Diplomats warn that U.S. strike at Iraq would undermine UN

IPS (Oct 14, 2002)

The credibility of the United Nations is being seriously undermined by a U.S. decision that may eventually lead to a unilateral military attack on Iraq, UN diplomats, U.S. academics and Middle East experts warn. "This is a crucial test for the survival of the world body,'' laments a long-time Asian diplomat. "The American determination to go it alone challenges the very foundation on which the world body was built.''

U.S. President George W. Bush has threatened to go to war-with or without authorization by the Security Council, the only international body empowered to declare war or peace-unless Iraq lets UN weapons inspectors back into the country and abides by a number of resolutions the UN adopted after the 1990s Gulf War.

The United States has introduced a new resolution in the Security Council that is widely believed to permit an invasion if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein does not meet U.S. demands. It has yet to be made public.

If President Bush does go to war unilaterally, say diplomats, the Security Council will be reduced to a politically impotent body.

John Quigley, professor of international law at Ohio State University, said the United Nations risks becoming irrelevant no matter what it does.

"If the Security Council caves in to American pressure to adopt a resolution that the United States can construe to authorize military action, it will have done what most members think improper, and will have facilitated mass killings of Iraqis by the United States,'' he said.

Mr. Quigley argues that the better course would be for the United Nations to decline to adopt a U.S.-drafted resolution. "Only in that way can the organization maintain its integrity," he said.

Since the 191-member General Assembly-rather than the Security Council-really represents the will of the international community, Mr. Quigley said the General Assembly should invoke the "Uniting for Peace'' resolution of 1950, which allows the UN's highest policy-making body to recommend action by member states against another member state.

But because the international community overwhelmingly opposes military action against Iraq, the United States is not likely to risk that vote at the General Assembly, he said.

As a result, the 15-member Security Council has been under heavy U.S. pressure for a resolution that will virtually give that country a "blank check'' for a regime change in Iraq.

So far, the United States is backed by only one other veto-wielding permanent member-Britain. The remaining three permanent members, France, China and Russia, have expressed strong reservations over the draft U.S.-sponsored resolution.

France, a long-time American ally, said Oct. 1 that "any action whose stated goal from the outset is regime change would be against international law and open the way to all sorts of abuses."

Of the 10 non-permanent members in the 15-member Security Council, the United States is expected to receive support from Norway, Bulgaria, Singapore, Colombia and Ireland.

The other five non-permanent members-Mexico, Mauritius, Cameroon, Guinea and Syria-are being heavily lobbied by the United States, mostly in their respective capitals.

The United States needs nine positive votes to adopt a resolution in the Security Council but it also has to avoid any vetoes.

The situation is "fraught with dangerous implications extending far beyond the region,'' said former Indian ambassador Chinmaya Gharekhan, an adviser to onetime UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

''Will the world witness the first authorized or unilateral use of force to topple a head of state?'' he asks.

Naseer Aruri, chancellor professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts, said no one in the United States is considering the forthcoming war as a form of UN action under chapter seven of the body's charter, which authorizes the use of military force under the auspices of the Security Council.

"Instead, this is treated as an American war, or even a George W. Bush war. This is a profound challenge to the credibility of the UN system and to the office of the secretary-general,'' he said.

The United Nations, he argued, is increasingly seen as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, "if not indeed a tool in the hands of George Bush to help him divert public attention in the United States away from severe domestic problems to the issues of war and patriotism."

Mr. Aruri also said the General Assembly should convene under the 1950 "Uniting for Peace" resolution to consider sending a multinational force to Iraq to resolve the problem of disarmament for good.

"Anything short of taking drastic action to preserve the integrity of the United Nations will place the post-World War II system in great jeopardy,'' he added.

Phyllis Bennis, Fellow of the Washington-based Institute of Policy Studies, said the U.S. effort to win support in the Security Council is already leading to the kind of over-the-top bribes and threats that characterized the run-up to the passage of Resolution 678 authorizing war against Iraq in 1990.

At that time, she said, every impoverished country on the Security Council, including the former Zaire, Ethiopia and Colombia, was offered free or extra-cheap oil, courtesy of Saudi Arabia and the exiled Kuwaiti royals, orchestrated by the United States.

Ethiopia and Colombia were also offered new arms packages, after years of being denied military aid, because of war and human rights violations, she added.

The only two countries that voted against the 1990 resolution authorizing a war against Iraq were Cuba and Yemen.

But minutes after Yemen said "no," the U.S. ambassador turned to the Yemeni diplomat in the Security Council chamber, and said: "That will be the most expensive vote you would ever cast."

Three days later, said Ms. Bennis, the U.S. cut its entire $70 million aid budget to Yemen.

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