THE United Nations is not a world government. It is more renowned as a facilitator of global peace, moderator of international unity, regulator of equitable progress and beacon of universal human rights practices.
“The UN Security Council is to maintain peace, its General Assembly to enable discussion of world issues, its Economic and Social Institutions to secure a fairer world and its Legal Institutions to lay down the international law” (Evan Luard, 1979, in The United Nations: How It Works and What It Does).
“The UN was formed by states, it depends on states for its sustenance, and it is actually or potentially directed by states on the supposition that its existence and operations may be useful to states” (Karen A. Mingst and Margaret P. Karns, 1995, in The United Nations in the Post-Cold War Era: Dilemmas in World Politics).
The above shows that the UN cannot simply dictate its member states to abide by all its resolutions, conventions and protocols most of the time and without caveats. This is because states are empowered by the principle of sovereignty to manage their own national security, to choose their own legal instruments for the maintenance of peace, and to determine their own approaches to mitigate threats.
“States can seek to reduce their insecurity either by reducing their vulnerability or by preventing or lessening threats” (Barry Buzan, 1991, in People, State & Fear).
The fact is also such because “state leaders occupy critical positions in an administration, are the “sole authoritative foreign policy makers,” and are responsible for national security and formation of long-term grand strategies” (Steven E. Lobell, 2009, in Threat Assessment, The State and Foreign Policy). This is the reality because states’ prime ministers or presidents are the chief executives of national security and foreign policy which include regional and international security affairs.
The UN, therefore, cannot rule the world or tell member states what is to be done, observed, rectified or implemented, in the context of its conventions, protocols or decisions. This is the prescribed norms because there are no other legitimate governments above sovereign states, except for anarchy as a source of states’ insecurity.
Historically, the UN was set up by big powers during the World War I period to deter the emergence of future global armed conflict. Paradoxically, the UN could not do anything to hinder World War II from happening or to remedy its scourge with fairness and justice.
In the 21st century, the UN was totally in vain when the United States and its “coalition of the willing” launched global war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, although these wars were causing prolonged chaos and disorder.
Right now, China militarises the South China Sea and claims all features in this maritime zone as its sovereign territories, not in accordance with the UNCLOS, but based on its medieval “nine-dash line” map. But the UN, as the originator of UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea), seems to have no effective mechanism to mitigate potential armed conflicts in the South China Sea, particularly because the US is already in the Asia-Pacific as a professed global saviour.
The above are testimonies which illustrate that states are the de facto powers in the management of national security and the maintenance of peace, and the UN cannot undo these fundamental state-centric principles.
Hence, it is not imperative for states to observe all UN conventions, protocols and decisions without caveats, especially if these are detrimental to their independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and national security.
In the case of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), therefore, the UN cannot compel its member states to adopt this convention or penalise them if they defaulted.
The UN has no authority to force states to adopt this convention to condemn “all manifestations and practices of racial, religious and national hatred as violations of the United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.
The UN also has no mandate to call “on the governments of all states to take all necessary measures to prevent all manifestations of racial, religious and national hatred”.
As such, Malaysians must not be unnecessarily emotional about ICERD because our country already has several laws based on entrenched provisions to deter “all manifestations of racial, religious and national hatred” as detailed in Article 149 of the Federal Constitution.
Malaysia’s top elites, on the other hand, must not compromise to universal pressures on matters concerning security management and the maintenance of national security.
Equally important, not all cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, parliamentary secretaries, junior members of the administration or leaders of the ruling component parties can speak freely and openly about security management or the approaches for its maintenance.
They must fully understand this security protocol in order to deter them from absurdly contradicting the Malaysian security management norms and practices.
Datuk Dr Ruhanie Ahmad is a former member of parliament for Parit Sulong, Johor, from 1990-2004