Hasmy-Our new man at the UN

7 Jun 1998

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The Security-Council reform is an ongoing exercise which does not seem as it would conclude in the near future.

Meetings on the reform is expected to fill much of Hasmy's calendar for the two years or more as it is evident that the US has not been showing much respect for the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the largely ceremonial august body.

A Japanese diplomat asked me: "Is that so?" Indeed, why are the Americans so disrespectful of the UNGA? As I perceive it, it is because UNGA is a mere talking shop (not even a debating place). It exhorts and exhorts and....its resolutions do not have the force of law.

The real work and fire is in the Security Council which is all powerful. Only the Security Council is empowered to issue legally binding actions and orders which can and have indeed been ignored with impunity by Israel but not by lesser powers such as Libya, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq and others.

The US does not waste its time with the General Assembly; it puts its greatest attention and the talent in the Security Council. It is a very, very rare occasion for any one to see the American permanent representative at his or her seat in the General Assembly.

It is understandable, after all as one-time American chief delegate, Henry Cabot Lodge, clearly stated: "The Security Council is a good place for us." Not the General Assembly he had asserted.

The Security Council has five permanent members or the "Big Five" - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - and 10 non-permanent members each elected for a term of two years. The "Big Five" each has a veto power which renders any resolution useless if one of the five powers uses it.

I would not be surprised if fewer and fewer heads of government would even bother to come to New York to address UNGA in the future. Even now the number attending is small (and decreasing) compared to when I first attended UNGA in the early 60s accompanying Tun Razak.

Razak came again in 1971 as prime minister when he personally cast our vote in favour of communist China's admission replacing Taiwan.

Before the currency crisis, we were riding high at the UN and around the world because we were (and are still) a shining example of an economically successful nation. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad evoked much enthusiasm, admiration and esteem in the developing nations and in several developed countries.

Hasmy's appointment comes at the time when our lustre or distinction is arguably somewhat diminished. He has a tough time ahead to sustain our international reputation. However, I am confident he will do his best, and Wisma Putra has assigned one of the ablest in its stable to do the job. Hasmy has been well received.

Hasmy will continue, I have no doubts, the tradition and trend begun by his illustratious predecessors (13 of them) such as Tun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman (out first man at the UN), Tan Sri Nik Ahmad Kamil, R. Ramani, Ong Yoke Lin, Zainal Sulong, Zakaria Ali, Zain Azrai and Razali, all of whom were either politicians or career diplomats with the exception of Ramani who was an eminent barrister.

Malaysians abroad should be proud of being Malaysians; it is interesting and intellectually challenging at the moment when our Malaysian experience, our politics, business practices and agenda are being questioned and challenged.

Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )