Uniting for Peace
If the US attacks Iraq without support of the UN Security Council, will the world be powerless to stop it? The answer is no. Under a procedure called "Uniting for Peace," the UN General Assembly can demand an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal. The global peace movement should consider demanding such an action.
When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and began advancing on the Suez Canal. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that the invasion stop. Resolutions in the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire–but Britain and France vetoed them. Then the United States appealed to the General Assembly and proposed a resolution calling for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of forces. The General Assembly held an emergency session and passed the resolution. Britain and France withdrew from Egypt within a week.
The appeal to the General Assembly was made under a procedure called "Uniting for Peace." This procedure was adopted by the Security Council so that the UN can act even if the Security Council is stalemated by vetoes. Resolution 377 provides that, if there is a "threat to peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and the permanent members of the Security Council do not agree on action, the General Assembly can meet immediately and recommend collective measures to U.N. members to "maintain or restore international peace and security." The "Uniting for Peace" mechanism has been used ten times, most frequently on the initiative of the United States.
The Bush Administration is currently promoting a Security Council resolution that it claims will authorize it to attack Iraq. However, huge opposition from global public opinion and most of the world’s governments make such a resolution’s passage unlikely.
What will happen if the US withdraws its resolution or the resolution is defeated? The US is currently indicating that it will attack Iraq even without Security Council approval. The US would undoubtedly use its veto should the Security Council attempt to condemn and halt its aggression. But the US has no veto in the General Assembly.
Lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights have drafted a proposed "Uniting for Peace" resolution that governments can submit to the General Assembly. It declares that military action without a Security Council resolution authorizing such action is contrary to the UN Charter and international law.
The global peace movement can begin right now to discuss the value of such a resolution. If we conclude it is worthwhile, we can make it a central demand, for example in the next round of global anti-war demonstrations. Then we can mobilize pressure on governments that claim to oppose the war — the great majority of UN members — to demand that they initiate and support such a resolution.
Countries opposed to such a war can be asked to state now that, if there is a Security Council deadlock and a US attack on Iraq is imminent or under way, they will convene the General Assembly on an emergency basis to condemn the attack and order the US to cease fire and withdraw.
The sooner global public discussion begins laying the groundwork for such action the better. Wide public advocacy will help governments overcome their probable reluctance to take such a step. Further, the threat of such global condemnation may help deter the Bush administration–and to a much greater extent deter its wobbling allies–from launching such an attack in the first place.
JEREMY BRECHER is a historian and the author of twelve books including STRIKE! and GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on Uniting for Peace based on "A U.N. Alternative to War: ‘Uniting for Peace" by Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights and Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh Law School.