Mon, 31 Mar 2003

After the war, expect a much pared-down UN role

J. Soedjati Djiwandono, Political Analyst, Jakarta

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been in a series of emergency meetings to discuss the war in Iraq, or Gulf War II. The kind of action the Security Council finally decides upon is a crucial question that could determine not only whether this war should continue before more damage is done, but it may also determine the future of the Council itself, and that of the United Nations as a whole.

Indeed, a special or an emergency meeting of the Council would hardly have been necessary if it had taken a clear stand on the U.S. plan to invade Iraq in the first place.

But it was convened because at its previous meeting, under the threat of likely vetoes by France, Russia and China, the Council had opted not to put the draft resolution, supported by the U.S. UK and Spain, to a vote, thus avoiding a decision on a new resolution as a follow-up to Resolution 1441 (which called for sincere Iraqi cooperation with weapons inspectors).

As there was no new resolution, the U.S. and Britain decided to start Gulf War II by invading Iraq with the aim of not only disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction in accordance with UNSC resolutions in the wake of Gulf War I, but also to topple Saddam Hussein, the dictator.

Thus through what seems to have appeared in the eyes of the majority of the international community as an act of aggression, a crime against humanity as reflected by the increasing protests worldwide against the war, the U.S. has invaded Iraq in order to save its people from tyrannical oppression under the existing regime. That, at least, is the pretext.

Has the U.S. thereby violated international law? It seems debatable in terms of the nature of international politics and of international laws. Has the U.S. violated the UN Charter? That may be debatable, too, since it has not acted against any clear UN Security Council resolution.

At best, as I have argued before, the U.S. has violated a gentleman's agreement with the rest of the permanent members of the Council except Britain; an agreement already incorporated in the UN Charter. At least indirectly, therefore, the U.S. has indeed violated the UN Charter. It has ignored the UN Security Council, and thus it has ignored the United Nations.

Can the Council make up for its previous lack of guts? Will it come to a clear stand on Gulf War II, censuring the U.S. and demanding a stop to the aggression before it is too late, despite a likely challenge of a veto by the U.S. and Britain? That would be an unlikely scenario.

The walkout of the U.S. ambassador from the UNSC special meeting during the speech of the Iraqi ambassador did not augur well. And even if it did, the U.S. and Britain would again ignore such a resolution, or these two great and powerful nations would not have started the war in the first place.

Either way, that would be a real challenge to the Security Council, and thus to the role and in fact the very survival of the UN as a whole. Indeed, that challenge became a reality the moment the U.S. and UK attacked Iraq.

To be sure, it has been and will again be a challenge to the position of Kofi Annan personally as UN Secretary-General. In passing, it may be recalled that the power of the second Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, seemed to thrive on a series of crises during the earlier part of the Cold War with so much East-West (Soviet-U.S.) tension.

By contrast, Kofi Annan was elected Secretary-General of the UN well after Gulf War I when the UN was already dominated by the U.S. as a reflection of the "New World Order" at the end of the Cold War, that the senior president Bush thought he had helped create.

The transatlantic rupture prior to Gulf War II seems to have been something few anticipated. The seeming lack of courage by the UNSC was institutional rather than individual on the part of the Secretary-General or the Chairman of the UNSC.

If, against all odds, the UN should survive in the wake of Gulf War II, whatever its implications, it would be hard to expect it to deal anymore with the problems of international peace and security as it was meant to do when it was created.

To judge the significance of the UN role should perhaps now be based on its achievements in the social (health, educational, environmental, and other humanitarian) and economic fields more than in peace and security.

As such, the continued survival and role of the UN would be more geared toward interests of the developing world. In the first place, however, the UN is primarily based in the U.S., which is also the largest financial contributor.

Thus it seems hard to conceive of the UN without the significant role of the U.S. Its great role would certainly continue to be necessary. U.S. domination, however, would certainly be unacceptable. Gulf War II, even if it should end in victory on the part of the U.S.-led coalition, has revealed the worst dimension of the "Ugly American".

It has shattered the "house on the hill" analogy that president Ronald Reagan often referred to as a "lighthouse" of the U.S. to the world reflecting the American way of life characterized by its commitment to freedom, human rights and democratic ideals.

Such would be the cost to the world, even if Gulf War II easily ended in a U.S. victory. Indeed, the Iraqi people may hate Saddam Hussein's tyranny, but it does not necessarily mean they would welcome what amounts to terror by the U.S. and its allies trying to impose democracy on their country.

To be sure, the U.S. did impose democracy on the Japanese people through Gen. McArthur. The U.S.-led allied forces also imposed it on Germany. But while Germany started World War II in Europe, Japan started the Pacific War by bombing Pearl Harbor first, thereby waking up the sleeping tiger. By contrast, even if Gulf War I was provoked by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the U.S. started Gulf War II.

There is no shortcut to democracy. Basically, it should be left to the Iraqi people themselves. Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines was forced out of office by people power, without foreign invasion. If there was some form of foreign interference, the U.S. helped the Philippines by providing asylum for Marcos.

Here, Soeharto was forced to resign by student demonstrations without foreign interference, let alone foreign invasion. For certain reasons, the Iraqi people may need more time.