Politics & Policy

No Knight in Shining Armor

Kofi Annan doesn't deserve the queen's tap.

Few international figures are less deserving of an honorary knighthood bestowed by the queen of England than former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who received Britain’s highest honor for a foreign national last week. It is hard to see how Downing Street’s decision to recognize a figure who worked feverishly to undermine Britain and the United States over the Iraq war and the fight against Islamic terrorism, and was embroiled in the massive Oil-for-Food scandal, serves the British national interest. The knighthood should though come as no surprise considering Annan received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 after presiding over U.N. peacekeeping disasters during both the 1994 Rwanda genocide and 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Annan’s ten years at the helm of the U.N., as well as his period as undersecretary general for Peacekeeping Operations were a monumental failure, and he left behind an institution whose standing could barely be lower and a legacy that is a testament to appeasement, mismanagement, corruption, and anti-Americanism. He was probably the worst secretary general in the history of the United Nations, a staggering achievement considering the intense competition, and without a doubt the most weak-kneed.

Lord Mark Malloch Brown, Annan’s former chief of staff and recently appointed U.K. minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, almost certainly played a pivotal role in the decision to award a knighthood. Malloch Brown, who was unremittingly hostile towards both U.S. and British policy while serving at the UN, now sits on one of the most important portfolios at the British Foreign Office, and with his considerable experience in international affairs he is already overshadowing the much younger Foreign Secretary David Miliband. It is inconceivable that such an award would have been made under the premiership of Tony Blair, who frequently clashed swords with Annan, but under Gordon Brown, the winds of change are beginning to blow through the Anglo-American special relationship.

Considering the fact that Britain is still fighting a major war in Iraq alongside the United States and other allies, the decision to recognize Annan with a ceremony at Buckingham Palace is an affront to the brave servicemen and women who are putting their lives on the line every day. Annan was fiercely opposed to the U.S.-British-led liberation of the country, and famously declared it to be “illegal” in an interview with the BBC. While the Baathist regime ruled Iraq with an iron fist, Annan ignored the suffering of the Iraqi people. As Iraq’s then defense minister Hazem Shaalan remarked a year after the invasion, “where was Kofi Annan when Saddam Hussein was slaughtering the Iraqi people like sheep?” Following the liberation of Iraq, the U.N. Secretary General consistently undermined coalition efforts to rebuild the country, and in 2004 tried to intervene to halt a major counter-terrorist operation. Annan called on U.S. forces to pull back from taking the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, urging “a new chapter of inclusiveness and national reconciliation.” The secretary general, who had barely lifted a finger to help the people of Iraq, was now calling on them to embrace the terrorists who had sowed death and misery across their country.

Annan also massively failed the Iraqi people by presiding over the biggest financial scandal in the history of the United Nations, the Oil-for-Food debacle. Set up in the mid-1990s as a means of providing humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people, the U.N.-run Oil-for-Food Program was subverted by Saddam Hussein’s regime, with the complicity of some leading U.N. officials, to help prop up the Iraqi dictator. Saddam’s dictatorship was able to siphon off billions of dollars from the program through oil smuggling and systematic thievery, by demanding illegal payments from companies buying Iraqi oil, and through kickbacks from those selling goods to Iraq—all under the noses of U.N. bureaucrats.

The U.N.-appointed Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), as well as several Congressional investigations, documented a huge amount of evidence involving more than 2,200 companies in 66 countries as well as a number of prominent international politicians. The reports painted an ugly tableau of bribery, corruption, and fraud on a global scale. They amply demonstrated how the Iraqi dictator generously rewarded those who supported the lifting of U.N. sanctions on Iraq and who paid lip-service to his barbaric regime. Oil-for-Food became a shameless political charade through which Saddam attempted to manipulate decision-making at the U.N. Security Council by buying the support of influential figures in countries such as Russia and France. All of this occurred under Annan’s watch, a spectacular management failure unmatched in the annals of modern history.


As the Oil-for-Food fiasco showed, during Annan’s tenure at the U.N. there was barely a dictator or tyrant he was unwilling to appease and extend the hand of friendship. It took Annan and the U.N. several years to even acknowledge that the mass slaughter of more than 200,000 villagers by Sudanese-backed Janjaweed militias in Darfur was an act of genocide. He remained silent over the forced starvation of millions of Zimbabweans by the Mugabe regime, barely said a word about human rights in Burma and North Korea, and never stood up to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s threats against Israel. The U.N. Human Rights Commission was a complete farce, populated with many of the world’s worst human rights violators, from Libya to Cuba. Even Annan himself eventually acknowledged that the Commission was broken, and its successor, the new Human Rights Council, is just as bad if not worse.

Annan was even slow to acknowledge human rights violations within U.N. operations, and was only forced to do so because of mounting media pressure. As Secretary General Annan oversaw a huge scandal involving United Nations peacekeepers in the Congo as well as in southern Sudan, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Guinea, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, and Cambodia. In the Congo alone, U.N. personnel were accused of hundreds of crimes, including the rape and forced prostitution of women and young girls across the war-torn country. The victims were defenseless refugees who had already been brutalized and terrorized by years of war and who looked to the U.N. for safety and protection. The exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people in the world was a shameful episode and a betrayal of trust that will tarnish the U.N.’s image for years to come. To this day, not a single U.N. peacekeeper has been prosecuted.


It is extremely rare for a knighthood to be withdrawn, but a future British administration should make an exception in the case of Kofi Annan. Knighthoods are associated with chivalry, sacrifice, and extraordinary public service, none of which apply to the former U.N. leader. In the killing fields of Darfur, the blood-stained churches and schoolyards of Rwanda, or the depleted villages of Srebrenica, all haunted by the specter of genocide and ethnic cleansing, it is doubtful that Annan’s name is anything other than a reminder of U.N. inaction, failure and callous indifference to human suffering.

Nile Gardiner is the director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation.


The Latest