SOME PEOPLE who are horrified by the prospect of an attack on Iraq are looking to the United Nations (UN) to stop the slaughter. So one of several parliamentary motions critical of British foreign policy says military action against Iraq ‘can only be morally justified if it carries a new and specific mandate from the United National Security Council’.
It is tempting to look to anything that might rein back Bush’s murderous plans. But it is very dangerous to say that war on Iraq is wrong ‘unless endorsed by the UN’. The US can normally pressure, cajole and bully other countries into supporting the decisions it wants from the UN. It used debt write-off, threats and promises to get backing for the 1991 Gulf War. It was able to bring its allies into line over bombing in Bosnia and Kosovo.
In neither case did China or Russia use their veto powers. There are 15 members of the Security Council, the key UN body. Five of them are permanent (Russia, China, France, Britain and the US) and there are ten others which serve for a temporary period. Russia needs the backing of the US to get investment from multinationals and financial help from bankers. And Russia wants the US to help it secure full membership of the World Trade Organisation.
Without Russian opposition, France will not want to use its veto. China has a consistent policy of abstention. As leading strategic analyst Dan Plesch pointed out in the Guardian last week, ‘Some of the non-permanent members of the Security Council will be keen to help the US.’
Bulgaria wants to join NATO. Colombia depends on the US government for arms, money and political support in its civil war. Norway has a conservative government and wants to be sure that the US will stand by it in any clashes with its neighbour Russia. Mexico and Ireland have strong economic ties with the US-based multinationals.
This leaves Syria, Cameroon, Guinea and Singapore. The US will therefore be able to find a majority of positive votes with a few abstentions. Indeed, the US may be able to get a majority of the 15 Security Council members just by dragging the weak temporary members into line.
The problems with the UN do not lie just with the composition of the Security Council at any one time. The UN was set up by the great powers in the wake of the Second World War as an instrument of their will. It was used to sanction the carve-up after the war where the victors marked out their control of the countries they had ‘liberated’.
The UN first partitioned Palestine, dispossessing the Palestinians and creating the state of Israel. Then the UN assisted imperialist forces murder the nationalist Patrice Lumumba, the elected leader of the Congo. When the Cold War ended there were high hopes that the UN could play a peacekeeping role in the New World Order.
Yet the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was sanctioned by the UN. Even the UN’s ‘peacekeeping’ operations have ended in disaster, as the 1992 intervention in Somalia shows.
At the centre of the UN stand the most powerful, most violent, most heavily armed states. They do not become any nicer just because they are together in a room rather than separate. The ‘Big Five’ permanent members of the UN Security Council have been allowed to get away with brutality on a breathtaking scale. The US government has the bloodiest hands.
It carried out the carpet bombing of Vietnam and Cambodia, helped remove the elected regime in Chile, backed terror groups in Nicaragua, Mozambique and Angola, invaded Grenada and Panama, bombed Libya and Iraq and supported murderous governments in Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti and many other countries. France has been allowed to conduct colonial wars in Algeria, and Vietnam, and to blow up the Greenpeace boat Rainbow Warrior.
The USSR was permitted to invade Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan and Chechnya, which included razing the city of Grozny in a war that has seen around 50,000 people killed. China’s rulers ordered the massacre of protesters who filled Tiananmen Square in 1989. The regime also routinely jails dissidents, uses torture and bans all opposition.
These big powers work through the UN when it suits them, and outside when it does not. As John Bolton, presently the US undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, says, ‘There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power in the world and that is the United States.’
When big powers act outside the UN, the UN is powerless to stop them. The Israeli government brushes aside UN resolutions because it rests on US power. We cannot rely on the UN to stop war. But we can make sure everyone who is against the war, including those who look to the UN, are on the anti-war demo on 28 September.
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