The Bush administration has incited violence in the Middle East and West Asia with bitter results – the high costs of the Iraq occupation in men and money, unending conflict in Palestine-Israel with no prospect of a negotiated settlement, and spreading Taliban attacks on various security forces in Afghanistan.
The administration’s policy of intervention is a humiliating failure, which has put the White House on the defensive.
Events are moving swiftly, however, and President George W. Bush is acting to retrieve the initiative. In the meantime, the world seems to have been united, not by the principles and provisions of the United Nations charter, but by a commitment to violence, death by car or truck bomb, missile attack, grenade launcher and sniper fire.
Bush is scheduled to address the opening of the annual session of the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday morning, Sept. 23. It will be an important speech, a follow-up to last year’s challenge to the United Nations to shape up or be declared”irrelevant.”
Has the United Nations become irrelevant? Does the United Nations matter? Those are difficult questions to answer in the current state of affairs.
On Aug. 21, two days after the headquarters of the U.N. mission in Baghdad was destroyed, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told press correspondents:
“The United Nations has to work with all the member states, including the U.S., and I think one has to be careful not to confuse the U.N. with the U.S. I think this was demonstrated very clearly in the spring. Most people forget that the Security Council did not vote to support the war in Iraq.”
Other questions arose. Is Annan’s statement correct? Reliable? Honest? Or, is he acting as an advance man for U.S. policy?
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell opportunistically turned up at the United Nations in New York that same day to propose that the Council support the establishment of a multinational U.N. force in Iraq. A draft U.S. resolution is being prepared.
Should the resolution be adopted it would be a significant comeback for the administration. Bush would be able to address the Assembly triumphantly.
It would also be a hazardous moment. Critics would attack the United Nations for succumbing to U.S. power. Those opposed to U.S. aggression would find themselves boxed in by the administration.
The extreme right-wing fanatics who are running the country now have previously pronounced the United Nations dead. It is not dead yet. It is suffering, but still viable.
U.N. supporters here contend that the organization has never been more needed in the tasks it carries out – for example, peacekeeping missions in Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Western Sahara, limited though they may be; assistance to vast numbers of refugees worldwide; the provision of food to tens of millions of hungry and malnourished populations; the programs of the World Health Organization to treat and eradicate disease.
Most particularly, the United Nations represents the furthest point, historically and institutionally, that humankind has reached in its search for peace, cooperation and solidarity, for a solution to man’s cutthroat instinct.
To dispense with it would be an error, despite its domination over the years by the United States, its failures and inadequacies and pretensions. Annan, again speaking to correspondents on July 30, warned of a”global crisis.”
He said:”Many of us sense that we are living through a crisis of the international system; or – as some put it – of the’architecture’ of international peace and security.
“The war in Iraq,” he continued,”as well as crises in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, force us to ask whether the institutions and methods we are accustomed to are really adequate to deal with all the stresses, or whether they are in need of radical reform.”
Annan didn’t say what he had in mind.
The shortcomings of the U.N. could be remedied, in any case. Numerous proposals have been made to strengthen the United Nations, to reconsider the veto power of the permanent members in the Security Council – the U.S., United Kingdom, China, France, and Russia. The original provisions of the U.N. charter in relation to international security – articles 43, 45, 46 and 47 – might be put into effect rather than the improvisational approach to peacekeeping.
The charter might be amended. The annual U.N. regular budget could be increased; the allotment of $1.2 billion has been maintained for the past 30 years.
Finally, rather than permitting the collapse of the United Nations, article 6 of the charter might be invoked in regard to the United States.
Article 6 states:
“A member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.”
It may be that eventually the nations of the world will have to draw the line and stop the United States.
Donald Paneth has covered the U.N since 1945.