UNITED NATIONS (IPS)–Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and one of the world’s most respected political figures, thinks the United Nations is being undermined by the United States.

He is not alone.

Recently, Mr. Mandela said he was disappointed that not a single world leader had publicly condemned the U.S. decision to grab the 12,000-page Iraqi arms dossier and spirit it to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) before the other 14 members of the UN Security Council could even peek at it.


“This was an act of piracy which must be condemned by everyone,” Mr. Mandela said, criticizing Washington for its “arrogant conduct.”

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would only say that the U.S. action was “unfortunate.” “I hope it is not going to be repeated,” he added, while denying that his organization was a “puppet” in the hands of the United States.

The accusations come at a time when the UN is being browbeaten and manipulated by a U.S. administration that has abandoned multilateralism in favor of unilateralism. The implied U.S. threat to launch a military attack on Iraq without Security Council authorization and the tacit support of the administration of President George W. Bush for Israel’s continued defiance of the United Nations have jeopardized the credibility of the world body.

“The George Bush administration has no regard for the United Nations,” says a veteran Asian diplomat here. “The world body is deemed useful to Americans only as long as they can manipulate it to their own selfish ends.”

The feeling in UN circles, he added, is that the situation won’t change until the U.S. administration does–not before 2004.

Recently, the United States vetoed a resolution that would have condemned the killing by Israeli military forces of several UN humanitarian workers. The resolution would have also castigated the Israelis for the “deliberate destruction” of UN warehouses storing food for Palestinians.

The four other veto-wielding members of the Council–Britain, France, China and Russia–voted in favor.

“In the end, it all seems to come down to what the United States wants,” said Michael Ratner, president of the Washington-based Center for Constitutional Rights. “As long as the United States gives Israel a blank check for weapons and continues to give (it) huge economic support, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the United Nations to be
effective in stopping violence,” he said.

In the face of U.S. and Israeli recalcitrance, Mr. Ratner said, the United Nations can’t even protect its own employees, much less Palestinians. The United States, he pointed out, has “seriously undermined the authority and the credibility of the United Nations.”

“This is most damaging to the United Nations since Israel is the production of a UN resolution, and, of course, the United Nations should be fully involved (there). Without UN peacekeepers protecting the Palestinians under Israeli military attack, the United Nations looks negligent and guilty of turning its back on a situation that some consider to be genocidal and state terror on the part of Israel,” said Denis Halliday, the former UN assistant secretary-general who headed the UN humanitarian program in Iraq.

The inability of the United Nations to carry out an investigation of the Israeli “massacre” in the Jenin refugee camp in April marked an all-time low point in UN effectiveness, he added.

“To fail to condemn the Israeli killing of UN workers is almost unbelievable. The world must be asking (as in the case of the Jenin failure): where is Kofi Annan? What does it take for him to stand up and protect the United Nations and its credibility?” he said.

Ali Abunimah, vice-president of the Arab-American Action Network, said the UN has allowed itself to be made totally irrelevant by the Bush administration. The Security Council is the correct forum to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular, Israel’s “material breach” of dozens of resolutions outlawing its practices in the occupied territories, he said.

But Mr. Annan has allowed the entire United Nations to be reduced to the role of a member of the so-called “Quartet” (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations) drawing up a “roadmap” for resolving the Israel-Palestine question. That body, said Mr. Abunimah, is “an unofficial U.S.-sponsored grouping whose only role is to give the impression of diplomatic action while in reality blocking any effort to hold Israel accountable for its utter refusal to stop its repression.”

In such a situation, he argued, the latest U.S. veto, to protect Israel from censure for the killing of three UN officials, is no surprise.