The legitimacy of the UN against America’s political goals: from IHEU’s United Nations Representative, April 2003
In the aftermath of the military victory in Iraq, the political battle between the UN and the Bush administration continues. The UN is facing a major challenge as a peacemaking institution. American officials have emphasized that the US and British military would play the leading role in setting up an Iraqi government. The UN’s role would be limited to humanitarian activities coordinating food, medecine and other relief supplies.
The French and other European diplomats have insisted that the UN play a more central role. Kofi Annan has stated that the UN has experience in this area. Above all, he says, UN involvement brings necessary legitimacy to the task of nation building. Supporters of the UN maintain that an administration installed by the US, if perceived as a puppet regime, would only further alienate many Arab and European countries. Internal rivalries among different religions and tribal groups in Iraq are certain to present great difficulties. The impartial stance of the UN would be helpful in creating a viable administrative body that will serve the Iraq people as a whole, helping Iraqis to keep control of their natural resources.
At present, the transitional government envisioned by the US has at its lead a retired general, Jay Garner, with ties to defense contracts. This choice clearly raises troublesome issues.
Furthermore. Afghanistan is not a happy precedent for the complex task of rebuilding Iraq. The military victory in Afghanistan has faded in the aftermath, according to some reports, leaving most of the country under the control of fundamentalist warlords. In the recently proposed budget, the Bush administration has failed to include aid for Afghanistan.
The principal problem at present in Iraq is the provision of humanitarian services under conditions of chaos. At a recent UN briefing, officials stated that, according to the rules of war, the Coalition has the legal responsibility to protect the civilian population. Looting, revenge killings, and a shortage of food and water is producing a crisis situation.
Hospitals, formerly overloaded with casualties are now closed because of looting, and because doctors and humanitarian workers are unable to reach them. Internal stability is the responsibility of the belligerents. We can only hope that it will come quickly.
In the panel discussing the future role of the UN, many disturbing questions were raised. Will the effect of the war on the Arab world, and most specifically the war’s aftermath, be conducive to peace and the building of democratic regimes? Will it produce more hatred, more suicide guerilla tactics, and ever more bitter resentment of American domination?
The UN’s active political body is the Security Council. In the words of the Ambassador from Singapore, the Security Council is a moving target, a river that never flows in the same place twice. This is so because the composition of the members constantly changes. Critics of the Security Council ask,”How can we wake it up?” The Ambassador from Singapore answered,”It is impossible to wake someone pretending to be asleep.”
Nevertheless, the internationalization of problems travelling across borders is forcing nation-states to begin to recognize that their self interest lies in coping through negotiated cooperation.
At present, this seems to be in opposition to America’s political goals.
Sashi Tharoor, Undersecretary General For Communications says,”We’ve been here before when the Security Council was hamstrung by disagreement among the great powers, all accompanied by dire predictions about the body’s future. We know it would be premature to write our obituary.” In an intimate session with the Values Caucus, Tharoor remarked that life in the UN is a constant balance between idealism and realism.
Sylvain and Phyllis Ehrenfeld
IHEU Representatives to the UN
and the AEU’s National Service Conference