[in] focus

Does the United Nations have a future?

Is the UN outdated, an anachronistic bureaucratic beast that fails to reflect today’s geo-political realities? The simple answer is yes, and with this comes the question of its viability in today’s world. Every September the world’s leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. On the 25th of September 2012, at the 67th session of the General Assembly, President Zuma took the opportunity to raise concerns on the fairness of the rules of international law, and in particular the composition of the UN Security Council (SC) and its impact on the promotion of international law. The problem, he noted, is that the lack of representation and the undemocratic nature of the UNSC undermines its legitimacy.

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United States neutrality in the East China Sea row, can it be trusted?

The Sino-Japanese dispute on the claims of sovereignty and the territorial rights over the Senkaku Islands (as known in Japan) or Diaoyu Islands (as known in China) in the East China Sea is taking its toll. Top diplomats from both nations met for the second time in October to explore possible solutions to mend their frayed bilateral ties. So far the tension is causing economic damage that is hurting Japanese investments in China.

While the disputation is about hoisting one’s national flag in the mineral resource rich islands, what is at stake is not just sovereignty of the islands but power relations between China and the United States. It is also China’s regional interest versus Japan’s and United States’.

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The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in South-South cooperation

Important developments are taking in regional affairs of Latin America and the Caribbean. The emergence last year December of a new regional body, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) promise to extend activism we have seen in Latin America over the years to Central America and the Caribbean, thus further complicating the geopolitics of North America-Americas relations.

The CELAC is set to become a considerable organisation in the mechanism of South-South cooperation. Not long ago, the organisation was courting the emerging Asian powers China and India with meetings that took place in August to build economic cooperation and infrastructural development, to explore climate change solutions and to understand the global economic situation and its effects on developing countries.

This article poses the question whether CELAC has a potential to deepen the South-South cooperation and strengthen regional cooperation in the region it covers.

CELAC was officially formed in December 2011 and described by its 33 member states as an ideal regional organisation to create political and economic integration and cooperation between Latin American and Caribbean states. As a regional organisation, CELAC is believed to set a significant foundation of mutual cooperation in the Southern hemisphere of the Americas outside the realm of the Organisation of American States (OAS). For many decades both American continents were united by the OAS under the influence USA.

What makes CELAC different from the OAS is the fact that it excludes the North American giants, US and Canada. The reason for this is that most Latin American and Caribbean states became disillusioned with OAS and influence of North America in it. They distaste USA hegemony for interfering with the domestic politics of Latin American and Caribbean States in particular.

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Prerequisites of Diplomacy

In the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, in which four American diplomats, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were murdered, and as protests by factions of various publics against a privately made film continue to threaten the staffs of western embassies and consulates in numerous countries from Tunisia to Australia, it is important not to lose sight of the effects of these attacks and protests upon diplomacy itself. Responsibility to protect diplomatic personnel lies, and must lie, first and foremost with the government of the host country in which diplomats reside. The 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which codified over three centuries of international norms of diplomatic practice, is unambiguous on this point. Article 22, Section 2 articulates the obligation of the host government: ‘The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.’ Article 29 links this obligation specifically to the protection of diplomatic personnel: ‘The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom or dignity.’

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Advancing the African Agenda through Academic Diplomacy

As the dust settles in Addis Ababa after the fallout from the election of a new head of the African Union (AU) Commission, it is time for foreign policy drivers in South Africa to extract important lessons from the diplomatic showdown and formulate appropriate interventions. One area that begs for serious attention relates to the ingrained tensions on the continent around South Africa’s Africa policy, which seem to be nurtured by divergent diagnoses of Africa’s challenges and the corresponding difficulty by its leaders to articulate a shared vision of how to move the continent forward. As one of Africa’s de facto leaders, South Africa’s attempt to give direction to the continent by articulating and promoting an African Agenda would be better served if a conscious and well-targeted effort is made to complement traditional diplomatic processes with societal-level approaches that encourage constructive and sustained dialogue among critical stakeholders in the continent. This is where academic diplomacy, seen as an official diplomatic strategy that seeks to create understanding about a country or its policies through institutionalised academic cooperation, becomes relevant in addressing misperceptions about South Africa’s posture in Africa.

Contrary to what some observers would want us believe, South African policy makers’ reading of the current challenges confronting Africa, especially as they relate to the continent’s engagement with the outside world, does indeed resonate with the concerns of a substantial constituency in other quarters of the continent. In fact, one can argue that concerns about France’s continued neo-colonial influence in Africa, as well as the new scramble for the continent’s resources involving both established and emerging powers are stronger in other parts of Africa than is the case in South Africa. This is particularly true if we take into account the fact that it is the African people we are referring to and not just their leaders.

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