Author Topic: the options open to the UN in deligitimising a US invasion of Iraq  (Read 71 times)


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Beyond the veto
Ayman El-Amir examines the options open to the UN in deligitimising a US invasion of Iraq

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Sunday, somewhere on the outskirts of Basra, an Iraqi woman flees the city -- declared "a legitimate military target" by British military commanders -- carrying an infant in her arms
With the war against Iraq entering its third week there is no sign of any serious action being taken by the UN to confront the military situation. Apart from some sheepish remarks by senior officials about humanitarian assistance the world body appears to have thrown its charter out of the window of the 38th floor office of the secretary- general, accepting the Anglo- American invasion to depose Saddam Hussein and reconstitute Iraq in America's interests. This is not the same UN that was entrusted "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", as its charter promised six decades ago.

There was a time when any outbreak of hostilities would be immediately followed by the convening of the Security Council which would call for a cease-fire, followed by withdrawal of military forces and negotiations. Now, though, an eerie resignation has fallen on the house of nations as death and destruction rain on Iraq.

In the face of all the odds a group of non-aligned and Arab countries last week mulled over the possibility of a draft resolution calling for a cease-fire. Cold feet set in, though, almost before they started. And their concern was not that the initiative would be stymied by a double Anglo-American veto: rather, they were unsure that the draft would secure the required nine votes, or the two-third majority approval of the council's members. The group's veto-empowered allies in the council, France and Russia, cautioned that failure to garner the two-third majority would indirectly legitimise the US-British campaign. They wanted to deny the two powers any de jure legitimacy, even as a de facto invasion of Iraq is underway. It is a strategy leaving much to be desired.

The Bush administration is determined to pursue the war to the very end, and the UN is powerless to roll back the invasion. Denying the Anglo-American conquest legitimacy can now only be meaningful if the General Assembly acts under the "Uniting for Peace" provision, contained in a resolution adopted in 1950 at the height of the Korean war to override a certain Soviet veto. The Uniting for Peace resolution empowers the General Assembly, in the case of the Security Council being paralysed by a de facto veto, to recommend collective measures "including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security". In such case a special emergency session of the General Assembly could be called within 24 hours, without the Security Council being able to veto the motion.

To call for a special emergency session requires either a two-third majority in the Security Council, or a majority of members of the General Assembly. The latter could probably be secured through a coalition of the non-aligned movement and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

The Uniting for Peace provision has been used 10 times in the last 50 years, most successfully in the case of the 1956 Suez War. Its use involves heavy lobbying and counter-lobbying by interested parties.

Any General Assembly resolution denouncing the aggression against Iraq and demanding the cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of foreign troops under the Uniting for Peace provision, will not necessarily freeze the hostilities or reverse the invasion. It will, though, do two things: first, it will "delegitimise" the Anglo-American conquest of Iraq and, second, will establish a moral parallel to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A similar General Assembly resolution was adopted in 1980 under the Uniting for Peace principle: while it failed to persuade the Soviet Union to relinquish its military conquest it nevertheless, by delegitimising the invasion, sanctioned international support for all-out resistance to the Soviet invasion.

It took eight years of brutal warfare, hundreds of thousands of casualties and the indomitable resistance of the Afghani people for the Soviet Union to realise that it could not win that war.

The failure of the Soviet campaign against Afghanistan was due, in no small measure, to the substantial assistance the Afghani resistance received from the CIA under the Reagan administration, which worked hand-in-glove with the Pakistani intelligence service (SIS). But a great deal of funding and holy warriors (mujahideen) also came from Arab countries, and resistance to the invasion quickly assumed the mantle of jihad, spawning the mujahideen movement, mullah Omar, Osama Bin Laden and, eventually, Al-Qa'eda, none of which the US and UK would relish being repeated in Iraq.

A potential role for the UN should not be in doubt. More than two decades ago the world organisation refused to recognise the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that toppled the murderous regime of Pol Pot. In less than two years the Pol Pot government had murdered two million Cambodians and for several years the General Assembly refused to recognise the Vietnam-installed government in Phnom Penh, considering it a regime changed by the power of foreign invasion. By a bizarre default the Pol Pot regime continued to represent Cambodia at the United Nations.

The United Nations can take vigorous action to deny the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq any legitimacy and deprive the perpetrators of the fruits of their aggression. Its harried officials should pause and examine the history of the world organisation, created to repel aggression and preserve international peace and security. Its founding fathers could never have imagined, in their worst nightmares, that the world body would be reduced to a New York-style "soup kitchen" for the distribution of free meals to refugees.