THE HINDU EDITORIAL : September 27,2017


  1. a) Of paramount interest?

In June 1945, India’s princely states sent a single representative to sign the Charter of the United Nations at the San Francisco conference, a charter that realised Alfred Tennyson’s poem where he called for a “Parliament of man, Federation of the world.” “There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe, and the kindly earth shall slumber, lapped in universal law,” Tennyson wrote in his work, ‘Locksley Hall’, spelling out his vision for a world where the “war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle flags were furled.” The poem was famously carried by U.S. President Harry Truman in his wallet, which he called his inspiration as the UN Charter was being drafted. A. Ramaswami Mudaliar, then the Dewan of Mysore added prose to that poetry as he spoke on behalf of undivided India with the words, “There is one great reality… which all religions teach… the dignity of the common man.”

A word war

As the bitterly divided Indian and Pakistani delegations stood up over the past week to face each other more than 70 years later, however, all those words rang hollow. Reality was in short supply, as even the photograph brandished by Pakistan’s envoy Maleeha Lodhi as being from Jammu and Kashmir turned out to be from Gaza; religion became cause to divide rather than build a common understanding, and the dignity of the United Nations, let alone the common man, disappeared as each side used its multiple rights of reply for name-calling and rhetoric hurled at the other. Of course, the India Pakistan word-war was outdone by the U.S. and North Korea who sparred over Pyongyang’s latest provocations.

Secretary General’s list

However, it wasn’t the language employed that made the UN’s 72nd General Assembly one of its most disappointing sessions, but the picture of the UN’s ineffectiveness on each of the issues confronting the world today, that were spelt out by the Secretary General António Guterres in his speech on September 19. “We are a world in pieces, we need to be a world at peace,” he said, listing the world’s seven biggest threats: nuclear peril, terrorism, unresolved conflicts and violations of international humanitarian law, climate change, growing inequality, cyber warfare and misuse of artificial intelligence, and human mobility, or refugees. Even a cursory glance shows that each of these issues saw little movement at the UNGA. To begin with, the UN’s actions in response to North Korea’s missiles and nuclear tests just amounted to another round of sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime. Past history points to the slim chances of success of this tack. Since 1966, the UN Security Council has established 26 sanctions regimes, of which about half are still active. In some cases, the sanctions only squeezed the country’s poor, as in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) and DPRK itself, while not changing its belligerent positions. In most cases, the misery was heightened by international military interventions, from Yugoslavia to Libya and Yemen. Even the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, against which the U.S. and Russia united to pass a slew of economic, political and travel sanctions in the 1990s, didn’t change course on its support to al-Qaeda or its brutal treatment of women and minorities. The truth is that sanctions do not work on rogue states; they only help isolate their populations from the world, which in turn tightens the regime’s stranglehold on its people, and strengthens its resolve to disregard the UN.

Lacking guarantees

In addition, to those who may just consider, as Libya did, to relinquish nuclear weapons, the fact that NATO destroyed Libya anyway is a disincentive. The UN has done itself no favours by failing to censure NATO on violating its mandate only to the responsibility to protect (R2P) and not for regime change in Libya in 2011. To other countries that may enter talks, as Iran did, the imminent threat from the U.S. of walking out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (P5+1 agreement) would make them question the efficacy of the UN in guaranteeing any deal struck. Other decisions of the Trump administration in the U.S., to walk out of the climate change agreement as well as threaten to cancel its funding contributions to the UN, have also seen little comment from the world body, which further reduces the respect it is viewed with. Nowhere is that lack of respect more obvious than regarding Myanmar, where the military junta faced sanctions for years. Despite inviting former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to prepare a report on Rakhine state, post-democracy Myanmar has been able to carry out one of the region’s most frightening massacres just days after the report was submitted. On the basis of satellite pictures, and eyewitness accounts, the UN Human Rights chief called military action a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, as half a million Rohingya fled for their lives from Rakhine villages that were then burnt down, with landmines laid along the border to Bangladesh to prevent their return. The Security Council will now meet on Thursday to consider the situation, but it is short on ideas and late on action, and restoring more than a million stateless refugees to their homes seems a daunting task, even for a worldbody that was set up expressly to ensure that such a displacement would “never again” be allowed to occur. A similar impotency has been imparted to the UN on the issue of terrorism. India’s grievances here are justified and are a symptom of the UN’s powerlessness to enforce even the basic strictures against terrorists it sanctions, given that Hafiz Saeed and associates now plan to stand for public office in Pakistan, while others like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who received bail despite UN financial sanctions, have simply disappeared. Meanwhile India struggles to convince China to allow the Security Council to sanction Masood Azhar, whose release in exchange for hostages in 1999 should have been proof enough of his perdy. Mr. Guterres’s concerns about what he calls the “dark side of innovation” are valid, and the world is seeing an increasing number of cyber-attacks, especially from nonstate actors. But the UN must do more to act on attacks carried out by states, especially those that are permanent members of the Security Council. Both Russia and the U.S. have been known to use cyber warfare, but equally the use of new-age warfare — drones, robotic soldiers and remote killings — must see more regulation from the international community.

Each one ‘first

Solving the world’s inequalities, the last point on his list, where Mr. Guterres pointed out that “eight men represent as much of the world’s wealth as half of all humanity”, will be a harder and harder task for the UN, where member countries speak only of putting themselves “first”. Clearly the vision of the UN dreamt by Tennyson or Mudaliar or any of the leaders over time has far to go. The important issue is the road it employs, and the respect the institution is accorded, not just as a structure at New York’s 42nd Street, but a shared ideal. This was summed up best by the UN’s first Secretary General, Trygve Lie, who ran an equally divided forum and finally resigned from his post in 1952 saying, “The United Nations will not work effectively if it is used merely as forum for destructive propaganda. Neither will it work if it is used only as a convenience when national interests are directly involved, and regarded with indifference, or bypassed or opposed, when the general world interest is paramount.”

  1. b) Fog in London

British Prime Minister Theresa May continues to be in a bind about how to stage a less chaotic exit from the European Union. Neither the apparent concessions she seemed to offer her EU interlocutors in Florence nor her exhortation to rekindle the Renaissance spirit of open-mindedness is likely to be enough. Six months after London triggered Article 50 to leave the Union, and months after Ms. May called a snap election that brought humiliating results for her Conservative Party, there is a worrying lack of clarity and consensus within Britain and the government on what the final contours of the exit should be. Just days before Ms. May’s Florence speech, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ruffled feathers in his own government as well as in Brussels in an article on his version of Brexit, which included the oft-repeated and dubious claim of savings of £350 million a week and an unrealistically rosy picture of Britain’s future outside the bloc. Tory hardliners suggested that it was Mr. Johnson’s pre-emptive strike that held Ms. May back from offering a softer Brexit in Florence. Others in government accused Mr. Johnson of “backseat driving”, and Ms. May’s Cabinet colleagues found themselves having to defend the claim that they were all singing from the same hymn sheet. While the Florence speech could be interpreted as an indication of a forced and fragile consensus within the government, it did not unlock the stalled negotiations with Brussels. The EU has insisted on making sufficient progress on the divorce bill, on the rights of EU and U.K. citizens living in each other’s territories as well as on the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland prior to progressing on discussions on a trade deal — an area of urgent interest for the U.K. Ms. May’s speech confirmed a post-Brexit transition period of about two years, a long-overdue announcement of special importance to the business community. She confirmed Britain would meet its financial obligations until the end of the current EU budget period, a bill of about €20 billion until 2020. She declared her intention to protect EU citizens’ rights and incorporate the rights granted by a Brexit agreement into U.K. law. She said that Britain would seek a trade relationship somewhere on the spectrum between a Norway-type agreement that involves the free movement of people, and a Canada-type free trade agreement. Yet, this is easier said than done, and she gave no details. While the speech was received with cautious optimism by the EU, it has failed to move talks forward, partly owing to a lack of clarity on the financial payments after 2020 and on citizens’ rights. Ms. May’s attempt to be too many things to too many people has meant a deepening of the confusion around Brexit. What is needed now, more than ever, is for her government to speak with clarity


                                          WORDS/ VOCABULARY

1) Fretful

Meaning: Feeling or expressing distress or irritation.

Example: The baby was crying with a fretful whimper.

Synonyms: Distressed, Upset, Uneasy

2) Realm

Meaning: A field or domain of activity or interest.

Example: The realm of applied chemistry.

Synonyms: Domain, Area

3) Awe

Meaning: A feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.

Example: They gazed in awe at the small mountain of diamonds.

Synonyms: Wonder, Amazement

Antonyms: Contempt, Despise

4) Slumber

Meaning: Sleep.

Example: Sleeping Beauty slumbered in her forest castle.

Synonyms: Sleep, Doze

Antonyms: Wake up

5) Furled

Meaning: Roll or fold up (something) neatly and securely.

Example: He shouted to the crew to furl sails.

6) Delegations

Meaning: A body of delegates or representatives; a deputation.

Example: A delegation of teachers.

Synonyms: Deputation, Delegacy

7) Rang hollow

Meaning: To sound false or not sincere

Example: The company’s claim that it is an unwitting participant rings hollow.

8) Brandished

Meaning: Wave or flourish (something, especially a weapon) as a threat or in anger or excitement.

Example: A man leaped out brandishing a knife.

Synonyms: Flourish, Wave

9) Hurled

Meaning: Throw or impel (someone or something) with great force.

Example: Rioters hurled a brick through the windscreen.

Synonyms: Throw, Toss

10) Outdone

Meaning: Be superior to in action or performance.

Example: The men tried to outdo each other in their generosity.

Synonyms: Surpass, Outshine

11) Provocations

Meaning: Action or speech that makes someone angry, especially deliberately.

Example: You should remain calm and not respond to provocation.

Synonyms: Encouragement, Rousing

12) Confronting

Meaning: Come face to face with (someone) with hostile or argumentative intent.

Example: 300 policemen confronted an equal number of union supporters.

Synonyms: Challenge, Oppose

Antonyms: Avoid

13) Cursory glance

Meaning: Going rapidly over something, without noticing details; hasty; superficial.

Example: A cursory glance at a newspaper article.

14) Tack

Meaning: A method of dealing with a situation or problem; a course of action or policy.

Example: As she could not stop him going she tried another tack and insisted on going with him.

Synonyms: Approach, Way

15) Squeezed

Meaning: Obtain (something) from someone with difficulty.

Example: Councils will want to squeeze as much money out of taxpayers as they can.

Synonyms: Extort, Force

16) Belligerent

Meaning: Hostile and aggressive.

Example: The mood at the meeting was belligerent.

Synonyms: Hostile, Aggressive

Antonyms: Friendly, Peaceable

17) Brutal

Meaning: Savagely violent.

Example: A brutal murder.

Synonyms: Savage, Cruel

Antonyms: Gentle, Humane

18) Rogue

Meaning: A dishonest or unprincipled man.

Example: You are a rogue and an embezzler.

Synonyms: Scoundrel, Reprobate

19) Efficacy

Meaning: The ability to produce a desired or intended result.

Example: There is little information on the efficacy of this treatment.

20) Ethnic

Meaning: Relating to a population subgroup (within a larger or dominant national or cultural group) with a common national or cultural tradition.

Example: Ethnic and cultural rights and traditions.

Synonyms: Racial, Race-related

21) Fled

Meaning: Run away from a place or situation of danger.

Example: To escape the fighting, his family fled from their village.

Synonyms: Escape, Bolt

22) Burnt down

Meaning: To destroy something, especially a building, by fire, or to be destroyed by fire.

Example: He tried to burn down the school by setting fire to a pile of papers.

23) Daunting

Meaning: Seeming difficult to deal with in prospect; intimidating.

Example: A daunting task.

Synonyms: Formidable, Disconcerting

24) Grievances

Meaning: A feeling of resentment over something believed to be wrong or unfair.

Example: He was nursing a grievance.

Synonyms: Complaint, Objection

Antonyms: Commendation

25) Hostages

Meaning: A person seized or held as security for the fulfilment of a condition.

Example: They were held hostage by armed rebels.

Synonyms: Captive, Prisoner

26) Forum

Meaning: A meeting or medium where ideas and views on a particular issue can be exchanged.

Example: We hope these pages act as a forum for debate.

Synonyms: Meeting, Assembly

27) Propaganda

Meaning: Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.

Example: He was charged with distributing enemy propaganda.

Synonyms: Information, Promotion

28) Paramount

Meaning: More important than anything else; supreme.

Example: The interests of the child are of paramount importance.

Synonyms: Chief, Uppermost

29) Chaotic

Meaning: In a state of complete confusion and disorder.

Example: The political situation was chaotic.

Synonyms: Disorderly, Confused

Antonyms: Orderly

30) Interlocutors

Meaning: Someone who is involved in a conversation and who is representing someone else.

Example: Abraham was able to act as interpreter and interlocutor for our group.

31) Exhortation

Meaning: An address or communication emphatically urging someone to do something.

Example: Exhortations to consumers to switch off electrical appliances.

Synonyms: Urging, Persuasion

Antonyms: Discouragement

32) Rekindle

Meaning: Revive (something lost or lapsed).

Example: He tried to rekindle their friendship.

33) Renaissance

Meaning: A revival of or renewed interest in something.

Example: Cinema-going is enjoying something of a renaissance.

34) Snap

Meaning: A sudden, sharp cracking sound or movement.

Example: She closed her purse with a snap.

Synonyms: Spirit, Vigour

Antonyms: Inertia, Lethargy

35) Consensus

Meaning: A general agreement.

Example: There is a growing consensus that the current regime has failed.

Synonyms: Agreement, Harmony

Antonyms: Disagreement

36) Ruffled

Meaning: Disorder or disarrange (someone’s hair), typically by running one’s hands through it.

Example: The father laughs and jovially ruffles his son’s hair.

Synonyms: Disarrange, Tousle

Antonyms: Smooth

37) Dubious

Meaning: Hesitating or doubting.

Example: I was rather dubious about the whole idea.

Synonyms: Doubtful, Uncertain

Antonyms: Certain, Definite

38) Defend

Meaning: Resist an attack made on (someone or something); protect from harm or danger.

Example: We shall defend our island, whatever the cost.

Synonyms: Protect, Guard

Antonyms: Attack

39) Hymn

Meaning: Praise (something).

Example: The joys of domesticity were being hymned in magazines.

40) Cautious

Meaning: (Of a person) careful to avoid potential problems or dangers.

Example: A cautious driver.

Synonyms: Careful, Wary

Antonyms: Incautious, Reckless