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What Can the World Do? Uniting for Peace

What Can the World Do?

by JEREMY BRECHER

Despite the presence of U.S. troops in the center of Baghdad, does the world remain powerless to stop the ongoing invasion? 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, and support efforts already underway in the UN to enact such a resolution.

When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and began advancing on the Suez Canal. President Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that the invasion stop. Resolutions in the UN Security Council called for a ceasefire–but Britain and France vetoed them. Then the United States appealed to the General Assembly and proposed a resolution calling for a ceasefire 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" (UfP). 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 UN 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 to overcome vetoes or the threat of a veto by the Soviet Union during the cold war.

The Security Council is effectively stalemated between the U.S. and the UK on one side and global public opinion and most governments in the world, including France and Russia, on the other. The U.S. would undoubtedly use its veto should the Security Council attempt to condemn and halt its aggression. But the U.S. has no veto in the General Assembly.

Lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights drafted a proposed UfP resolution that governments can submit to the General Assembly. Such a resolution would declare that military action without a Security Council resolution authorizing such action and in the absence of an act or threat of aggression is contrary to the UN Charter and international law.

A General Assembly resolution will not in itself stop the war. General Assembly actions may not be legally binding. Besides, the Bush administration has already shown it is willing to defy the UN and international law. Nonetheless, such a resolution would be a major blow to the Bush administration–as its campaign to prevent a General Assembly session indicates. What, then, is the purpose of such a resolution?

First, a UfP resolution will intensify the fear of global isolation among the U.S. public and elite. Such fears will play a significant role in turning them not only against the Iraq war but more generally against the Bush administration policy of pre-emptive war and global domination.

Second, a UfP resolution will provide a heightened legitimacy to all the actions of the global peace movement. All its actions in every country will become not merely the expression of an opinion but efforts to implement the decision of the world’s highest authority.

Third, a UfP resolution will lay the basis for future UN action; both regarding Iraq and more broadly, that can circumvent the U.S. veto. It can thus provide the starting point for reconstituting the UN as the voice of the world.

Finally, a worldwide campaign for UfP provides the global peace movement–the world’s "other superpower"–two valuable opportunities:

* It provides a great focus for struggle in the streets and in the political arena.

* It will allow the movement to show its global clout.

Supporters of the UfP resolution include a range of civil society organizations in addition to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Greenpeace such as Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, religious groups, and international women’s organizations, including MADRE, Women of Color Resource Center, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, and the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic.

The UfP also offers a vehicle into the formal political process, where parliaments can demand that their governments support UfP. The Russian Duma, for example, recently passed a resolution calling for General Assembly intervention in Iraq; so did the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of Thailand. Political parties provide another arena: the Czech Republic’s governing Social Democratic party, whose government has waffled on the war, just voted nearly unanimously to condemn it. (The motion was sponsored by Czech UN Ambassador Jan Kavan, who happens also to be current President of the UN General Assembly.)

The peace movement should take the UfP resolution at least as seriously as the Bush administration does. Wide public advocacy will help governments overcome their probable reluctance to take such a step. While the fate of a resolution is uncertain, even the threat of such global condemnation may help push the Bush administration to pay greater attention to civilian casualties, accelerate the delivery of humanitarian relief, or respond more favorably to calls for a more central role for the UN in post-war Iraq.

JEREMY BRECHER is a historian and the author of twelve books including STRIKE! and GLOBALIZATION FROM BELOW. He can be reached at: jbrecher@igc.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.