Wednesday, 24 October 2012

UN Day of days

Does this year’s UN Day marks a time of change for both the UN and Kent.

Today's UN Day (Wednesday 24th October) marks not just 67 years of the UN Charter founding in 1945 – but rather surprisingly a sudden outbreak of peace around the world.

From the 50 year conflicts and dictatorships of the Arab Spring of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, to the Colombian FARC ceasefire to the Aung-San Burmese democracy the world just got quieter and safer.

Plus we have a world more democratic with the last few red-blooded dictatorships of Cuba, Guinea, Cameroon, and Arabian Ayatollahs sliding into the past.

And if conflicts such as Yemen or Syria are fairly recent civil wars then Mexico’s recent convulsions into narco-state collapse are in contrast to the Congo War - home to the largest UN peacekeeping force and millions dead - and proving so problematic that Britain will declare war-rape as a theme of its presidency of the G8 in 2013.

While, the China-Japan disputes over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the disputes over the Spratlys and Paracel islands between China, Vietnam, Philippines and Brunei, or the Kurile disputes between Russia and Japan highlight how post-1945 conflicts can flare up.

Another curfew of all US troops on Okinawa, tension between North Korea and US, and China-Taiwan-US surely declare that the post-1945 settlement is, surprisingly, closest to unravelling in Asia.

Kent economy falters

A concern all the more important in Kent with the bulk of economic growth forecast for Asia rather than Europe, as the UK’s largest trading partner stagnates. The riot-torn streets of Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy are not conducive to any sales let alone exports. Even smaller Asian nations such as Thailand are forecast to grow at over 11%, while China and India settle around the 8% growth mark and UK and Europe slip into negative growth again.

Perhaps the greatest requirement from UN Day going forward is a new UN Borders Agency – capitalising on the UN Women’s Agency innovation - to arbitrate on petty disputes such as Diaoyu. Disputes all the more ludicrous, as like the Spratlys, none of the islands are inhabitable and at high tide are barely bigger than a few football pitches.

If the 20th century saw the flames of such 19th century nationalism fanned into imperialism, colonialism and ultimately war and genocide, then the 21st century must surely see a completion of the process of decolonisation. Would anyone bet against the Falklands, Britain’s last colony, being divested to Argentina under UN supervision, and the dozen flecks of British and French dependent islands before they sink into the Caribbean and Pacific?

And even Europe itself would be subject to greater scrutiny, with Gibraltar and Ceuta/Melilla and Western Sahara being resolved between UK, Spain and Morocco.
If the Diaoyu represent a warning of the conflict inherent in such unresolved disputes then the post-Soviet problems of Transdniestra, Kaliningrad and especially Georgia are best solved within the EU ideally.

But the high-water mark of EU capability may have been reached for a decade – the fall of 11 governments within the last 4 years, riots from Athens to Madrid and negative economic growth – so Croatia may have to be the last EU addition in a Japanese-style Lost Decade.

EU expansion with Turkey may be subject to unification with Cyprus and Armenian reform, similarly Serbia with Kosovo, and Ukraine, Belarus and Russia will require greater democracy and economic stability to avoid the threat of the cockpit of Europe shifting south and east to the longer, and porous, borders of Kashmir and Vladivostok.

European democratic change

The next decade will likely see unification in Ireland, Korea and Cyprus, as simultaneously the forces of secession pull away in Scotland and Catalonia and Kosovo and Montenegro. And also a greater need for a Sarajevo Shift eastwards for European unity with Brussels and NATO, as the removal of British and American troops from Germany and Afghanistan already reflects the US Pivot to Australia and South East Asia, away from Japan, Taiwan and Korea, with troop redeployments begun – as already heralded by APEC and now Obama’s visit to Cambodia next month.

And the world’s navies may just recede into minor piracy operations off the coasts of Nigeria, Somalia and Indonesia, or even HMS Kent’s suntan tours, rather than removing wrecks such as the SS Richard Montgomery off Kent – barely a dozen miles from the Royal Engineers bomb disposal squad - or the ocean’s huge plastic patches.

Greater democracy in the 21st century is only likely with the example of the UN now: the UN Millennium Development Goals are still unsupported as government policy by any European government, although widely adopted/adapted as required across Africa and Asia. And votes at 16 – now granted to Scotland, and already Jersey, Brazil and Austria – is likely to be the global suffrage default.

But not yet in Kent.

Nor are there in Kent the tablet PC’s and books, online art galleries and museums available to Thai or Indian schoolchildren, nor the tree-planting programmes in Kent’s 400 schools with just 5 trees per child each year required to provide a tree for every one of Kent’s 1.3M citizens in the Age of Climate Change.

If only fragments of the world’s population such as Brunei, Bhutan and Abu Dhabi are without any vote at all (and Saudi to introduce women’s votes in 2015), then future democracy and equality is more likely in the need for quotas for women’s rights in the economy: a minimum 30% representation in corporate boardrooms.

UN future

The International Day of the Girl equality campaign last week – celebrated at Surin Village School Charity: - also highlighted that the exclusion of young girls is statistically much higher in the 100M children still not in school. And the importance of a right to free university education that the world holds dearly, yet Britain has given away. Along with other previous areas of public excellence in say town planning such as room sizes, parks and slum clearances - that no Mary Portas stunt can hope to reform.

Greater global regulation of tax havens – Kent is certainly not immune from those with Pleasurama and party payoffs in Ramsgate – will release some funds for societal improvements. The wider liability in Kent though is the misuse of existing tax-billions (£2Bn at KCC and perhaps the same again in the rest of the public sector: 42% of c.£10Bn GDP for the Kent economy).

Greater public sector reform is required, witness the civil service rush to agree on tarmac, white elephants and blacktop sprawl through the Garden of England from Dartford to Rochester Riverside to Ashford. Or even after 7 years of law, the public sector refusal to publish FOI staffing levels, salaries, pensions and expenses before elections for you to decide how your money is spent.

And if the UNMDG are a UK oversight of 12 years’ standing then surely the UN elected Parliament is 67 years overdue – all the more so as the EU and UN itself along with various national parliaments agree its need for greater voice of the people.

A UN elected parliament, supervising the UNMDG – including a UNMDG2 if you will – along with OneGov-style electronic direct voting, and merger of the World Bank and IMF to create a global currency/rating based on the SDR is a prerequisite for the 21st century.

The lack of emphasis in UNMDG1 on R2P at 500 deaths or arms exports is surprising (if the slump into an expensive talking shop is to be avoided), given peace is the raison d’être of the UN.

The failure to achieve the UN 0.7% aid target for each nation after some 40 years is similarly weak. As is even basic Ofcom media innovations - such as UN TV and radio channels – or European national free-to-air broadcasters and satellites that cannot access a supposedly common market for entertainment and language training – and something that Kent was moving towards with KentTV.

While European innovations denied to Britain such as 10% interest rate caps in Germany, the beginnings of always-on free internet in Finland and mobile texts or free renewable utilities from construction innovations such as Desertec hint at greater stagnation within global governance.

Third World Kent?

Perhaps Kent’s shame though is that death from infectious disease is something still not unheard of in the Garden of England, with already at the start of Autumn, whooping cough epidemics, legionnaire outbreaks in dirty hospitals, oft-overlooked rabies dangers at Kent’s ports or the usual horrific winter cull of upto 20,000 UK pensioners with a shortage of flu vaccines and heating bills somehow accepted in the 21st century.

A problem all the more astonishing given the collapse of Glaxo and Pfizer in Dartford and Sandwich and loss of thousands of skilled pharma jobs to the Kent economy.

Kent pharma has a ready-made market of billions across Africa and Asia. With 8M deaths each year from nineteenth century diseases such as TB and cholera, or the 3M deaths in Europe from rare diseases (a death-toll of WW2 each and every year), the Kentish Ports somehow sit idle. Yet Kent firms are specialising in collateral exports of water filters and, firms such as MAG, are leading the way in landmine clearance from North Africa to Northern Cambodia.

And Government funding sits in KCC’s bank account, is frittered away into tobacco and guns investments, or invested in criminal businesses such as Infratil - with its faked air monitors, and now Stansted bid with profits greater than KCC’s entire budget - and Cargolux and ACG and IranAir illegal flights, and Total, Thor and Trafigura scarring the landscape.

While endemic civil service corruption and failure such as the 0% salary fraud, Veolia, Environment Agency, Southern Water, KCC Laser fraud, and EKO cement-for-council land-grabs with Roads to Nowhere, empty housing overbuild or the horrors of live animal exports and the childcare failings of hundreds of missing abused – and supposedly protected – children make Kent a charnel house or laughing stock.

A litany of public sector crime that the Police and CPS somehow find difficult to confront with corporate manslaughter charges until, no doubt, after the event with hand-wringing, scapegoating, and whitewashing away with pension increases and payoffs.

Equally a UN Parliament would struggle to reconcile falling turnouts with Party failure and civil service bloat: Canterbury by-elections of 13% and even the Kent Police elections forecast to plummet to 15% against a backdrop of calls for ballot box boycotts, repeated spy drone purchases and weapons procurement without oversight are hardly a democratic innovation or mandate.

Nor are layers of double-hatter councillors or parachute Party candidates roadblocking democracy for pension topups - and not a manifesto published between them, and certainly not months in advance with FOI.

The Garden of England is looking lost under waves of tarmac with 90% of orchards gone and the destruction of hedgerows to SSSI sites such as Pegwell Bay with a resulting collapse of biodiversity such as bees, wasteful Food Miles - and not a single recycling factory for zero landfill and plastic and food waste sorting in the Climate Change Era.

International food speculation is likely to hit Kent’s farmers or the fished-out fisheries harder – unless a Torrey Canyon crash revisits the beaches of Margate and wakes up the Coastguard and destroys the industry completely. The death this week of Senator McGovern the1972 presidential candidate and founder of the UN Food Programme leaves unfinished work with famine requiring greater regulation of key commodity crops such as wheat and rice for market-subsidies.

And while the UK failings of secrecy and pollution are as prevalent as always, then Recession Planning seems a lost art in reducing the frequency and severity of the natural two per decade down-cycles in the economy – neither Plan B nor Plan Z seems available from Westminster. Yet these are the kind of crises that FDR resolved in the 1930’s through planned, and necessary, public works programmes easily tweaked for each decade to ensure the economy is moving and productive through briefer and shorter recessions: generational debt write-offs, tree planting, barracks, hospitals, pylons, 1960’s tower blocks and power stations demolition, asbestos cleanup, flood defences, wifi, solar panels etc.

And such a UN Parliament would be unlikely to fail to provide a Tobin Fund for rapid delivery of the UNMDG (and a Marshall Plan for Africa and India specifically), arms exports and disarmament, or a Tobin Disaster Fund for the world’s floods and hurricanes and earthquakes and 72M refugees each year.

Even the strategic pollution cleanups of the 20th century would be considered - whether it be nuclear power from Dungeness to Chernobyl (or Kent’s Channel reactors and sea-dumping in France) or asbestos in schools after 40 years, the unknown toxins affecting Kent’s Northfleet children, or the rusting Thor mercury factories from Margate to Cato Ridge would be rapidly improved and monitored.

Kent is best-placed to address the three strategic needs of the 21st century: Climate Change, the Third World and Space exploration – or face the slide back into a cold, malarial wetland, or at best, a fading and minor entrepot and dumping ground, an inverse 21st century Macao perhaps, on the Continental fringes of greater overseas powers.

Tim Garbutt is the Managing Director of Sincerity Agency the leading green and ethical advertising agency in East Kent: and standing for Mayor to “Stop the Pollution, Stop the Corruption, Stop the Construction”:

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