Jewish World Review April 15, 2003 / 13 Nisan, 5763
Shape up or step aside
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Six hundred journalists embedded with the coalition forces have helped to ensure that the first casualty of the war is not truth. The first casualty of the coalition's success must be the notion that the United Nations is the basis for a new world order. The U.N. not only failed but tried to prevent America and Britain from acting against the Iraqi threat. The United Nations proved effective 12 years ago in Desert Storm, but since then the whole concept of collective action has been eroded. The U.N. was unable to implement any of the 17 resolutions of the Security Council pertaining to Iraq. Those resolutions told Saddam Hussein to disarm "or else." The "or else" turned out to be "or nothing."
The U.N. debate over Iraq was not so much about Iraq as it was about constraining American power. Even after the rout of Saddam's forces, the U.N. looks more than ever like an arena in which future efforts to restrain American might will be played out. It's an old story at the U.N. During the Cold War, the Security Council was paralyzed by the ability of the Soviet Union and the Western powers to veto everything. The only decisive action it was able to take was to fight North Korea's invasion of the South, and then only because the Soviet Union walked out, a mistake it never repeated.
From the moment of its creation, the bright hope of the U.N. was that it would grow into the moral legitimizer in international affairs. This has not happened. Why? Because too many of the members don't even have the consent of their own citizenry. Syria is a member of both the Security Council and the State Department's list of terrorist states. Can it possibly confer legitimacy on American actions? Or China? And what of France and Russia, who have been moved so cravenly to protect their commercial interests in Iraq?
Sandbox. As former Security Council President Diego Arria wrote: For countries that are choosing to defend their own national economic interests, "the business of security becomes just plain business." A distinguished former defense minister from Europe put the matter more bluntly: "The U.N. is, frankly, a corrupt institution. Votes are bought and sold in the U.N.; they are bought and sold in the Security Council; they are bought and sold in the General Assembly at a much lower and rather more grubby level."
This, after all, is the same body that kept the United States off the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, while including such paragons of human rights as Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe. Adding insult to injury, in what can be described only as the most cynical of self-parodies, the committee members then voted to elect Libya as chairman, then spent nearly all their time trying to delegitimize the one democracy in the Middle East, Israel. Not to mention, mind you, that Iraq was to chair the U.N. Sanctions Committee. No wonder former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt reportedly described the U.N. as the "sandbox for the Third World."
The U.N. record on Iraq is, if anything, even more execrable. For a dozen years, France, Russia, and China sought to weaken inspections for banned Iraqi weapons. This pattern continued right up until the commencement of war. The three permanent Security Council members endorsed U.N. Resolution 1441, then refused to give it effect when Iraq breached its material obligations.
So the question arises: What role is there for the U.N. post-Saddam? It can coordinate humanitarian relief--something its agencies are very good at doing--and it should continue administering the Iraq oil-for-food program, at least for a time. In view of the caricature of American efforts in the Arab press, the U.N. could also endorse U.S. efforts to create an independent, free civil society in Iraq while sowing the seeds of a democracy there that might one day become an enduring model for the entire region.
It is beyond the capacity of the U.N. to take on these tasks itself. The challenges are simply too great. We must ensure that the chemical and biological weapons we find do not fall into rogue hands, while determining which countries and companies provided Saddam with the capability to produce his weapons of mass destruction. These efforts cannot be subject to vetoes from France and Russia.
Still, the larger issue remains. The U.N. must look to its own restructuring if it is to grow beyond the weakness and irrelevance that have characterized its conduct with regard to Iraq. The leadership here falls to the distinguished secretary general, Kofi Annan. He has the requisite moral stature, the international recognition, and the political skills. But he will need support. If he succeeds, it will be a legacy worthy of the original vision for the world body.
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