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March 25, 2003


A Modest Proposal to the City of San Francisco

By Scott Harrison (abanplanet@earthlink.net)

San Francisco is not an ordinary city. Aside from the clear and obvious distinctions is the fact that the United Nations Charter was signed here in June of 1945. Essentially, this world body, dedicated to peaceful resolution between nations, was born on our doorstep. For me personally, as a citizen of San Francisco, this suggests that the city bears some strong responsibilities for its welfare.

Unfortunately, the U.N. is seriously faulted. Helped into being by Eleanor Roosevelt and descended from the League of Nations, the United Nations has some serious shortcomings. One problem is the disproportionate power of a few select members in the elite Security Council. Of the more than 185 regular members, only fifteen have seats on the Security Council. Of these fifteen, only five have permanent seats. Why India doesnít have a permanent seat? That seems totally mistaken. But regardless of who should have seats, the arrangement seems clearly undemocratic. Furthermore, the five permanent members each have the power to veto any Security Council initiative. This exposes an already-undemocratic body to possible bullying by one member. In fact, this has happened over and over again.

Iím also troubled by the fact that, if nations are ruled by brutal tyrants and these tyrants send their emissaries to meet with their counterparts in New York, no one represents those nationís actual people. Who speaks for the silenced? The oppressed?

Nevertheless, it is our child, and I think we should love it despite its faults (while at the same time working to correct them). The United Nations has done some incredibly good work. It has organized nations to address the roots of war -- first by decolonializing right after WWII and then by getting deeply into the issues of land, poverty, hunger, water and other resources, and the legitimacy of divergent ethnic or racial groups, by sponsoring world conferences on the status of women, of children, on education, on the environment and population problems. Some very fine results have come from a group that barely has the budget of the New York police department.

When George Bush went to the United Nations to win consensus so that he and his Washington entourage could indulge in this present war on Iraq, when he then aborted the task of getting U.N. endorsement when it was clearly not working (for him), he didnít merely attack Iraq. He attacked the United Nations and all that it stands for. I think this should bother us. It certainly upset me. He broadsided the will of countless small nations (and large ones) that donít like bullies. He went completely contrary to all the principles of the United Nations.

It seems to me proper that, in turn, San Francisco should voice its opposition, by formally recommending that U.S. membership in the United Nations should be suspended. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, or the mayor, or both (wouldnít that be something!) should say to U.N. Headquarters in New York that the city where the United Nations was born finds this U.S. behavior unacceptable. The U.N. Charter clearly provides for this kind of action, for Article 6 states: ďA Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization.Ē I have read the Charter and it seems to me that what the United States has done goes directly against the letter, the spirit, and the intended purpose of the United Nations.

The reason the United States would not actually be suspended or expelled is the very reason for making the recommendation: expulsion is to be done ďupon the recommendation of the Security Council.Ē The one the United States has veto power in.

But if a vote were taken anyway, even though it could not pass, it would still be a vote of no confidence. It would also be a condemnation of this war and a message: if you wish to violate every one of the principles we were founded upon (beginning in San Francisco), then you (and all your money) are not welcome here.

If the United Nations does not dare to stand up against military aggression, who will?