‘Why Donald Trump’s regime should consider all options before making choice’
The sustained bickerings over the alleged interference, by Russia, in the November 8, 2016 presidential election of the United States of America may downplay the symbolism of today’s inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th occupier of the White House. Subsequent developments, according to Emeritus Professor Michael Omolewa are going to be interesting and fascinating. But the renowned Historian, International Relations expert and the 32nd President of the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) offers a candid advice for the new administration to succeed: “consider all the options open and make the right choice.” He spoke to KABIR ALABI GARBA.
The global peace and the US as a major player in the new dispensation that is being inaugurated today
This is clearly an important and topical subject. The point is that the United States began to demonstrate its massive power and influence over world affairs as from the beginning of the 20th century. For example, during the First World War, the United States came very reluctantly to participate in that war. For the country had always considered itself an isolated entity and had always been more concerned about the development of its own region and people. But when the country was compelled during the First World War to come and defend democracy, the US dropped its garb of isolation and decided to be part of the world movement siding with those that were pushing for democratic rule. And it was the United States that determined the course of that First World War, once it sided with allies such as the UK, France and those that were against Germany.
The US took the lead, and it was the US Generals that determined the pace of activities and the direction of the War. The US President sold his ideas of what the world should look like after the war and was well received.
After the War, it was the US in 1918 that took the surrender baton from the losers and once it did that, the US also proposed that to check future aggression and war, there would now be the establishment of the League of Nations, so that wars would no longer be necessary. Alternatively, there would be consultations and dialogue under the auspices of the League of Nations. That arrangement helped to sustain the hope of a world where peace would reign. The expectation was dashed when the US Congress refused to accept the proposals of its President.
Once the US pulled out of the League of Nations option, the League became a toothless bulldog: it had no weapons, no funds, no authority, and no capacity to stop any aggression or promote peace. Therefore, from 1919 to 1939, there was chaos all over parts of the world. When Italy invaded Ethiopia, in war of aggresion, the emperor of Ethiopia had to run away after his appeal to the League of Nations proved futile. In the meantime, in Germany, Hitler ignored the League of Nations, and the terms of the Treaty of Vesailles and began to rearm in order to reclaim the sovereignty of Germany. That was how the Second World War began. In its characteristic manner, the US decided not to be part of the Second World war but when its Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, the US stood up and decided to challenge Japan, and its German allies. The arrival of the US decided the course of the War in favour of Britain and its own allies.
Following the victory of the allies at the War, the United States began to dominate the scene, helping to build the defeated German but also strengthening the cooperation with the allies and friends. The world responded and in order to prevent what happened after First World War, a United Nations headquarters was built in New York. Furthemore, the World Bank and the Intenational Monetary Fund were created and located in the US. Other specialized agencies of the UN were distributed among other countries: UNESCO in France; FAO in Rome, the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva but the US also kept the UNDP and UNICEF in the country.
The United States is undisputedly supreme: it has so much power, militarily, politically and economically. Its univesities have traditionally been among the best in world ranking. Even its Chuches played significant role in the world of religion. During the cold war, the US firmly stood its ground against the Soviet Union. And eventually, it was America that won the cold war with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Soviet Union disintegrated and the United States continued to reign and rule as the super power. Whether the US is now being challenged by China, Russia and so on, is another matter. But once the US stands up, I think the whole world listens. This has translated to the saying that once the US sneezes, the whole world catches cold.
But what about this fear that the alleged interference by Russia in the last US election may threaten the global peace?
If the allegation is proven to be true, it means that the cold war had been unnecessary and needless, and thus fought for nothing. For there have been several years of the war of ideology and battle for supremacy between the US and Russia. If these two powers had come together, there would have been no Cuban crisis of 1962 and 1963. There would have been no need for President J. F. Kennedy to travel to Berlin with the message that the US stood in solidaity with West Gemany in his historic speech, Ich bin auch ein Beliner ‘I am also a Berlinian.’ Russia’s influence of the election in the US and thus the coming together of Putin and Trump could mean that all the innocent souls harassed or imprisoned for being supporters of communist Russia, such as Nelson Mandela ought not to have taken place. Once Russia tilts towards the US, we should now start to watch what will happen to China that has been a long ally of Russia. Will Russia now pull away from China? But there are many people in the States who are not going to drop their opposition to Communism no matter the level of interaction among the top leaders. Many of these have grown up to detest communist Russia and may not be able to get rid of their opposition in a hurry. For example, we aleady hear that some members of the US Congress have indicated that they would boycott the inauguration of Donald Trump. They are saying “what the hell are they going to do with someone who got to the US presidency with the support of the traditional enemy of the US?” I am sure it is going to be fascinating and interesting. As a teacher of History and International Relations, I am excited and looking forward to this new development and share my obsevations with my students and the wider world.
As the 32nd President of the General Conference of UNESCO, how did you bring about the return of the US to the global body?
When I arrived in UNESCO as my country’s representative, the US was out of the oganisation. This meant that the amount of money that the US needed to put into the Budget of UNESCO was not available. That was almost 25 per cent of the whole budget of the organization. So, a decision was taken that we were going to encourage the US to come back; and thank God, the US now had a new administration that had moved away from this isolation from UNESCO. President George W. Bush decided to bring the US back to UNESCO after the 9/11 catastophe. Ambassador Stanton of the United Kingdom at the time and myself were invited and we travelled to the United States to join in the advocacy work of the Director General of UNESCO in appealing to various interest groups to support the move to return to UNESCO.
Happily in September 2003, the US decided to come back after almost two decades of exit. On the day the announcement was about to be made, the Lord had helped me to be elected as 32nd President of the General Conference of UNESCO. The first thing I did as President of General Conference of UNESCO, after reading the address of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo to the world body, thanking them for accepting Nigeria to serve in that office, was to invite Mrs Laura Bush, First Lady of the US to addess the General Conference. She did so and announced that the US was returning that evening to UNESCO. The US flag was later hoisted and the country resumed its membership of UNESCO and began to contribute to every area of the mission and mandate of UNESCO including education, science and culture. On the return of the US, there was richness in the UNESCO programmes and expansion of activities. The US contributed not just money, but also human resource, experience and expertise. Countries also began to work together within the context of the mission of UNESCO, the latter providing a platform for recognition and celebration of differences and promoting world peace.
What happened that the US was out of UNESCO for almost two decades?
The exit of US from UNESCO took place under President Renald Reagan following an almost irreconciliable difference on programmes and management between the US and the then Director General of UNESCO, the Senegalese, Mactar M’Bow. When M’Bow clashed with the US ambassador, Reagan felt that his country was insulted and a decision was taken to pull out of UNESCO. That was how the US was only in an observer status for almost two decades in UNESCO.
The US did everthing possible to get other Western countries to leave but those counties remained in the organsation. With its exit, the US could not serve on the Executive Board, could not vote or be voted for in the Councils and Committees and it also did not pay. When the country returned to UNESCO, it was a great moment to put at the disposal of the world, the resources and facilities for world cooperation available in the US.
What should be the world’s expectations from the incoming U.S. government?
We should be aware that there has been a shift in world governance in recent times. China has emerged as a silent key player. Japan remains there with its economic power and potentials, Russia seems unwilling to be ignored as the country has demonstrated with the Syria crisis. The United States is no longer the world power that had the capacity to influence world developments as in the early years of this century. It is imperative, therefore that the US has to act with caution, get its house in order, ensure that the minorities are given a voice and that African Americans do not lose the battle that they have fought for centuries in human rights movements. It will be left for the new administration to consider all the options open and make the right choice. We shall pray for world peace, equality, respect, and social justice.
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