A world united against war
Ayman El-Amir believes that the way in which the US has handled the Iraq issue has severely weakened the very foundations of the United Nations
President George W Bush has asked the international community for a vote of confidence to attack Iraq and a countless number of its people in order to save them from President Saddam Hussein. Unsurprisingly, the international community has returned a vote of no-confidence.
With a war against Iraq due to start within days, if not hours, the situation marks a setback for the US's misguided policies, not a failure of a divided Security Council to meet its obligations. For the first time in decades, a dozen member states of the council have stood up to the dominant world power to oppose the US's chosen war. Contrary to conventional wisdom, which laments the lack of unity in the council, time may prove this precedent to be a turning point in the balance of power within the Security Council -- one that will deeply influence the future conduct of international relations.
The intensive diplomatic flurry undertaken by the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain in the past two weeks has failed to rally a simple majority in support of war. For two weeks, the second resolution they tabled with the council on 7 March, which implied the use of force against Iraq, sat there gathering dust, not votes.
When the initiative failed, the US- UK axis found a convenient scapegoat to blame for their debacle, namely France's position. As they bitterly announced the death of the draft, both the UK and US representatives at the United Nations heaped scorn on France for threatening to veto it. This masked the fact that the draft resolution had no chance of passing. If it had, its sponsors would not have hesitated to put it to a vote within days of introducing it. France's threat of a veto, supported by Russia and China, was intended to call the Bush administration's bluff, which sought to create the false impression that there was a near majority to pass the resolution. Bush and his diplomatic lieutenants needed a simple majority of nine of the council's 15 votes and the abstention of the other three permanent members, who oppose it. They could not secure it -- a clear signal that the majority of the Security Council members, acting on behalf of the 191 members of the United Nations, were against war.
If there are any real heroes in this drama, they are the six undecided members of the Security Council whom the United States failed to bully or "buy" in order to win a war resolution. Caught in the dilemma of giving legal cover to an illegal US war against a member state of the international community, they chose to say no to war.
The US had another avenue it could have explored in order to test its much-flaunted claim of leading the world into the forcible disarmament of Saddam Hussein. It could have invoked United Nations General Assembly Resolution 377, also known as the "Uniting for Peace" resolution. The measure provides that, in cases where the Security Council is hamstrung on a matter pertaining to the maintenance of international peace and security, which is its primary responsibility, the General Assembly can step in and decide the issue. During the Cold War years, the US used this avenue to bypass possible vetoes by the former Soviet Union. So far, the measure has been used 10 times, most notably in the 1956 Suez War to overcome vetoes by Britain and France in the Security Council against a resolution calling for their withdrawal from Egypt, which they had invaded together with Israel. Then, the US called for an emergency session of the General Assembly under the "Uniting for Peace" procedure. The General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the three invaders, and they complied.
In the case of Iraq, the US knew it could not have resorted to the same procedure without suffering a humiliating defeat -- a true measure of the sentiment of the world community.
At this time, all diplomatic discourse sounds academic. President Bush has virtually declared war against Iraq, international inspectors have been withdrawn, worldwide anti-war protests have subsided and the world is holding its breath, waiting for the first bomb to drop. The US is expected to score a military victory at an estimated cost of $60 to 100 billion, most of which will be paid by the Gulf Arab states, as was the case in the first Gulf war in 1991. After the war, the international community will be requested to pick up the pieces of this all-American war of ambition and pay for the reconstruction of Iraq at a cost that will far exceed that of the reconstruction of Europe in the aftermath of World War II. The cost of the political ramifications for both Iraq and the Middle East region as a whole will be incalculable.
The invasion of Iraq will mark the end of the first phase of the post-Cold War, lone-power domination era. A new paradigm that legitimises the use of violence, whether by states or individual groups to settle political scores, will replace the United Nations Charter's advocacy of the peaceful settlement of disputes. The United States is committing a military action that is almost universally regarded as a breach of international legality. The irony is that both President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair still insist that they are launching a military campaign against Iraq, "to enforce the authority of the United Nations", that is, despite the will of the world body.
An atrophied United Nations will not necessarily go down the path of the League of Nations. It will be left to limp along, while critical decisions of war and peace, terrorism and counter- terrorism, even of the fight against HIV/AIDS, will be made outside its anachronistic structure. Before long, a fractured world, with multiple perspectives on the conduct of international relations will emerge from the battle to "liberate" Iraq. This will be the hallmark of the legacy of the United Nations and its leadership in the opening years of the third millennium.