Governments, editors, commentators and even supporters of the United Nations currently express the view that a war against Iraq is, or will be, acceptable if the United States and others “go back” to the Security Council and obtain a “UN mandate” before they attack.
But, this is false logic and could spell the end of the UN as a peace organisation. If you think that the planned war is or entails a violation of international law, such a mandate does not make it more legal. If you think that the war is morally wrong or unfair, such a mandate won’t make it right or just. If you think that war has nothing to do with conflict-resolution but must be categorised as aggression, a resolution – inevitably the result of horse-trading among the Five Permanent (and nuclear) Security Council members and the other ten under the leadership of Columbia – does not turn war into wise politics.
The Security Council has no magic formula and no magic wand to wave in order to turn war into peace and human folly into wisdom.
A Security Council resolution that endorses war is not the same as a “UN” mandate, as is often stated. It’s hard to believe that something like a referendum among all members in the General Assembly would result in a go-ahead. There is still little enthusiasm for this war among “we, the peoples” around the world. If the Security Council self-importantly decided that it is the High Judge and that Judgement Day has come, all talk of an “international community” standing behind a war with Iraq would be grossly misleading.
A mandate is no comfort; no UN mandate is the better option
It is as if a “UN mandate” serves to make some people feel better about this war. The Swedish government, as an example of a country whose solidarity with the UN has never been questioned, seems to hope that it will not be forced to criticise the United States. Because, if there is such a UN mandate, it would be possible for Sweden to say, “well, we don’t like wars, but this one has a UN mandate, and therefore it is acceptable to us.” The Danish government, still the head of the EU for a few more days, has declared that it is willing to participate directly in the war if there is such a mandate.
There are two important arguments against a UN “mandate”. Firstly, if there is no such mandate, it will be considerably more difficult for many member states to accept it or go along with it. That is, the United States would rather stand alone and carry the major burden of a political, legal and moral disaster. Secondly, it would save the UN from being dragged down into the quagmire called bombing, invasion, occupation and control of Iraq – not to mention the humanitarian consequences and the resources needed to rebuild the country physically, as well as psychologically. With no UN mandate, the UN could say “not in our name” and remain a genuine peace organisation true to the words and the spirit of its charter.
To put it simply, if George W. Bush and the people around him want to destroy Iraq, they should go it alone. The UN must never be misused to legitimate bellicose policies of any member state. The UN can hardly survive with repeated humiliation as has been the case in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Somalia and Afghanistan.
The planned war violates the Charter’s words and spirit
Let us hope that the war against Iraq will never receive approval from the United Nations. The Charter of the UN is clear; the organisation’s highest purpose is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” And “Armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest”. There exists no common interest to do what is being planned against Iraq.
The war against Iraq has been going on for eleven years now. Since September 11 last year, the Security Council has lost colossal legitimacy due to a number of resolutions that have been passed. The tragic new interpretation of International Law itself and the implementation of it has seriously undermined the foundation of a system constructed to handle international conflicts. The principles and conventions developed in the post-Westphalian era have been damaged due to paranoid policies of revenge after the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Centre.
Since September 11, the UN has suffered even more blows
This loss of legitimacy is naturally more obvious among the 1,300 million Muslims in the world. They are about to loose confidence in an organisation in which 80 per cent of the permanent members of the supreme body are Christian countries. Seen from their vantage point, the Four Permanent members possess, if you will, Christian bombs and share the basic Old Testament image of the world that “the others” are either with us or they are against us and must be exterminated.
When the UN accepted to use International Law and not Criminal Law for the reaction to September 11, it opened doors that will be (mis)used by many actors in the future. Up until then, political and violent crimes had been handled by the police and not by the military. This shift is very dangerous. Then the U.S. decided, and the UN accepted, to use the principle of “self defence”, but with a delay of almost a month (September 11 to October 7). In the field of Criminal Law, this would resemble that the attacked escapes from the attacker, locate him a month later and (with a bunch of friends) exercise his “self-defence” out of proportion to the first crime committed.
The Bush regime moves from MAD to NUTS
The UN Security Council resolutions on Iraq represent an even more dodgy new interpretation. This time the act of self-defence will be carried out years before the attacked assesses that he could, perhaps, be hit, i.e. pre-emptively. Unfortunately for the UN, international law holds no provisions for such pre-emptive policies or wars. They are found only in recent strategic documents from the Bush regime. Even worse, they contain a philosophical demolition of the principles of deterrence that enables the United States to use weapons of mass-destruction against countries that are not known to possess such weapons but are judged to be able to possess them some time into the future.
In short, instead of moving towards general and complete disarmament world-wide, or the abolition of all WMD (Weapons of Mass-Destruction) we are moving from MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) to the fundamentally immoral and destabilising NUTs (Nuclear Use Theories).
Kidnapping Iraq’s report and keeping U.S. involvement in Iraq’s military secret
In spite of its real importance, the weapons inspection process is exploited as a game by the United States. Its representatives have done their best to provoke and find Iraqi violations of resolutions by the Security Council, including SC Resolution 1441. The recent U.S. kidnapping of the 12,000-page report produced by Iraq is one of the most serious in a long line of aggressive acts.
The U.S. claims that it wants to know everything about Iraqi military programs, but obviously not which U.S. and other Western companies have made them possible. Money doesn’t smell of course until it comes out into the open. Instead of causing an outrage forcing the Bush regime to back down, most members accept this gross violation of decency and of the integrity of the United Nations.
Colin Powel returned from a short visit to Bogota on December 4 where he had announced major increases in American military aid to Colombia. Colombia presently serves as the chair of the Security Council. In exchange for the military support, Colombia presumably promised to let the U.S. steal Iraq’s report to “edit” it, i.e. to practise censorship.
Kofi Annan should remember Article 99 and 100 and use them to save the UN
Despite the serious injury done to the UN, there is no other organisation that can assume global responsibility in the situation we are facing today. The Iraqis will suffer no less because “there was a UN mandate.” A UN mandate only means that the UN will suffer too, most likely beyond repair. Western countries that bomb Muslim countries only amplify the hate against West. The number of potential suicide-bombers and terror attacks must be expected to grow with every military attack on innocent Muslims. They cannot possibly see the UN as a trustworthy world organisation.
Let the UN get back its status as a legitimate actor working for “peace by peaceful means.” Let the U.S. establishment stand alone as the naked aggressor. The United Nations has already administered a genocide of up to 1 million Iraqis due to a sanctions regime only the U.S. insists on maintaining.
We prefer our world to be running according to the norms of the UN, not those of the U.S.! Article 99 of the UN Charter states that the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. Thus, he stands over and above the member governments. If he thinks that a <U.S.-led> war on Iraq is a threat to world peace, he has the power to act. Article 100 states that the Secretary-General and his staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organisation.
If the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, makes use of Article 99 and 100 of the Charter, war on Iraq will not happen. Will he do so?
The U.S. tail must not wag the UN dog…
Letting the tail (the U.S.) wag the dog (the UN) is morally unacceptable and a violation of the Charter. The U.S. has tried and will try to do it again. Now is the time for the UN to stand up for itself, for the genuine international community.
Or will 2003 be remembered by future generations as the year in which a few members, against the will of the greater majority, decided to destroy the UN as a peace organisation? And got away with it only because the Secretary-General and member states who didn’t want the war, failed to show civil courage in time and hid behind a self-condemning “UN mandate”?
Jorgen Johansen is Director of the Centre for Peace Studies at Tromsø, University, Norway, and Jan Oberg, director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org