Sunday 7 January 2018

My Person of 2017

I have never really been a fan of the whole idea of nominating "people of the year".  I know that it has been popular and common-place for all respectable publications and newspapers to choose their person of the year.  Time Magazine's annual choice of person of the year is a highly anticipated occasion, with the chosen person given the privilege of gracing the publication's cover.  Is it really possible to choose one person who epitomises the year, and who can lay claim to having had the largest influence on events in that year?  I am not sure about that.  For some reason, however, this year I feel differently.  For me, there is one person who has emerged from the shadows during 2017 and truly stood out on the international stage.  That person is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.

Before even talking about Haley's achievements in her role as US Ambassador the UN, it is interesting to know a little more about the person behind the ambassadorial figure.  She is the daughter of immigrants from India, who came to the US after her father travelled from India to complete his PhD in Canada.  Nikki's parents are Sikhs, with all the visible differences that are associated with being a Sikh in a western environment.  It seems to me that growing up as a child in a minority family in a southern US state has given Haley the character and skills to be a leader who is sensitive to others, particularly minority groups.  After graduating from Clemson University and a short career in business, Haley began her political career in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004.  In 2010, she was elected Governor of South Carolina, and served in this capacity until she resigned early in 2017 to take up her new role as ambassador to the UN.

Over the years, the USA's  position at the UN has become a little confused.  There can be no doubt that the US was by far the strongest power and influencer when the UN was originally set up, and has continued to be the most powerful nation on earth during the years of the UN's existence until today.  The main organs of the UN are based in the US, and the US is also by far the most substantial financial contributor to the UN.  In its position as one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, the UN also has the ability to veto any resolution that is brought before the Security Council.  All of this bears testament to the US being the most powerful country amongst the community of nations.  In the General Assembly and in other UN organ bodies, however, the US is an equal member like every other nation with much less power to influence.  As a result of this, there are many examples where US interests (and those of US allies) have been trodden on.  Israel, as an ally of the US and as the favourite target of many UN organisations, has suffered more than its fair share of unwarranted negative attention and condemnation.  Of late, the UN has become a tool for local interest groups to gang up on individual countries for the purpose of furthering personal political agendas.  Israel is certainly a victim of this.  And this unfortunately detracts substantially from the main reason why the UN was established in the first place.

Nikki Haley appeared to understand all of this very well from the first day that she stepped foot into her office at the UN.  Not only did she understand this, she has been willing to stand up for what she believes to be just and equitable.  It was clear to her that the US was being asked to contribute far more to the UN than it was receiving in return.  It was also clear to her that Israel, a key ally of the US, was being unjustly bullied at every opportunity by UN organisations.  She has been prepared to take on the world at the UN to put this right.  In the process, I believe that she has brought some respectability to America's status at the UN and in the international arena in general.  She has also been willing to tackle the unfair treatment of Israel by the UN.

Undoubtedly, Haley has been given the drive and incentive by President Trump, who seems determined to redress the imbalance of the US position at the UN.  But there is also little doubt that she has taken her role seriously, and has been prepared to take on the powers at the UN.  She has shown the willingness to say and do the difficult things required to reinforce the US position at the UN.  Last month, she was prepared to exercise the US veto at the Security Council to vote down another anti-Israel resolution, after a lengthy period of time during which the US veto was not exercised.  Not only that, but she was vocal in threatening those who voted in favour of the US-critical resolution at the General Assembly of the risk that they would lose funding that they receive from the US.  The way in which she has been supportive of Israel's position at the UN is very much recognised and appreciated.  She has shown the guts to swim against the tide, and take actions which are roundly criticised by the majority.

There is no doubt that international politics and diplomacy these days is a game of interests rather than having for consideration for what is just and right.  And, while this contradicts the original intention that lay behind the UN when it was first set up, we see this permeating through all parts of the UN.  The Arab lobby at the UN has been used very effectively to make Israel the bad guy of the UN.  No other single country has had more resolutions and condemnations against them than Israel.  Surely this says it all.

Nikki Haley has been prepared to take on the world in defense of the US position at the UN, and also in defense of Israel's position.  Her passion in doing this, and her unwillingness to compromise her beliefs stands out against the background of mediocrity that is evident in international diplomacy.  Her heroic acts in sticking up for what she believes in makes her, in my opinion, the stand-out person of 2017.  Nikki Haley will be a voice to be heard on the international stage for some time, and I am looking forward to following her activities.

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