The war in Iraq: the need for multilateral participation In UN decision making — From IHEU United Nations Representative
This is a critical period for the UN. Underlying the discussion about the war on Iraq, is a struggle for the governance of a world order. Will the unilateralism of the US, as the main superpower, dominate– or will decisions be made multilaterally, through the UN.? Disagreement within the Security Council, as well as world opinion, has been mobilizing with astonishing speed, slowing the American headlong rush to war.
Public opinion is strongly in favor of an effective UN, retaining sovereignty, but with important limits. The world has taken a long time to recognize that the UN should have had international support to respond quickly to the horror of genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia. Without the support of its most powerful members, the UN lacked the ability to act.
If crimes against humanity occur, in spite of sovereignty, humanitarian intervention should be justified. Given the many conflicting interests of its membership, the UN is the only institution that can bring legitimacy to the management of complex international crises. The war on Iraq is not analogous
to Rwanda and Bosnia.
Multilateralism provides legitimacy and world support, which the United States needs. Increasingly, problems are global. The spread of disease, refugees, global warming, damage to the environment, terrorism and nuclear proliferation are problems which will continute to haunt the future. Ironically, America’s belligerent rhetoric–“axis of evil” only increases fears of American domination and stimulates the desire of countries to protect themselves with nuclear weapons. Active world cooperation will be needed for the many difficult problems ahead. This cooperation depends on multilateral participation in decision making. The UN is the only setting where this can happen.
In addition to the demands of negotiation, the UN and its various agencies are currently planning the enormous task of meeting the humanitarian crisis which inevitably follows a war. Secretary General has pleaded for $120 million to pay for contingency planning. Many more millions may be needed. At this moment the UN relief agencies are desperately short of money.
The problem is acute. The number of civilian casualties to be expected is totally unpredictable. Iraq’s deeply divided multi-ethnic composition does not bode well for the avoidance of chaos. After 11 years of sanctions, Iraq’s economy is paralyzed, with about 60% of the population depending entirely on the UN program for their food. The program uses income from oil to buy food and medecine. If war disrupts the flow of oil, this will become another serious problem. The UN also reports that infant mortality in Iraq
is two and a half times the level in 1990.
With the onset of war, the UN predicts a particularly terrible situation for children because malnutrition is already high. One million children under five are chronically undernourished. About five million Iraqis already lack access to safe water and sanitation. It is estimated that the aftermath of war would result in at least 2.6 million refugees. Currently the level of food supply is expected to last no more than six weeks from the start of war. Drinking water could be affected immediately. Ten million people might require food.
The UN has experience in coordinating relief efforts to meet a humanitarian crisis. Whatever the outcome of the conflict between the preemptive unilateralism of American policy, and the multilateralism of the Security Council. the humanitarian work of the UN will continue.
Sylvain and Phyllis Ehrenfeld
IHEU Representatives to the UN
and the AEU’s National Service Conference