Valid Critique or Lengthy Tirade? Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s General Assembly Address

A madman, an out-of-control statesman, a cruel and vindictive attempt to turn the tables around on the most solid international organisation around.

A spokesperson for the underdog, a rebel, fully justified in his criticisms. What did Mu’ammar al-Gaddafi’s GA address tell us about this leader, and what could it mean for future perception of the UN?

As much as we can, let’s look at his address point-by-point. He began the way many speakers would – with a summary of world events and problems and a general request for international cooperation.

2.

His notion that the ideals within the UN Charter are outdated is hardly an original suggestion. Critics of the UN will agree that to strive for a world without nuclear arms and worldwide peace is a pipe dream and unrealistic. It is also not a new idea that the founding nations of the UN, and those primarily responsible for its functions, acted in their own self-interest rather than as they should have – with the interests of the international community in mind.

3.

He further elaborates on his point about the uneven balance of power when he discusses the wars that have occurred after the formation of an organisation designed to prevent them. 65 wars since 1945, Gaddafi argues, have taken place. These have not been in the common interest but rather in the interest of a few. This is once again, a valid criticism of the UN’s failings as a structure and the imbalance of power within it.

4.

This point is explained more, with the quote:

We are committed to defending the sovereignty of nations in a collective fashion, but that did not prevent the outbreak of 65 wars of aggression with the UN doing nothing to curb them; including eight major wars that claimed the lives of millions of people, perpetrated by a veto-holding member of the Security Council.

The states that we thought would rebel against aggression [and] protect [our] peoples, turned out to [be] the ones that used aggressive force, while enjoying the veto.

5.

Gaddafi then argues for individual sovereignty – that is, while nations may act together to determine policy attitudes and decisions on issues affecting a group of countries, each country must be given the space to take control of its own internal affairs. This is an issue that Gaddafi feels no external body has a right to intervene in, and I would agree with him – to an extent. There are tragedies such as genocide, total war, extreme poverty and coups d’etats, in which nations have a duty to intervene. These conditions are listed in the dossier ‘The Responsibility to Protect’.

6-16.

Issues of Security Council, GA and even UN reform are discussed here; methods by which, Gaddafi feels, the UN would inherently be more democratic and be a better ambassador of the global population. His idea to divide power by region is an interesting one, as it would tip the balance of power more in favour of lesser-represented and developing nations. By banding together, similarly-minded nations may have a greater chance of voicing concerns and affecting the composition and content of resolution and policies aimed at them.

Gaddafi does ‘waffle’ a little during this section, but surely that’s to be expected of a leader whose country has been given the short end of the stick by the UN? His ideas are good, and he seems to have some solid understanding of how to reorganise institutions so that its member states may feel a greater connection to them.

17-18.

The ICJ is hardly a stranger to criticism; however in these two points, there does seem to be a touch of exaggeration. His remark that the will of the ICJ is imposed on the weaker, smaller nations of the world while the rich and powerful may ignore it is true.

However, in telling them to “get out”, he loses the credibility of the point almost completely.

19-21.

Africa is now the focus of attention. Gaddafi emphasises the need for African nations to be able to let go of their colonial legacy and move forward as best they can.

Compensation to the tune of $777 trillion is at the centre of this point. By justifying this expense from rich nations, particularly former colonial powers, perhaps the point Col. Gaddafi is making is a symbolic and metaphorical one rather than a policy suggestion.

It is widely accepted amongst Third World philosophers that the so-called ‘North-South’ divide (between the richer, ‘northern’ countries of the world and the poorer ‘south’) must be eradicated. For that to happen, they argue, the scars of colonialism must be healed as best they can.

Continents such as Africa were ravaged by colonialism. Once a region rich in natural resources, colonial powers nearly drained them of these riches. They also imposed their own socio-cultural divisions (such as in Rwanda); drew up their own borders (look at maps of northern Africa) and separated tribes through force.

The after-effects are still felt today; Col. Gaddafi feels this would be rectified by recompensating Africa for its economic losses due to colonialism. Much of the academic world would agree with him on this.

22-24.

We all remember the promise the Obama campaign provided us. We all remember how fervently we supported him and his mission to shake up the system and bring change and hope. Gaddafi voices these hopes, adding a small note about the multi-polar and divided world we live in.

There shouldn’t be a multi polar world. There should be equal nations. No one agrees to a world of multiple poles. Why shouldn’t we become equal nations without any poles? Are we required to have a patriarch? Do we need idols? We don’t need a multi-polar world. This means the poles will clash and we reject it. We want a world where all nations, large and small are equal without any pole.

25-30.

The Western bias of the UN is once again revisited here. Col. Gaddafi suggests that to counter this natural bias, the headquarters, summits and meetings should be held in different countries. Host nations and regions should be rotated frequently, in order to ensure that all areas of the world are treated equally and benefit from being host countries.

This is a fair point – the UN certainly has been criticised for its bias. However, the feasibility of such a suggestion should be considered. It is not possible to constantly change the headquarters, but it could be possible to change the venues of UN summits and large meetings.

31-49.

Wars fought in the 20th century, since the birth of the UN, are highlighted. Assassinations, killings and atrocities are listed and a passionate plea for change is made. Here are some highlights from the text – the points made here can be reasonable, depending on what side you are on about war. It is clear that Gaddafi is a pacifist and finds such bloodshed and destruction appalling. He calls for a change in international attitudes to war.

We will begin with the Korean War. Why did it happen? It claimed millions of victims. The Korean War is still there. It is like a time bomb and a new Korean war could take place and nuclear weapons could be used. This is a serious issue. We have to try those who caused the war with all its losses and who is to pay the cost? Who is to be prosecuted?

Then we come to the Suez canal war in 1956. It has to be investigated. The file has to opened and shut. Why do we have states with a permanent seat in the Security Council with a veto and these states attack other states that are member states in the United Nations?

Egypt is a sovereign country – its city, its army and its canal were destroyed. Thousands of Egyptians were killed just because it exercised its right to nationalise the Egyptian-Suez canal.

Why did this take place when the United Nations was there and the Charter was there? How can we be sure this will not be repeated again? The only way is to hold accountable those who caused these past wars.

We then come to the Vietnam War. It claimed three million victims. The bombs dropped in 12 days in the Vietnam War were more than those used in four years during WW2. How can we keep silent about this?

This was a lot more catastrophic than WW2 and why did it take place even after we established the United Nations and said, “no more wars”?

The wars took place but we can’t keep silent. We are worried about the future of humanity. We want to end this worry. We have our sons and grandsons. We are discussing here in this World Parliament. This is the destiny of the world.

Then we come to the issue of Panama which his an independent state and a member in the United Nations. This country has been invaded and 4,000 people from Panama were killed. Its president was arrested and transported as a prisoner of war. He was prosecuted as a criminal and placed in prison in another country.

This case has to be submitted to the General Assembly. Noriega has to be released. This file has to be opened. How could a senior member in the United Nations attack another smaller country in the United Nations?We should not keep silent. We have to investigate it as this could happen to anyone. Anyone might be liable to his. Any country could be liable to this, particularly when the aggression is made by a state that has a permanent seat in the Security Council and is supposed to guarantee security.

To issue a verdict on the United Nations whether it exists or not and whether the Security Council is useful or not and whether we are going the right way or the wrong way. Are we assured or not about our future? There have to be investigations.

Then we will have investigations about the bombing of Somalia. Somalia is a member state of this assembly and of the United Nations and it was independent but it was bombed at the time of Farah Idid. Finally we have to investigate the results of the bombing. Why did it take place and why was it allowed?

Then the Iraqi War, the mother of all evils. This has to be investigated by the United Nations.

We were all against this invasion. But the Arab countries fought Iraq with foreign countries under the Charter. But when aggression took place against Iraq where was the Charter? Why didn’t we use it? In the beginning the Charter was sacred but then the Charter was put into the dustbin and was ignored, because they wanted to attack Iraq. Why didn’t the United Nations deter the aggression against Iraq?

Image credit: Robert Capa

These views can be seen as thoroughly reasonable and sensible. In fact, there have been talks about an inquiry and investigation into the Iraq War. Slowly, information about the reasons to go to war – such as in Korea and Vietnam – are coming forth. We are slowly being made aware of the true extent of the damage of these wars. The scars are still there, decades later. It is not surprising that wars destroy nations and people; ruin lives and infrastructure.

Notes such as these are important; there are scores who would support Col. Gaddafi’s plea for investigations and a change in policy attitudes.

50-51.

Col. Gaddafi then moves on to piracy off the coast of Somalia. He attributes the cause of piracy to the collapse of the state following international exploitation of the seas. This is an interesting point of view to adopt, especially since few can really point to anything outside socio-economic roots as the cause of African piracy

The pirates are ourselves because we exploited all the fishing grounds. We undermined their livelihood. We undermined their economies and their regional waters. All the ships of the world, whether from Libya, India, Japan or America exploited Somali waters and we are the aggressors.

52.

Swine Flu is accused of being a conspiracy concocted by pharmaceutical companies, in a bid to sell their own vaccines at a huge price.While this is a conspiracy theory, Gaddafi is joined by a vast number of people who believe that many of the world’s most deadly diseases – including the HIV virus – were created by big pharamacies.

Credit: Mine Action.org

53.

Mines are, according to Gaddafi, a right of an individual. They are a good line of defence and one should not be prevented from planting them since they are highly efficient. This is one of Col. Gaddafi’s more outrageous claims; mines have posed a serious threat to human life and still kill many. Not all mines have been recovered, and for him to suggest that even more should be planted could be one of the reasons this speech got as bad a review in the press as it did.

54 -55

As for the Palestinian cause, the ‘Two-State Solution’ is impossible. I urge you not to speak about it. The only solution is one democratic state for Jews, and for Muslims and Christians and all others – like Lebanon. The ‘Two State-Solution’ is not practical [or possible]. There can be no two neighbouring states, which [overlap like this]. Any division will inevitably fail.

The debate over a one-or two-state solution rages on; it is impossible to get an international consensus on it. To discuss the merits and potential consequences of both actions has been the subject of countless books, media reports and documentaries. It is a highly sensitive and contested discussion; certainly, no Arab or Jew can be chastised for his opinion on this issue. Col. Gaddafi has voiced an opinion that many in the Middle East share, particularly as the conflict between religions is at the core of this war.

In short, Col. Gaddafi displays some excellent understanding of the roots of several world conflicts and subcribes, by an large, to the liberal camp when it comes to solving them. In certain instances, he can be said to ‘waffle’ and go off on tangents. For the most part however, he makes some very valid points and conveys what much of the world feels about the treatment of the developing world and many global issues.

For a speech of this length, it is understandable that he would go off topic, or that his levels of energy would rise with each point he made. International dismissal of this speech is understandable only when we consider that this is a 100-minute long delivery. Naturally, some would feel frustrated and leave the room.

Col. Gaddafi’s energy, passion and the length of this speech should not be equated with the content of it. The content is good and thorough, he has a valid opinion to share and he does so. It would be unfair to chastise him simply because he spoke for nearly two hours and added more than a dash of melodrama to his delivery.

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