What is traditional consultancy and why it mostly fails

What is consultancy and is there a value in it?

The truth is that only a comparatively small number of consulting projects seem to be successful. Either consultant recommendations fail at implementation phase, or don’t even survive reality checks. In the worst of cases, these have disastrous consequences for the organization. As Ferdinand Piëch, the CEO of Volkswagen, famously said: “If you want to ruin a company, you only have to try fixing it with the help of external consultants.

Story of Bag, Borrow or Steal, one of the first online sites allowing rental of expensive items (from several days to months) comes to mind.  In securing venture capital, a consulting firm was brought in to take the company to next level. It recommended that, in order to attract a more high profile customer, the company change its name – the very name that, in addition to being instantly recognizable and very descriptive of the nature of the business, was also forever immortalized in the movie Sex and the City. The new (proposed) name was Avelle, thought by the consultants to sound more luxurious.

Following the consulting firm’s advice, the end result was lost sales as loyal customers became confused by the name change and the brand equity built into the original name was lost as people wondered who the heck was Avelle.  Top executives of BBS were fired and the company returned back to its original name.

BBS is far from being an exception, nor are consultancies only amateurs. Take McKinsey, one of the best of the breed. Its advice led GE to loose $1 billion in 2007 and Swissair to its bankruptcy.  The list of McKinsey screw-ups is long. And if that is the best of the best, it is easy to imagine what other consultancy firms are up to.

Some estimate that about  80% of all consulting projects fail.

Usually, the traditional consultancy firms are called upon for the following reasons:

  1. Political leverage: CEOs that want or need to make an unpopular decision often bring in a consulting firm to help.
  2. Pool knowledge across functions: In large companies, cross-functional problem-solving rarely happens. Just getting different functions in a room typically unlocks creative problem solving.
  3. Pool knowledge across levels: Consultants interview, watch, and tag along with people down the organizational structure, often starting with customers and moving through sales and up. Top management of a company rarely does this. There are tremendous insights to be had by doing this.
  4. Deep focus on one problem.
  5. Consulting firms have access to way more data.
  6. The ability to structure a problem and to approach the task of identifying a solution in a methodical manner.
  7. A totally unbiased opinion on the topic.

The few studies that one can find identify several reasons for failure, which fall into four groups: personal characteristics of consultants, technical shortcomings of proposed solutions, problematic client–consultant relationships, and socio-political aspects of the client organization.

The underlying reasoning of how consultancy works, is valorized and perceived in what Heinz von Foerster called “trivial machine model.“

A trivial machine model logic of traditional consultancy is that it happens between two parties, consultant and client brought together for working on a certain project, and that consultant possesses more experience/knowledge/expertise and can more or less clearly identify a problem and propose a solution.  The focus is on analyzing and bridging the gap between the consultant’s body of knowledge and skills and the requirements of the client.  Assumptions here are that client information (especially related to weaknesses, problems or any issue that requires an external consultant intervention) is readily available, comprehensive and understandable. It is also assumed that the consultant can freely and efficiently access this information, understand it and process it.

In reality, however, it’s impossible for the client or even the consultancy to arrive at an “authentic” problem description.

The traditional consulting model is not only linear and simplistic but also not realistic, as social factors (social interconnection, interaction and environment in which the consultancy and the client operate) are largely ignored. These factors are essential – decisive in make-or-break of a project – to consider in what von Foerster described as “non-trivial machine model.“ A significant factor that must also be considered – this has to do with the “no one wants to rock the boat” psychology – is that consultants usually don’t feel comfortable telling (and thus don’t tell) to the top management of the client that some processes/structures are not optimized/performing; nor does the client’s top management feel good to have consultants come and tell that they are not doing well (in some cases consultants are dismissed/fired after having implied, in their recommendations, any wrongdoing or suboptimal performance/intention on part of the client’s top management).

Niklas Luhmann, German sociologist famous for his social systems theory, picked up and applied von Foerster’s theory (of trivial and non-trivial machines) to social systems. According to Luhmann, communication is the most important part of any society. All social relations are conceptualized as processes of communication – communications that connect to earlier communications and that call forth further communications. The crucial point is that this communication process takes place relatively independently of individual human beings involved. According to his theory, although communication cannot be effected without the involvement of human beings, the particular development of the communication process is beyond their control.

For example, the same word “yes” might be understood as signaling a confirmation, a doubt or even a rejection (if interpreted as irony). Thus, the meaning of a message, i.e. the concrete communication, is not produced by the speaker but by the listener.

Applying Luhmann’s theory to the social context of consultant-client, we need to differentiate three systems: consultant, client and communication media. The theory suggests that any intended consulting intervention becomes impossible right from its beginning. Following Luhmann, the only reason for the employment of external consultants is the possibility that the client’s systems (internal/external processes, operations, information flows, etc.) get perturbed/“irritated”. However, not all (consultancy) interventions cause such a perturbation, as this is only decided by the client system itself.

This model is more comprehensive, as it includes all considerations of the linear/traditional consultancy logic but also social factors. When determining whether to employ or not a consultancy, the only possibility for clients is to observe and decide which consulting firm has the most potential to perturb its systems. Finally, the stage of evaluation becomes redundant as there is no content or objective to evaluate, and nobody is able to evaluate the degree of perturbation.

All of the above is not to imply that consultancy practice is futile and needs to be discarded with. Even traditional consulting projects can and do sometimes have positive effects for clients, but usually in a different way than intended or planned. Rather than transfer some kind of knowledge, consultant firm should cause (via the communication system) perturbations in client systems that trigger positive changes in its processes and structures, which otherwise might not have been achieved.

The prevalent trend and common thinking (by clients and consultants) is to attribute any success of a consultancy intervention to a consulting firm. This, as it should be noted from above, is misleading and factually wrong. All change, as also for humans, needs to come from within, whether triggered from without (consultancy intervention) or within.

There already exist “systemic consultants,” unsurprisingly mostly in German-speaking world, including Königswieser & Network and OSB international.  As can be seen from client testimonies of the former and project descriptions of the latter, the following activities are commonly practiced by systemic consultancy firms:

  • organizational development and transformation
  • restructuring and change management
  • strategic assessment and revision
  • systems diagnosis and analysis
  • …etc..

Services above are not very different from what traditional consultancies offer. But, they shouldn’t be as an organization has a strategy and an objective, etc – nothing new under sun.

Three points that are different between traditional and systemic consultancy practices are:

  1. Mutual ownership of the client’s project: traditional consultancies position themselves as experts in terms of knowledge/experience and usually have a more “dictatorial” and outsider approach of “what needs to be done,” whereas systemic consultants come in as an unbiased party that co-owns the client project, trying to add value with their tools/methodologies.
  2. Social and psychological factors fully weighed: psychology of clients, their top management, framework of social interaction and cultural factors are all heavily considered; also subtleties related to message creation (by consultancy), communication and perception (by clients) are of paramount role as well as analysis of  (a perceived) problem and suggestion of possible solutions/improvements.
  3. Education, assistance and support: in most cases, systemic consultants act as educators – this is usually in the face of traditional consultants who think that educating a client might diminish a future chance of being employed by that client; as apparent from many client testimonies, systemic consultants offer assistance and support in vital issues such as drafting organizational strategies or HR incentive systems, etc; systemic consultants also educate their own teams in the client context.

21st century: lose of silence and humanness

Years 1982, 1989, 1994, 1999 are not notable but for fact that some of redefining moments of recent technological breakthrough, especially in the realm of mobile and Internet technologies, happened during those years.

Now an average American teen sends or receives around 2,200 text messages per month, but one 13-year-old  managed to handle 24,000.

We are more and more in a hurry. Time blurs because Internet and technologies bring us means that make us connected ever faster and ever more seamlessly. We want to have more done and achieved in less and less time. Competition is fierce. What we don’t realize that in these times of accelerated realities our perceived effectiveness or success based on doing more rapidly or in less time is illusionary. Once we come to that realization, it is usually too late. We become disconnected from our friends, families and even teh very realities with which we were trying to keep abreast of.

In trying to stay ahead of our lives in the accelerated 21st century, we all start feeling the strain of our pace, personal and professional, in our everyday lives. We start feeling the need to unplug. In one generation we have moved from exulting in and worshiping time-saving devices and gadgets that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time.

In 21st century, we have more and more ways to communicate but less and less to say. We don’t have time to think. We need to say as much as we can in as little a time, assuming otherwise to stay behind. Facebook, Twitter and plethora of means of communication, while admittedly helping us to receive, create and share more information, also take out of us our innate ability to reflect, ponder and consider, all of which require focus and time, of which we have less and less.

However, the urgency of slowing down — to find the time and space to think — is nothing new, of course, and wiser men have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries,Blaise Pascal wrote in the 17th century, “and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” He also remarked that all of man’s problems come from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone. Famous American writer Thomas Merton noted that “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, his rest,” stepping out of the rat race and into a Cistercian cloister.

Well-known New Style designer Philippe Starck claims that he stays consistently ahead of the curve by never following news or watching TV. Highlysuccessful Malaysian businessman Vijay Eswaran attributes his success, taking his company QI Group from launch to the billion dollar mark in 10 years, to his practice of reflecting in silence for one hour everyday. Even in negotiations and sales, silence is the ultimate key to success.

A series of tests in recent years has shown, according to Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows“, that after spending time in quiet rural settings, subjects “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory and generally improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.” According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio “deep thought and empathy that are essential in our love lives are inherently slow and not in concert with our speedy lives.

There is an irony to our story of becoming the most advanced in terms of tehcnology. As we created trains, machines, robots and programs, designed to address every type of needs we have, we were only able to do so, by creating and guiding those technologies and machines. Machines and technologies that have made our lives so much brighter, quicker, longer and healthier cannot teach us how to make the best use of themselves. There is no meta level to technological revolution.

How do some of us try unplug from the information overflow?

Recent trend is mushrooming of Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China, which save kids addicted to the screen.

Another fashionable trend, especially among business professionals of all types, is yoga or meditation. Yet others go for long weekend walks in forests or hike their way up hills or mountains.

With an ever-increasing amounts of information, connectedness and speed, our innate faculty of regenerating ourselves, re-creating our inner serenity and reconnecting with nature, friends and family intuitively leads us back to many an old and well-trodden paths of our forefathers. And this is to be expected.

I just wish that with all the noise, technology and gadgets, popping up around us and affecting every aspect of our lives in more ways we would like to admit or imagine we don’t forget what we are. We are humans and all the technology in the world cannot make us any more human than we already are. If anything, it has been turning us into the very machines we have striven to create.

Branding, psychology and why we don’t get Apple

In 1984, Apple launched its Think Different ad. Since then this ad is very much viewed and favorited. However, there seems to be a universal misunderstanding of its message.

Let’s start with Branding 101 before trying to understand the message of Apple. Branding and marketing are two different concepts. Branding has one and one objective only. It aims to establish and cultivate an emotional bond in your heart associated with some specific product or service or process. Marketing rationalizes and appeals to our logic whereas branding caters to our hearts and emotions. Marketing emphasizes quality, features and advantages whereas branding tries to establish an emotional bond, playing on our passions and aspirations or human irrationale, inciting us to act in a desired manner (buy a product/service).

Branding is simple enough to perceive intellectually, but difficult enough for many companies/people, not least because they don’t get the underlying psychology, to implement.  Apple, as well as companies like Nike and Disney, is very good at putting into practice this psychology-based business practice. There is no magic here. It is a business practice of branding  with expected results coming to fruition.

Coming back to Apple’s message in that ad. Many perceive the Apple message to be, “everyone wants to be a rebel.” In my view this is a wrong perception. Rebel is an outlier, an outcast of a society. He/she is challenging every status-quo and convention, Our societies are made of 98%  of the completely opposite stock, i.e. those who care about making living and leading their lives in as predictable and affordable way as possible. About the only time they pay attention to rebels is when a rebel becomes famous, for good or bad reasons.

Costs of being a rebel usually far outweigh advantages. Why then some become rebels and even succeed? Either a combination of character/aspirations/perseverance or purely statistical (for every successful rebel there is many that get thrashed by their societies, friends, etc.).

Successes of those successful ones, rebel or not, appeal to us. We all want to indulge in glories and successes of successful rebels, but we don’t want to shoulder the accompanying costs and challenges.

Apple, because of its “corporate rebel” status has until last few years been an underdog of the corporate world. Its branding has been its forte and that is why its brand value has been so high and still increases. Increasing number of Apple products, not least the notorious iPod, have competitors with in many cases some and in few cases many advantages over their Apple equivalents. We don’t know about those products, some of them with names Sony, Creative, etc., because of Apple’s unsurpassed branding strategy.

Apple’s ad was perfectly in line with its own mentality and branding. What it did was to create a personna of its own brand, associating it with some notorious rebels in science, etc., and by doing so elevating even further our emotional excitement. In this ad, Apple counted itself in ranks with Einstein, Martin Luther King, etc. Apple tried to lure customers to its products as Einstein would have lured students to attend his lectures or read his books.

Apple’s DNA has always been about exclusivity, coolness, simplicity (for customers) and, of course, being a rebel.

Being a rebel is always about bringing forth, advocating and fighting for change, which flies flatly in the face of a society, convention, tradition, or status-quo. We humans, however, are neither comfortable nor happy with change, let alone a dramatic one.

Berlusconi: successful businessman who screwed his country

After 17 years, the buffoon of Italy is finally gone. But who was he in reality?

Berlusconi was born to a middle-class family of a bank employee in Milan. In primary school, young Berlusconi wrote homework assignments for his classmates in exchange for morning snacks. In high school, he played the double bass and sang with a band. He attended Milan State University, from which he graduated in 1961 with an honors degree in marketing. While at university, he signed on to cruise ships as a musical entertainer. Since his university days, he was accustomed to party and fun, treats that he would showcase regularly throughout his business and political career.

A twenty something, party-lover, self-motivator, Berlusconi started up in the construction industry. He would buy and sell land in and around Milan. His break came when he acquired a vast stretch of empty farmland near the Milan airport. His fortunes turned when the landing pattern was changed and that patch of land, obtained for pennies, became an overnight fortune.

He didn’t stop at construction. Being a musician, a performer and an extrovert by nature, his attention was naturally drawn to TV. Local TV stations, limited in number, were forbidden by law to become national, avoiding competition with state-owned RAI networks. Defiant Berlusconi & Co set up local TV stations and dispatched motorcycle riders to main cities disseminating news pre-recorded on tapes.

In the end of 80s, Berlusconi and his family/friends were heading a conglomerate of companies in media, publishing and broadcasting obtained through mergers and acquisitions. Coincidentally – this contributed to Berlusconi’s soaring fortunes – Italy was on a sharp economic rise during the same period; in 1987 it became the 5th economic power in the world, with its GDP rising by more than 18%. Berlusconi crowned himself the king of Italy by becoming the owner of a star soccer team of AC Milan.

As of 2011, Berlusconi is worth an estimated $6.2bn (according to Forbes, 3rd wealthiest in Italy, 118th wealthiest in the world in 2011).

Notwithstanding his business acumen and success, Berlusconi’s fortunes in politics were not quite on par with his business achievements. On his political count there were three election victories (1994, 2001, 2008), two defeats (1996, 2006), more than 23 judicial investigations (mostly related to corruption), more than 51 votes of confidence in his government (since 2008).

Inside Italy, Berlusconi inspired awe, disgust and respect at different times. Internationally, his idiosyncratic character earned him friends and accolades in quarters where no European was previously seen. His close friendships with Russia’s Putin Lybia’s – now defunct – Qaddhafi and, at the same time, America’s Hillary Clinton were considered controversial.

Berlusconi seem to have always intermingled personal and professional relationships.

One example is information revealed by WikiLeaks about Berlusconi’s politically disguised business activities: deal arrangements on a Gazprom-Eni joint venture bringing gas from Russia to Europe; Berlusconi’s unconditional support of Putin during the Georgia-Russia conflict in 2008; decisions on Italy’s foreign policy to be based on Berlusconi’s inner circle and business associates rather than the country’s foreign interests.

Another example is his relationship Socialist PM Bettino Craxi (Berlusconi’s political mentor) who became godfather to one of Berlusconi’s children. Mr. Craxi’s brother-in-law was a mayor of Milan, which was also power center of Berlusconi’s business empire. In 1994, the recently deposed Tunisian leader Ben Ali – whose rise to the presidency was directly supported by Italy – provided refuge to Mr. Craxi.

But Berlusconi has been vocal in pointing out his political achievements to all and any who would listen. Thanks to his fiscal policies – as he boasted in international conferences in front Germany and France – Italy avoided the housing bubble, its banks did not go bust and its unemployment rate hovered around 8.5% (>20% in Spain). The budget deficit in 2011 is estimated to be circa 4% of GDP (6% in France).

However, these numbers are deceptive. The Economist’s special report revealed that only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the period of 2000-2010. GDP per head in Italy fell, and the public debt is still 120% of GDP.  Berlusconi’s Italy is 83rd in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the WEF’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Thus Berlusconi leaves behind an embittered, inert and economically-degraded Italy.

His businesses are running as usual and his macho attitude and chase of women continues to date with late-night parties, which have affected his health dramatically and irreversibly.

Berlusconi’s is thus a rather sad story of how a successful businessman wouldn’t – he most probably could have if only he tried –  do the same for his country as for his businesses. I guess this makes him the most unpatriotic and un-Italian of all Italians.

As for Italy, things look grim. If the newly appointed PM Monti does not get his game together fast, Italy might yet turn to be another Greece.

Failures of United Nations (part 4 – possible solutions)

As it became clear from the first three parts of “Failures of United Nations,” there is much to do for the UN to look anything like what its charter’s pre-amble sets out for its vision.

To summarize the most generic and underlying (for all UN agencies) reasons of the UN failures are:

  1. The UN has deviated from its primary role of preventing conflicts and over-extended into fields extending from education, to health, to humanitarian issues, to social and cultural fields.
  2. The UN today has emerged as an overextended empire with vested interests to enlarging its extent from New York to Paris to Rome and all sorts of UN advisors present from Africa to East Timor.
  3. The UN bureaucracy is too heavy and flabby with no justifiable functions.
  4. Millions of US dollars are spent on United Nations functions and operations other than the primary role of conflict prevention.
  5. UN operations and functions which could be performed by regional organisations or players are abrogated or duplicated by United Nations organisations.
  6. Millions of UN dollars are spent on various committee meetings and honorariums to their select members which have no connection at all with global security.
  7. Non-traditional security threats are being given priority at the expense of conflict prevention. This again is part of United Nations empire-building by vested interests.

While admittedly there are worthwhile, inspiring stories and exceptions among UN agencies, the large chunk of the UN, like a dinosaur’s rotting flesh and bones, make the stink spread far and wide, obfuscating the few healthy and productive organs it has. As of 2011, the UN remains what it has always been: for most part a debating society, a humanitarian relief organization, and an occasionally useful resort for power diplomacy.

The part blame of UN failures rests with the mindset of UN administrators, who think that no problem in the world is too intractable to be solved by negotiation. These mandarins fail to grasp that men with guns do not respect men with lotus flower. A good example of this incomprehension was Annan’s negotiations with Saddam Hussein. In 1998, Annan undertook shuttle diplomacy to Baghdad, reached a deal with Saddam to continue weapons inspections, and declared him “a man I can do business with.” Almost immediately Saddam flouted his agreement with Annan.

No doubt the UN, conceived in the context (before discoveries/inventions/introduction of DNA, cell phones, computers/Internet, neurosciences, global economy, reserve currency, and the list goes on) and accordance to its own times and needs, must be either dissolved or reorganized into a modern, 21st century global entity. The UN is highly bureaucratic, inefficient and obsolete as it stands today, a far cry from a modern global and efficient framework assigned to address and solve virtually every problem the world has been facing since millennia and only became aware in the beginning of 20th century.  The immediacy that is common place today did not exist when the UN was founded. Much of the activities of the UN were not known to most of the world. This is why in the first 40 years sanctions by oppressive governments were largely ignored.

Soem of possible ways of fixing the UN, include:

  1. Abolish the SC. Can anyone envision PRC, Ghana and the Republic of Congo adheres to the same principles of human rights as Belgium, Italy and United Kingdom do? In practice, even if those conventions are ratified, there is little effort put in monitoring or enforcing them.
  2. Perform SWOT analysis of all UN agencies and either downsize or fully eliminate those which do not adhere to a number of pre-defined strict criteria. Agencies such as UNAIDS need to go or reinvent themselves dramatically.
  3. Drastically downsize the UN Secretariat and associated bureaucratic apparatus – it stands along the way of idea exchange, institutional innovation and cross-pollination. Bureaucracy needs to become a friend instead of being an enemy.
  4. Initiate a strong reassessment of UN human resources – downgrade/upgrade accordingly, in addition to tieing some of salary or other incentives to employee performance – yet another good business practice the UN can benefit from.
  5. Bring in network theory specialists and a study of how its practices can possibly be implemented inside various UN agencies in in order to increase impact and efficiency of their performances.
  6. The UN must loose/divert its military (and those adjacent complementing and leading to military) muscles. Passing meaningless resolutions against Israel, China, Russia, and the US with political agendas attached, historically served no purpose except to expose the UN’s weaknesses and soft political underbelly.
  7. Divert funds into world education, health and social development, letting go of political and economic aspirations in member countries.
  8. All UN member countries come to an agreement of having a “world police” –  the US tipped the prime first candidate (it can be rotational and performance-based). This country will not act under jurisdiction or other legal tie of the UN but independently as a legitimate representative of all the UN (and few non-UN) countries.
The above list is not comprehensive, but it can serve as a beginning.

The UN was designed to prevent the occurrence of another global war, which it did, without being able to prevent smaller wars/conflicts with even bigger human and other resource loses. Making the UN a more viable organization, more non-political and more relevant for the 21st century is essential for its survival and relevance in a modern world. Otherwise it should be relegated to the bone yard where its present course is now headed.

Successes of United Nations (bonus)

Despite all its failures, inconsistencies and difficulties, check the below  list of successes of the UN:

  • The first and foremost is that it has prevented the occurrence of any further world wars. Instrumental in the maintenance of international balance of power.
  • It played a significant role in disarming the world and making it nuclear free (well, almost). Various treaty negotiations like ‘Partial Test Ban Treaty’ and ‘Nuclear non-proliferation treaty’ have been signed under UN.
  • Demise of colonialism and imperialism on one hand and apartheid on the other had UN sanctions behind them.
  • The UN acted as vanguard for the protection of human rights of the people of the world, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.
  • UN agencies and affiliates such as WHO, UNICEF, and UNESCO have keenly participated in the transformation of the international social sector.
  • Limited but moderately successful peace-brokering arrangements and peace-keeping operations in a number of conflict zones (since 1945, the UN has been credited with negotiating 172 peaceful settlements that have ended regional conflicts).
  • The world body was also instrumental in institutionalization of international laws and world legal framework.
  • Passage of various conventions and declarations on child, women, climate, etc, highlights the extra-political affairs of the otherwise political world body.
  • UN interventions in a number of peace missions in Africa have done reasonably well to control the situation.

Failures of United Nations (part 3 – WFP and WHO)

The first two parts exposed some historic snippets of Security Council and other UN agencies.

How do UN affiliates fare? Let’s review World Food Program (WFP) and World Health Organization (WHO) who are in charge of health and food correspondingly in the UN world of affairs.


Before reading on about food issues, make sure to read these stats from World Food Program (WFP) and these hunger myths by Rehydrate project.

Few organizations that were created after WW2 – including the FAO, the World Bank and the World Food Program – tasked with weaving together a safety net for the world’s poorest.  Some analysts claim that decades of neglect of agriculture by those agencies have left many countries with less food to feed their people.

The FAO has become the target of increasing criticism. In 2007, an independent review concluded that the agency had lost the confidence of donors, who have steadily reduced funding to the organization over the past decade. That same year, World Bank commissioned an internal review of its agricultural programs in Africa, concluding that “over time, the importance of agriculture in the Bank’s rural strategy has declined.” The bank’s Independent Evaluation Group noted that total international agricultural aid fell from $1.9 billion in 1981 to less than $1 billion by 2001, and that the bank cut its number of agricultural specialists for Africa from 40 to 17 over the past decade.

Over 80% of the world’s poor are in rural areas, but the World Bank seems to have decided, for past 30 years, that if market signals don’t support agriculture – they support low-end tech and junk finance mostly – so it won’t support it either.

Both the EU and the US Congress passed tweaked their legislations, writing off billions for farm subsidies, including for the production of ethanol. That last coupled with the fact that Western (European) governments have continued to stick to an import ban on high-yielding, genetically modified crops, thus dissuading African nations from using a technology that could increase production.

Nonetheless, WFP has been receiving and wielding billions of dollars on poor countries. Where does that money go and what purpose does it serve?

One investigative article sheds light on that question. According to it,

…tens of millions of dollars of aid to Ethiopia during the 1984–1985 famine were used for arms.

…an estimated 50 percent of food delivered by the U.N. agency is essentially being stolen—not only by the WFP’s own personnel and contractors, but also Somalia’s armed militias, some of whom are radical Islamists.

Three Somali businessmen won about 80 percent of the agency’s $200 million in transport contracts last year, in what is described as a 12-year-old “de facto cartel.” One of them, Abdulqadir Nur “Enow,” apparently staged a hijacking of his own trucks in order to sell the food. In another case, the report cites witnesses saying Enow’s company sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of food aid in local markets, an outcome made possible by the fact that WFP depended on a local agency run by Enow’s wife to verify his deliveries. Meanwhile, a second WFP trucking contractor, Abukar Omar Adaani, used his wealth to finance a rebel militia that launched an offensive in Mogadishu last year against Somalia’s U.N.-backed transitional government and African Union peacekeepers. Adaani also persuaded the WFP to fund a road officials said was designed to give Islamist insurgents access to an airstrip, according to the report.

…in Ethiopia (one of the largest recipients of food aid in the world), the WFP has spent millions on contracts with transport companies controlled by the country’s increasingly authoritarian ruling party… claimed the Ethiopian government uses food as a weapon, a mere 12 percent of food reached the people for which it was intended in 2008, according to figures from the U.S. State Department.

…for its $1.2 billion, three-year food-relief program in Afghanistan, the WFP’s trucking and shipping costs for food were two to three times above commercial rates… noted that less than 40 percent of the mission’s budget was actually for food.

WFP’s planned shipping costs to send more than a half billion dollars of food aid to North Korea were inflated — prompting the agency to admit that some of its shipping budget went to companies owned by dictator Kim Jong Il’s government.

All this looks like a morbid plot planned by evil malfaisants, whose sole objective is to waste huge amounts of money in their attempt to perpetuate the end of the (poor parts of the) world. But is it? How is it not then?

Has the demonic Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) been scrapped – it accounted for 48% of the EU’s budget in 2006, i.e. circa 50 billion Euros of keeping alive zombie farming businesses?

  • Have the debts of the world’s poorest nations been cancelled?
  • Is each country in the world paying its fair share into helping those most in need?
  • What about China and Russia and Malaysia and other countries with oil interests in Sudan and other places where their corporate not only damage environments but also cause (indirectly and sometimes quite directly) civil unrest and political turmoil?


World Health Organization (WHO) is considered by many one of the most successful UN affiliates. While unquestionably impactful, it had its fair share of failures in the past. Starting on the positive note though, WHO’s greatest triumph was in 1977 when it announced that it had achieved its aim of eradicating smallpox from the globe. But some of its successes were marred and look bleak in the wake of facts such as that cholera, diarrhoea and tuberculosis still kill thousands of children and adults each year in the developing world despite cures being available. In the case of the latter, misuse of antibiotics has caused severe problems with the disease becoming resistant to the initial treatments.

But before we plunge into its past, let’s review one of its biggest to-date efforts on vaccination and immunization, Global Immunization Vision and Strategy (GIVS).

GIVS was launched in 2006 in cooperation with UNICEF being first of its kind first 10-year plan of tackling global vaccination and immunization matters for most endemic deceases. Its goals are noble and ambitious. But some of its strategies, at least seem to be, quote strange. For example, the “Strategic Area I:  Protecting more people in a changing world” contains:

  • Strategy 2:  Increase community demand for immunization
  • Strategy 3:  Ensure that unreached people are reached in every district at least four times a year
  • Strategy 4: Expand vaccination beyond the traditional target group

What does the Strategy 2 imply? Why would we want an increase in demand for immunization? There is a natural demand, driven by carriers of deceases and those potential at risk of contagion. It is this demand that has to be met, not less, not more. Unless we are talking business, revenue increase and improvement of margins for pharmas regardless of whether there is or not a need for more immunization medicine, something that has had its spotlight and caused much embarrassment for those high flying firms.

Strategy 3 propounds and advocates a quarterly reach for everyone. Why is it 4 times?? Is it because there are four seasons in year? There seems to be no other logic as any infectious decease or epidemic has its own embryo-time, cycles and post-contagious period. Or it is a rule of thumb, a sort of a “just-in-case check-up/immunization”? That would be even dumber as we are dealing here with billions of taxpayer money, significant human and other resource commitments, economies of scale and whatnot. All this is easily convertible into monetary units.

And last but not even close to the least, Strategy 4 sounds like a new idea of a push-sales strategy of a firm that sees its sales stagnate. Traditional group – or so anyone would assume – is the target group which are those who need vaccination/immunization. To propose to enhance it beyond this group sounds little – well, not quite – silly, unless again commercial interests of pharmas are at stake.

Now that the bigger picture and mentality behind GIVS give us some notion about its inspiration – read between the lines – and goals, let’s have a look at numbers. 35% of estimated vaccine costs for 72 poorest countries (which host an estimated 733 million people) comprise 35% of total costs (an estimated $35 billion), the rest of expenditures (65%) spent on systems costs (maintenance of current system and scale up) and campaigns. GIVS assessed that US$ 11–15 billion of the overall resource needs are unmet in those 72 countries, if the GIVS goals are to be reached.

Applying an elementary algebra, we divide the total budget ($35 billion) by a total population (733 million) for those 72 countries. $47 – this is the average to be spent on each person for vaccination/immunization.  Next step was to see whether this sum is big or small for stated goals? According to this abstract, the average cost per fully immunized – only against malaria – child (FIC) in Tanzania increases almost linearly from US 4.2 dollars per FIC at a vaccine price of US 1 dollar per dose to US 31.2 dollars at vaccine price of US 10 dollars per dose. What does this tell us? That even nominal costs to fully immunize against malaria are high, and not inclusive of marketing and other administrative expenses. Thoughts? There seems to be something wrong with numbers – or with my brains.

Let’s now focus on WHO’s treatment of swine flu and AIDS.

Swine flu

World Health Organization conceded serious shortcomings in the agencies handling of the H1N1 swine flu pandemic. The most worrying problem included a failure to communicate uncertainties about the new virus as it spread around the world. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s top influenza expert, said “The reality is there is a huge amount of uncertainty (in a pandemic). I think we did not convey the uncertainty. That was interpreted by many as a non-transparent process.” Fukuda targeted the U.N. agency’s six-phase system for declaring a pandemic had sown confusion about the flu bug which was ultimately not as deadly as the widely-feared avian influenza.

A vocal minority of scientists and government officials around the world have accused WHO of overplaying the danger of the virus, while others have claimed its decision to declare a pandemic was unduly influenced by commercial interests. Critics have said the WHO created panic about the swine flu virus, which turned out to be moderate in its effect, and caused governments to stockpile vaccines which went unused. Questions have been voiced regarding the WHO’s links to the pharmaceutical industry after companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis made massive profits from producing H1N1 vaccine.

Falsely reassuring words of the officials regarding the “safety” of the swine flu vaccines, developed in haste, are now openly incriminated by the Finnish authorities for causing narcolepsy, a serious neurological disorder, which has been observed in several children and adolescents.


The WHO’s failure to hit its “3 by 5” target – a plan to put 3 million AIDS sufferers on life-extending antiretroviral treatment by the end of 2005- is the result of it placing too much emphasis on treatment, and not enough on prevention. As a result of this misprioritisation, new cases of AIDS are piling up faster than they can be treated.

Philip Stevens, director of health projects at International Policy Network said: “Instead of learning from its mistakes and changing direction, the WHO is actually asking for more money so it can beef up a strategy that is clearly failing. This is entirely the wrong way to go about fighting AIDS in Africa.”

That was swine flue and AIDS. How is WHO fairing in on other infectious deceases and endemics? According to the Wikipedia entry of “eradication of infectious deceases,” resulting from the global health efforts, smallpox was successfully by WHO in 1977. Rinderpest, on the other hand was finally declared to be eradicated by FAO in 2010. Global eradication is underway for polio (led by WHO, UNICEF and Rotary Foundation) and dracunculiasis (led by Carter center, not WHO).

In regional efforts of elimination established or under way for malaria (initiated by  Bill and Melinda Gates and creation/funding of Roll Back Malaria Partnership and their Global Malaria Action Plan), lymphatic filariasis (treatments donated by GlaxoSmithKline and Merck), measles, rubella (WHO missed its own set eradication target of 2010), onchocerciasis (Onchocerciasis Control Programme, a joint collaboration of WHO, World Bank, UNDP and FAO, eliminated onchocerciasis as a public health problem by 2002 but as of 2008, about 18 million people were still infected of which 300,000 permanently blinded, the decease still currently endemic in 30 African countries, with circa 120 million people being at risk for contracting the disease), yaws (WHO has moderate success tackling it), bovine spongiform encephalopathy and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

The above illustrates that, with one important exception of smallpox, WHO has a sidekick’s role (polio, malaria, onchocerciasis), is a loser (tuberculosis, rubella) or almost entirely absent (dracunculiasis, lymphatic filariasis, measles, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease) from the global health playground, shielding itself by (co-) commissioning studies and conducting surveys.

I leave it up to you to judge success rate and “RoI” of WFP and WHO.

How lack of reading damages modern society

Never in human history has so much knowledge been available and accessible, and yet so little curiosity or effort been expended to obtain it.

In 2010 Google estimated that there are about 130 million unique books in the world. Google Books launched in 2004 (by now 15 million books), GoodReads in 2007 (5 million members), Copia in 2009, New York Times e-book best-seller lists in 2011.

What are we doing with all this information and opportunity? What is the most accessed item on the internet? Sex.

To Read, or Not to Read,” a report based on research conducted in 2007 by the National Endowment for the Arts found that while young Americans spend almost two hours a day watching television, only seven minutes of their daily leisure time is spent reading. Almost half of 18-24-years-old Americans read no books for pleasure.

Societies have always institutionalized inequalities of one sort or another. In the past, the pursuit of knowledge and culture was very much an elite preoccupation. In the Renaissance, for example, whether it was Leonardo da Vinci (scholar/scientist in pursuit of art/knowledge/etc) or the MEdici (commissioning creation of art/knowledge/etc), the engine of culture that produced advances in science/technology/art/philosophy was driven by a minority. It is thus not counter-intuitive that despite the overall increase in educational attainment, a large segment of society reflects “non-elite” interests. In this view, “high” (i.e. educated/intelligent) culture has always been the prerogative of the few/elites. Modern political/economic/social democratization/development has therefore merely placed majority culture (which was always there but not exposed as much) in full view.

The transmission of knowledge/tradition is one of the most important functions of any society. Usually, this function is fulfilled by the intelligentsia/elite/minority of the society. The problem is not that the elite failed to “bring culture to the masses,” but that the usual mode of cultural transmission has been inverted—the supposed culture of the masses has become the currency of the intellectual elite. As the decline in literary reading amongst the most educated indicates, the pursuit of ignorance has become a cultural imperative.

Paris Hilton’s latest leather bag, Brad Pitt’s latest sunglasses and alike are the buzzword and bread of masses who do not and want not to know anything say for example about global economic crises under way, or climate changes that already affect us.

Firstly, modern intelligentsia is no longer a transmitter and beacon of high culture but more a great zombie that spearheads trashy, hippy and vulgar (from Greek term meaning “popular”). In the past, this transfer was impeded by a myriad of factors including, lack of access to information, unavailability of information, transportation/transfer difficulties, information/knowledge reproduction costs, etc.

Youth who has university degrees – if I were to generalize somewhat – is the staple good of the (“intellectual”) society and which represents a large proportion of its future leaders.

Yet, according to professor Bauerlein’s book (2008) “The Dumbest Generation,” more than half of American school leavers score below basic achievement levels even in American history; 52% think that Germany, Italy and Japan were US allies in the WW2. It is the Digital Age which has, he postulates, stunted and diminished not only the knowledge young people attain, but the very tools they require to attain it. Calculator – adding numbers. Google Translate – translate entire text without review/analysis and thought. Baroness Susan Greenfield uses the term “mind change” to highlight the potential danger to human cognitive development in the unmonitored and unregulated exposure of young minds to digital technology/media.

Second reason, apart from reversal of knowledge transfer from the elite to masses, is the manner in which education is “packaged” and delivered at schools/universities. History books, for example, are narrow in their scope and tend to have biases (for example, history Easter Europe usually doesn’t get much adequate exposure in most modern European historic treatises – a notable exception is Fischer’s history of Europe). Thus, packaging is wanty. Delivery as well became less comprehensive as teachers are less and less educated/prepared for their jobs.

A third important aspect is that history has become more idealized/romanticized. In the pursuit of “real history,” history courses depict an ideological construct that they fabricate largely in the absence of evidence or filling in the “desired” course of actions (depending on history and politics of a country). Many contemporary history courses are actually a-historical, in which the social experience and context of the past float in a timeless and eventless “now” and where all regional/temporal differences are ignored.

Socrates realized that to “know thyself” one has to go through interaction with others. We are social animals, and understanding the “other” is essential to how we live and learn. The process of gaining this knowledge to inner worlds of others is called theory of mind. It’s a developmental process whereby children gradually achieve understanding that their mental view and perception of the world is different from that of others. Older children begin to be able to place themselves in someone else’s position, to understand something from someone else’s point of view.

Reading – check the fabulous introduction to Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin why we need to read – is the ultimate form of exercise of theory of mind. It places us within the consciousness of both the writer and the characters of the book, while also giving us access to the writer’s world/experiences/imagination.

Current trend is that people want to be read, they don’t want to read. They don’t have time, nor feel there is much knowledge (beyond what they already know) that can enrich them – there is always some excuse.

The failure of our social/cultural institutions to counterbalance unwanted consequences of modern socio-technological pressures is what might bring to the point of make-or-break our modern society and its intellectual and economic achievements.

There are specks of hope though. In the spring of 1971, a librarian Marguerite Hart set out to inspire the Troy (America) youngsters to read and love the library. Her letter-writing campaign invited writers, actors, musicians, politicians to share what made reading special for them. She got 97 letters, including notes from Neil Armstrong and Isaac Asimov. The collection became known as Letters to the Children of Troy.

Failures of United Nations (part 2 – other UN agencies)

In the first part of the “Failures United Nations,” I started off by documenting some of most glaring blunders of the Security Council, in charge of global peace/security- related  matters. As far as military and political interventions were an issue, the UN SC showed itself incapable to say the least.

What about other agencies of the UN and their areas of responsibility and action? Besides the maintenance of global peace/security, the UN has a three-pronged raison d’être: economic, social and political betterment of the world. How has the UN been fairing on these dimensions?

Ivory Coast (political)

The United Nations had a plan for Ivory Coast: to oversee elections and install a “winner-takes-all” state president.  Having failed to secure a political solution, the UN joined with French forces and one side in the civil war in Ivory Coast to forcibly overthrow the government that had lost the election but refused to quit. The discovery of mass graves of civilian victims of gruesome violence suggests that the UN may have reignited the North-South civil war instead of healing it.

Kenya (health/society)

The orthodox account of how HIV is transmitted in African countries is inherently racist.

UNAIDS have rarely been heard to refer to any kind of non-sexually transmitted HIV except to deny that it exists. And they have to spend their time thinking up ad hoc explanations of why a virus that is difficult to transmit sexually is almost always transmitted sexually in (some) African countries and hardly ever in non-African countries.

Syria (political)

It is deplorable that some members of the United Nations Security Council – most disappointingly, Brazil, India and South Africa – were reluctant to pass a resolution condemning the Syrian military’s continual attacks on unarmed demonstrators. At long last, on Wednesday, the council issued a “statement,” which does include the verb “condemn,” but carries less authority than a resolution.

Iraq (economic/social)

“I went to the U.N. as a die-hard supporter of that organization. I left as one of its most outspoken critics,” Spertzel, who formerly led the U.N. biological weapons inspection team in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

“The Oil-for-Food people spent most of their time in the cafeteria, as opposed to being out in the field making sure that the material was going to the locations that it was supposed to,” Spertzel said. “It was such common knowledge it had to be known.”

In an arrangement negotiated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the UN collected 2.2% of every oil sale — totaling $1.4 billion in all — to ensure Oil-for-Food was on the up-and-up. Instead, Saddam stole billions, collecting kickbacks from oil buyers and dishonest aid suppliers who often stuck the Iraqi people with third-rate food and medicine that was unfit for human consumption.

DR Congo (human rights/social)

The UN has consistently failed Congolese women, at every level from the troops on the ground to the Security Council that deploys them, from the array of UN agencies present in the DRC to the Secretariat in New York and the Secretary-General charged with leading the bureaucracy. It has failed to understand the problem, to address it, to acknowledge its own mistakes, to assign responsibility, and to substitute effective action for rhetoric.

Hutu members of the Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda (FDLR) who had participated in the 1994 Rwandan genocide fled that year over the border into the DRC. By 1996 they had penetrated deep into the Congo. Now there are about 6,000 FDLR fighters who use the DRC as a base, and are deeply involved in exploiting that country’s minerals. They have raped women without pause or hesitation since arriving.

Against this background, the UN’s actions and inaction over the last 14 years have led to the latest episodes in Luvungi and other areas in eastern Congo. Local Congolese rebels together with the FDLR took over Luvungi from July 30 to August 3 and raped hundreds of women. The world was informed not by the UN, but by an NGO, International Medical Corps, which was approached by victims who sought help. This is astonishing until one looks carefully at the UN’s role in the DRC.

Pakistan (environment/social)

“The United Nation’s One UN Joint Program is a wonderful project, but unfortunately this pilot and test project was totally failed due to the recruitment of the incompetent staff at the key posts.”

… people hired are only those who have been recommended by the incumbent government. He said that the hiring process favors hiring family members of other UN employees.

… initiated by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). A best example of these failures is the Mountains Areas Conservancy Project (MACP), which has failed badly. This project was considered a failure because the UN didn’t generate any awareness among the Pakistani people about the conservancy of the mountains.

Needless to say that the bigger picture here looks quite as bleak as for the SC.

What is to be done – if there is anything possible – to make the United Nations to live up to its name and act more responsibly, effectively and in a more considerate and impactful manner? The part-3 will elaborate on that..

Failures of United Nations (part 1 – Security Council)

January 1, 1942. WW2 is raging. There is misery, chaos and destruction. Representatives of 26 countries, including America, are gathered and pledge in “Declaration by United Nations” – Franklin D. Roosevelt coins the term “United Nations” – to continue fighting the evil of Axis powers.

1945. War is over, but the term coined by FDR lives on as representatives of 50 countries meet in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter, which has the following pre-amble.

  • To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

What about results it has achieved in its 60 years of history? According to one groundbreaking report UNICEF conducted in 1996:

  • Increasingly, wars are fought in precisely those countries that can least afford them. Of more than 150 major conflicts since the Second World War, 130 have been fought in the developing world. The per capita gross national product (GNP) of war-torn countries in 1994 included: Afghanistan (US$280), Angola ($700), Cambodia ($200), Georgia ($580), Liberia ($450), Mozambique ($80), Somalia ($120), Sri Lanka ($640), the Sudan ($480).
  • Since the 1950s, more wars have started than have stopped. By the end of 1995, wars had been running in Afghanistan for 17 years, Angola, 30; Liberia, 6; Somalia, 7; Sri Lanka, 11; Sudan, 12.
  • The global case-load of refugees and displaced persons is growing at alarming speed. The number of refugees from armed conflicts worldwide increased from 2.4 million in 1974 to more than 27.4 million today, the report notes, with another 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Children and women make up an estimated 80 per cent of displaced populations.
  • In 6 out of 12 country studies prepared for a research report … the arrival of peace-keeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.

The UN’s elephant in the room that no one pretends to heed is the infamous UN Security Council (SC), which issues resolutions, which – the SC is the only UN agency with such power – are binding by law for all UN members. Not only the balance of power is tilted towards the UK, France, the US, China and Russia – the veto-wielding powers that can block any decision even if remaining ten non-veto members vote yes – but this tilt itself is archaic, driven by the then political and economic realities, and not representing 21st century power distribution.

It is not only this but the fact – and this is the most important factor in deciding the “usefulness” of the SC – that scrambling over each other at times and staying mum at other times and closing their eyes and ears at yet others is a typical mode of functioning of this UN body. Furthermore, if it were only numerous debates with foregone decisions, meticulously planned and executed-to-perfection speeches containing no sense or petty, nitpicking droolings over a single word resonating in the halls and assemblies around the world, that would still be bearable. Reality is different. The result is a list of failures, lack of actions sanctioned by and plain inactivy on the part of the SC, notably:

  • UN voice re Hungary and Czechoslovakia was ignored by the Soviet Union in 1950s.
  • No emphatic role/inefficiency/late action in crisis of worst kinds such as  Sierra LeoneCuban Missile Crisis, Korean War, Vietnam War, Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, the US-sponsored Islamic Jehad via Pakistan on Afghanistan against the Soviets, the three Gulf Wars and the wars leading to the break up of Yugoslavia.
  • Number of nuclear powers (and their nuclear activities) has been increasing despite UN’s and its nuclear watchdog IAEA’s best efforts. Notably, China’s assistance in development of nuclear weapons and its supply of nuclear capable missiles and missile technology to Pakistan, assistance in building up of DPRK’s long-range and nuclear capable missiles, and finally, Pakistan’s supply of nuclear weapons technology to DPRK.
  • Iraq (American intervention was bereft of a UN SC mandate) and Afghanistan have large contingents of UN peacekeepers – yet the situation has become worse despite – or perhaps because of – their arrival and inefficient operations.
  • Inability to resolve/mediate in politically unstable or conflicting situations diplomatically.
  • Inability to define, grasp the scope of and resolve the war on terrorism.

According to the UN entry on Wikipedia the main issue is the UN’s intergovernmental – and that’s 192 governments with different agendas – nature, which defies its consensus-based logic. The UN itself published and acknowledged its two biggest blunders: Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995). UN peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the UN declared safe areas for Muslims but did nothing to secure them, letting the Serbs slaughter thousands in Srebrenica.

Additionally, petty disagreements, procrastination and narrow-minded bureaucracy of the SC delegates failed to provide humanitarian aid in the Second Congo War, failed to relief starving Somalia and Uganda, failed to intervene and save countless lives in Sudan, failed to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue.

The UN was the very reason, back in last months of 1947, reluctant to decide upon partitioning of Jews, the minority, and Palestinians when the UK handed it the sovereignty mandate that caused Jews to take on all strategic administrative posts – they were better educated thus more fit – the subsequent outcry of Arabs who were a majority to take to streets with weapons, ushering in a full-fledged civil war, which in May 1948 turned into a war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.

The much touted and hope-inspiring UN peacekeepers have been marred with problems of their own. They were accused of child rape and sexual abuse during various peacekeeping missions in Congo, Haiti, Liberia, etc. Around 100,000 UN peacekeepers make up UN peacekeeping operations – currently, Pakistan, Bangladesh being the biggest contributors – are sent by a number of contributing governments in exchange for a monthly stipend of about US$1,400 per soldier – a significant amount for main contributing countries. Trying to coordinate all the disparate, differently-trained and equipped, multi-lingual units is quite a challenging, if not impossible, task.

The only interventions that achieved anything worthwhile in the 1990s were conducted outside the standard UN “jurisdiction.”  They were achieved through great-power action and traditional balance-of-power calculations – both anathema to orthodox UN mentality. In Bosnia, a Croat onslaught and NATO bombing and artillery bombardment combined to roll back Serb forces and to push Slobodan Milosevic to cut a deal. In Kosovo, a rebel ground offensive, NATO air power, and the threat of a NATO invasion again bludgeoned Belgrade into submission. The UN’s role was negligible in both cases.

NATO won a victory in Kosovo and unwisely turned over its management to the UN and its chief Bernard Kouchner, who faced the challenge of running Kosovo but inability to prevent its eventual return to Serbia, resulting in delayed schedules, lags in reconstruction and suffering/dispossessed population.

Thus the SC is clearly problematic and not in some aesthetic or theoretical, but in a manner that caused and causes suffering, death and abuse in many corners of the world, the very opposite of their claimed objectives.

But what other alternatives are there, at least as far as global peace and security are concerned? “Might Is Right” cause is as arcane as one country being the leader of world peace. What government would accept that? Also, we can safely assume that no country has the moral high ground or a universally accorded carte-blanche or even a sheer logistical capacity to become the world police, peacemaker/keeper/sustainer.

There are proposed alternatives (a bit paraphrased and complemented by links).

David Rieff has argued for the US and its allies to undertake “liberal imperialism,” while William Kristol and Robert Kagan have called for the US to assume a “benevolent global hegemony” – which will imply fighting wars in places like Kosovo. Contrary to received wisdom, this would not be a new role for the US, for it had been involved in other countries’ internal affairs since at least 1805, when, during the Tripolitan War, the US tried to topple the pasha of Tripoli and replace him with his pro-American brother. US Marines landed abroad 180 times in the period of 1800-1934. In the 19th century, they stayed only a few days but still helped open up the world to Western trade and influence, their most spectacular successes being Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan and the defeat of the Barbary pirates. After 1898, US forces stayed longer in order to run countries such as the Philippines, Haiti, and Cuba. The US rule was not democratic, but it gave those countries the most honest and efficient governments they have ever enjoyed.

Another way that the UN shows its archaic nature is its inability to cope with the new and increainslgy popular networked terrorism. The UN does not formally recognize any country as a terrorist state, nor has its own definition of terrorism, vowing for “operational definition” of a specific terrorism act.

“Is it worth (read: pros/cons analysis) having a Security Council at all, given all its past and present fails?” is the question we need to really think about.