- In the heat of debate to justify a war on Iraq, top US
leaders have attempted to make UN acceptance of the US position a test
of the validity of the United Nations system. President Bush did this
at his ranch in Crawford, Texas last Saturday, and asserted again in a
speech Wednesday that the United Nations had a last chance to prove its
relevance by adopting a resolution the United States with British help
will propose in a few days.
- This week members of the Bush team have gone further
by asserting that the UN will destroy its legitimacy by failing to back
the US war plan. Like many of the throwaway lines Bush himself is fond
of using, such as Ariel Sharon is "a man of peace", these comments
are part of the in your face and personal style Bush and particularly his
Secretary of Defense have adopted for putting down people who disagree
- Bush team members apparently are not willing to confront
the real issue: whether a war on Iraq is either the necessary or the best
way of disarming Saddam, or, more pointedly, whether disarming Saddam is
even important at this time. Questioning the relevancy and the legitimacy
of the UN is not only immature and impulsive, it is an underhanded and
dangerous challenge to the only organization the world now has for dealing
with a host of problems that neither the United States nor any other country
can or should want to tackle alone. At the top of that list are AIDS, world
hunger, human rights, failures and deficiencies in the nation state system,
and the real war on terrorism.
- Those problems cluster around the main global issues
that gave rise to most if not all of the world,s terrorists: Hunger, poverty,
disease, social, political and economic injustice, political exclusion,
and matters of cultural, ethnic or religious diversity. If not addressed,
those issues will continue to generate new terrorists faster than they
can be cut down in any war on terrorism the United States can mount. That
is simply because the present War on Terrorism is designed to capture,
confine, kill or counter the existing terrorists, not to deal with the
root causes of terrorism.
- The US foreign assistance budget is neither large enough
nor well-targeted enough to do much work on the global issues. With at
least a third of that budget going to Israel and more than half going to
Israel and Egypt together, the rest of the developing world receives very
little. Meanwhile, as part of the bargaining around support for the war
on Iraq, Israel is asking for $18 billion (to stay at home and fight its
own battle) and Turkey is asking for and may get $30 billion (to support
US war plans). Between them these two countries are asking for almost 6
times the entire US aid budget, more than the US trade deficit, to play
their parts in the Iraq war.
- Those war related expenditures and the de-facto bribes
that may be paid to African or other members of the Security Council to
get their votes on a new resolution are stark reminders that the US case
for war with Iraq needs a great deal of work. Weaknesses in the case along
with obvious signs of US desperation to get a favorable vote out of the
UN have perverse effects for the US position: On the one hand, members
of the Security Council and regional countries of importance to the US
battle plan see plainly that the US can be had in the diplomatic bargaining.
On the other hand, US eagerness to obtain a favorable UN decision belies
the Bush team charge that the UN risks irrelevance or loss of legitimacy.
- In fact, the United Nations has the only forum where
the United States can legitimate its plans, assuming they should be legitimated.
During the Cold War, NATO may have been a legitimating forum, but that
no longer works. If the debate were properly focused by the Bush team,
it would be about the legitimacy of the war, not about the standing of
the UN. As shown in peace demonstrations in many countries last week, messengers
from many parts of the world are saying the war is a poor idea. Killing
the messengers or belittling them will not improve the plans. As the debate
is being pursued, the UN is not standing in the way, it is serving in loco
parentis for dealing with truculent and stubborn US posturing.
- Several truths about the situation are obvious: The
risks of terrorism cannot be greatly diminished without resolving the global
issues. The real war on terrorism is not now being fought by the United
States. War on Iraq will not do anything significant to diminish world
terrorism. Whoever takes the lead in the war on terrorism must have global
access. Only the UN has the standing needed to tackle the global issues.
Only a serious and sustained attack by all nations on the global issues
will assure any success in the war on terrorism. The outcome will never
be perfect"the irrational element will always be there, and some protection
against terrorism will always be necessary.
- The United States on its best day cannot substitute for
a detached international organization that is charged and funded to do
this work. But the United States with its wealth and technology can fuel
the process. The risk is that, on the courses being taken by the Bush team,
with only about 4% of the world,s people, the United States will make itself
irrelevant to managing the present conflict environment. Since 9-11 US
leadership has done an incredible job of blowing its opportunity to really
attack world terrorism by too narrowly defining the problem, too exclusively
defining the victims who matter, and too assiduously protecting the Israelis
whose actions against the Palestinians are the current most potent generators
- Over the long haul, the roles and capabilities of the
United Nations system must be enhanced and their funding must be markedly
increased. Instead of an immature effort to undermine the UN, the United
States should take the lead in assuring the UN has every tool it needs
to be effective. Attacking the global issues with any hope of resolving
them is a slow and patient process, even with adequate funding.
- In moving to support the UN, the United States must stand
for consistency and clarity on the most frightening aspect of the present
and future threat of terrorism: The availability of weapons of mass destruction
to nation states and potential leakage to terrorists. No one really quibbles
with the effort to prevent additional countries from acquiring such weapons.
But that outcome is not attainable in a world where the strong may have
such weapons and the weak may not. There is no solution but to suppress
them all. No one but the weapons owner will ever agree that he or she has
any unique right to own such weapons. Their mere presence will generate
that horrible fear, envy, or longing of the have nots that has led us where
- In the end, this problem can be managed only by detached
leadership, and no nation state is capable of providing that. The four-tiered
system that now exists cannot be sustained. That system consists of: (1)
The pre-1967 members of the nuclear club who are in the nuclear Non Proliferation
Treaty; (2) the Indians and the Pakistanis who are admitted proliferaters
outside the NPT; (3) the Israelis who have weapons and are not admitted
proliferaters but are outside the NPT and protected by the United States;
and (4) everybody else who is not allowed to have such weapons. The obvious
inconsistency of this system is part of the problem of dealing with Iraq,
North Korea, or others such as Iran.
- Another part of the problem is the availability of various
weapons technologies and precursors from many developed countries for which
no effective single export control or monitoring authority exists. The
present honor system obviously works quite well to make trouble for us.
That is amply shown by the case of Iraq where whatever capability exists
derived from inputs of the United States, Germany, Russia and others, while
Israel,s weapons were made possible with French, US, British and other
- Some version of the International Atomic Energy Agency
with teeth is likely to be the only long-term solution to proliferation
problems. The UN is the only organization with any developed potential
for overseeing that role. But the most intractable problem will be to persuade
existing nuclear powers to shed their weapons.
- The proliferation problems facing the UN, if it is properly
given the mission, grow daily more complex. Given modern electronics,
electromagnetic pulse weapons, modern explosives, delivery systems, and
related technologies, the modern military force is a weapon of mass destruction
without benefit of WMDs as such. Viewed realistically, recent civil wars
and insurgencies in West Africa have demonstrated that concentrated numbers
and reckless uses of small arms amount to weapons of mass destruction.
US and British uses of U-238 or depleted uranium in the first Gulf War
as a tank killer charge introduced a low grade nuclear weapon onto the
modern battlefield, and the tens of thousands of Iraqi and American casualties
of exposure to those devices made clear they are long term weapons of mass
destruction. Those devices remind us that the ultimate weapon of mass destruction
is, as it always has been, human intemperance.
- In short, for the UN, the future proliferation problem
is not just technical weapons of mass destruction, but the sheer mayhem
that is possible in modern warfare. The immediate UN challenge is to prevent
that mayhem from being visited upon Iraq.
- The writer is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer
of the US Department of State. He will welcome your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org