Sat, 05 Apr 2003

Gross mistakes of U.S. may become irreparable

Mikhail Gorbachev, RIA Novosti, Moscow

The Iraq war has been going for the second week. This is quite a real war which does not look like "a quick surgical interference" or a bloodless victory in foreign territory, predicted by the supporters of the military action. Instead of the scenes of popular exultation and the distribution of humanitarian aid, we see on TV a picture of colossal destruction, learn from daily summaries of operations about the death and suffering of people. A war cannot be "clean," while a war unleashed illegally, contrary to the opinion of the international community, is all the more tragic.

This war is not only bringing suffering to the Iraqi people, destabilizing the normal life of this most important region, and the rest of the world for that matter. It is putting to test all the systems and structures that maintain the life and activity of the international community.

These are both the UN with its Security Council and the U.S.'s allied, partner relations with other countries, and -- what is most important -- international law as the foundation of the world order. If it is lacking and its principles and bans are just an empty sound for the only superpower, we will get rampant force, arbitrariness and permissiveness. We will reap such a storm with which the U.S. and the few states that are prepared to back it in any circumstances will not be able to cope.

The U.S. military action and the U.S. doctrine of preventive strikes have already spurred on the arms race and caused the aggravation of the situation in various regions of the globe.

And this should come as no surprise: If military might decides everything in the world, states need to get arms, including mass destruction weapons. Who knows, how many of them would like to follow the U.S. example, dealing preventive strikes on their neighbors and rivals. Such a world would be lethally dangerous to humankind.

The initiators and executors of this military action have dealt a strike at the very heart of democracy, ignoring the opinion of the overwhelming majority of citizens and countries. However, if democratic principles and procedures are a mere formality, this cannot but cause reaction -- a feeling of despair in millions of people, a temptation to give "asymmetric replies," the replenishment of the ranks of extremists and terrorists.

Do the leaders of a country, with which literally the whole world expressed solidarity when on Sept. 11, 2001 it fell victim to a barbarous terrorist act, want this?

In the obtaining situation, we must not feel panic or give up, reconciling ourselves with what is happening. Indeed, a heavy blow has been dealt at the United Nations -- although, if it had approved the unjustified military action, it would have been even worse. However, the only right way now is to return the situation into the channel of the UN in order to find a way out of this gravest situation in which the world has found itself, and not for the UN to warrant even indirectly, post factum, what happened. An open discussion of the main item on the agenda -- how to stop combat actions -- is needed.

Every day is bringing deprivation, hunger and diseases to millions of ordinary Iraqis, and the prospect of battles in cities is fraught with the death of thousands of people. How can one help the Iraqi people if many-ton bombs are exploding there, while Baghdad and other Iraqi cities are being subjected to missile strikes every day? How can one talk in these conditions about the resumption of the "oil for food" program?

No one should have illusions -- war and humanness have always been incompatible.

This is why I repeat: There is only one way out -- stop combat actions, and the UN Security Council must pass decision to this effect.

However, apart from the discussion of urgent tasks related to the rescue of people, we also need to have a big talk about how to save the structures on which the edifice of peace rested more or less successfully in the past decades.

Even though some of them became dilapidated, barely withstanding the pressure of old and new problems, this may not serve as a pretext for "destructive leadership," for destroying them, without building something more stable instead. Those who think that one can rule the world single-handed, from one center are mistaken. By destroying the foundations of the world order, they initiate such a global earthquake that would not spare themselves.

The U.S. has committed a gross mistake. If it persists in it, it may become irreparable. It is time the U.S. come to senses, return onto the legal way, into the community of nations. We all should decide what is to be done in order not to plunge the world into a total chaos, preserve the structures that provide at least a minimal control of it and adapt them to the challenges of the 21st century.

The writer was a president of the former Soviet Union.