When China wake up...

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"After 52 years of existence, the debate about the United Nations now should have been this - is the United Nations relevant? Can it refashion itself as a powerful political, moral and military force in international relations and diplomacy as it once was? It does seem quite clearly that the importance of the organisation has diminished but at the same time, given the proper support it deserves, it still can be or remain a force to be reckoned with.

The UN celebrates its 52nd year in existence this month."Indeed, for many small nations and developing countries, the United Nations must exist. The United Nations is the best defence they have against big powers and without the moral force of the United Nations, the countries and its peoples, I am afraid, will be mere 'killing fields'.

"The United Nations has always been 'a peaceful battleground' of many opposing parties and of many antagonists and contenders. Just a small example: the upcoming General Assembly may have to decide on the legitimacy of three permanent representatives of three politically troubled nations - Cambodia, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. Because of their domestic political quarrel, the credential committee may have to decide over the competing claims of opposing parties.

"The present world may not be ideal but there has never been any major war in the last five decades which engulfed the world such as World War I and World War II; and the United Nations can claim some credit for this ... .

"Whether we like it or not, the United States, the sole superpower, is emerging, deliberately or otherwise, as the imperial power and the new millennium.

American involvement is almost a prerequisite for any diplomatic resolution. This is because the United States is the only superpower, and it is the only power which has both economic power and military strength, even if occasionally it lacks political will, to lead and impose settlements. Even minor crises cannot seem to be resolved except by some American intervention or involvement.

"In the United States today, United Nations bashing led by one Senator who the United Nations loves to hate, Jesse Helms is a popular pastime. Helms detests the United Nations. The apparent price of his support is either the United Nations reforms itself and at the same time becomes a vehicle for American foreign policy or it will strangle the United Nations until it either commits suicide or die of natural causes.

"Don't worry, Washington will not let the United Nations die because it needs the world organisation when it suits itself such as to legitimise its action or non-action in international conflicts. The United States wants the Security Council enlarged, so do we but for different reasons. As I see it, the United States will eventually get what it desires. As Prime Minister Mahathir said recently, superpowers will use their power to get what they want. All powerful nations behave like that.

"The United Nations was created at a time when the world was multi-polar or bi-polar at least. The situation now, needless to say, is vastly different. In a uni-polar world, it is perhaps more difficult for the United Nations to function efficiently simply because it was not created with this situation in mind. Perhaps, to see a more efficient and dynamic United Nations, we should all be wishing for another superpower to emerge; two superpowers instead of one.

"The United States, Helms and many other influential Americans want to turn the United Nations into an Orwellian organisation where Washington can choreograph its proceedings, decisions and actions. Thank goodness it has not happened yet. But I can see it slowly developing in that direction, willed on by many countries which want to see it happen and it needs to occur if the United Nations is to be saved.

"The United Nations has neither been a success nor a failure. It is both. Despite financial troubles, the future of the United Nations looks good. I just can't imagine the world without the United Nations. Our efforts will still be needed and be worthwhile if the United Nations can calm the lesser disagreements of various countries so that they no longer find outright hostilities as the only option to settle their differences."

Mao Zedong took arms to found the People's Republic of China in 1949 that was made to last, a revolution the United States and its client, Chiang Kai Shek, failed to prevent and could not destroy.

The UN was shaped by the US, although the world body has many weaknesses, the world has long since learned to live with it. I am sure the world will also accommodate a reformed UN. However, the UN will fight I hope vigorously to maintain its status as a multilateral organisation not beholden to any one power.

China has recovered its dignity and with honour when Hong Kong reverted to it last July.

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

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