convictions, and on my understanding of the Charter of the United Nations whose principles and purposes it is my duty to promote".
When it was released he drew strong criticism from a section of the international media for having downplayed economic development. But what he had in fact done was to reunite economic development with political stability and human security. In Delhi he explained, "you are not meaningfully free if you are exposed to arbitrary violence, whether inflicted by the security forces of other states, or of your own state, or by what we euphemistically call non-state actors… That is why I see "larger freedom" as an overarching concept which includes… development, security and human rights. You cannot really enjoy any one of the three without the other two, and all three need to be underpinned by the Rule of Law".
The rule of law is the philosophical bedrock that lies beneath all of his work as secretary general. The bulk of his report is an impassioned plea to all countries, including ours, to sign on to international conventions in order to make them truly universal. Without quite saying so, he leaves us in no doubt that if we do not do so; if we try to safeguard our individual national sovereignties by standing out, we run the risk of deepening chaos and making the entire international order prey to arbitrary unilateralism. Collective security and collective action to protect individuals from economic want, disease, oppression and death is the only long term alternative.
It does not require much reading between the lines to see that Annan has quietly been trying to chalk out the blueprint for a multilateralist, UN-centred, alternative to American unilateralism. It is hardly surprising therefore that he is not exactly popular in Washington, and that every attempt possible has been made to sully his name. But in the long run, it is the American dream of empire that will wither away and Annan's legacy that will endure.
* The author, a noted analyst and commentator, is a former editor of the Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Financial Express, and a former information adviser to the prime minister of India. He is the author of several books including, The Perilous Road to the Market: The Political Economy of Reform in Russia, India and China, and Kashmir 1947: The Origins of a Dispute, and a regular columnist with several leading publications.