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Iraq singled out for defiance, but it’s not alone


In a speech delivered to the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 12, President Bush challenged the United Nations to act quickly to disarm Iraq. Calling Saddam Hussein’s regime “a grave and gathering danger,” Bush said Iraq had defied U.N. resolutions and continued to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Though singled out by Bush for censure, Iraq is hardly alone in violating or ignoring U.N. decrees. Turkey, Morocco and Israel are all in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, while several African countries have said they would abide by Security Council resolutions and then ignored them.

The Security Council has passed more than 1,400 resolutions since 1945. According to Jim Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, an independent citizens’ organization that monitors the United Nations, “the majority of resolutions, perhaps the overwhelming majority, have not been respected.”

The most notable violator of U.N. resolutions is Israel, Paul said, which continues to occupy parts of Palestine and Syria and was at one time occupying portions of Egypt and Lebanon as well. Security Council resolution 242 calls on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories while resolutions 446 and 465 require Israel to withdraw from illegal settlements on occupied Arab lands.

Enforcement blocked

“The United States systematically prevents any enforcement of any resolutions regarding Israel. As far as the Security Council is concerned as a body, it’s not too important because the United States keeps it from being too important,” Paul noted.

Other cases of noncompliance include Morocco, which invaded the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara in 1975 and remains in occupation there; Turkey, which invaded Cyprus in 1974 and remains in occupation of the northern one-third of the island in violation of U.N. demands that it withdraw; and Indonesia, which in 1975 invaded and occupied East Timor shortly before East Timor was slated to attain independence, but withdrew from the island in 1999. There are also U.N. resolutions relating to Kashmir, Angola, and numerous other conflicts around the world.

According to Stephen Zunes, an associate professor of politics at San Francisco University and Middle East editor for Foreign Policy in Focus, the list of Security Council resolutions that Bush has charged the Baghdad regime is flouting is shorter than the list of U.N. Security Council resolutions currently being violated by U.S. allies.

“Not only has the United States not talked about invading these countries, the United States has blocked sanctions or other means of enforcing them and even provides military and economic aid that makes their ongoing violations possible,” said Zunes.

Because the Security Council has not authorized the use of force, the United States’ patrolling of “no-fly zones” in Iraq is itself illegal, said Zunes, even though this is done in the name of enforcing U.N. resolutions.

“Member states have spoken out against this clearly. [U.N. Secretary General] Kofi Annan has said there is no such authorization for this kind of action,” Zunes said. “If the United States could unilaterally bomb Iraq for its violations, what’s to stop Russia from bombing Israel or France from bombing Turkey or Great Britain from bombing Morocco? Those states are also in violation of United Nations resolutions. That’s the logic the United States is employing.”

Most decisions and recommendations by the United Nations take the form of resolutions adopted either by the General Assembly or the Security Country. While the resolutions enacted by the General Assembly have some standing in international law, only those resolutions passed by the 15-member Security Council are legally binding. The five permanent members of the Security Council possess veto power over any resolution and consist of the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. Their number on the Security Council is augmented by 10 rotating members who are elected for a two-year term.

In demanding that the United Nations do more to hold Iraq accountable, President Bush is taking an unusual step. Historically, the United Nations has been reluctant to enforce its own decrees, and when it has done so has usually preferred economic coercion via sanctions to military force. Since the United Nations was founded following World War II, it has imposed sanctions in 14 cases: Afghanistan, Angola, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Libya, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Southern Rhodesia, Sudan and the former Yugoslavia.

“The usual problem is getting any state to be willing to enforce a resolution,” said Jeffrey Laurenti, executive director of policy studies at the United Nations Association of the United States of America. “The United States by and large has been as reluctant as most to see that resolutions were complied with. Certainty, this is true of Angola, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Rwanda. You often have a marked disinclination even of the Security Council’s guarantor powers to put their own powers on the line in enforcement.”

Though President Bush challenged the United Nations to in effect put up or shut up to compel Iraqi compliance with its resolutions, Laurenti said many think the United Nations is, in fact, putting up when it applies economic sanctions to Iraq.

“Some would say that the economic sanctions have already been proving the U.N.’s relevance. It’s not for one country to decide whether the U.N.’s methods of enforcement are relevant but up to the full membership of the council to evaluate the threat,” Laurenti said.

With the exception of Haiti in 1994 when the United Nations authorized the use of force to remove the threat posed by Haiti’s military junta, Laurenti said the United Nations has authorized military force only in cases where armed conflict is already taking place -- Korea in 1950; Kuwait 1990-91; Bosnia and Herzegovina episodically from 1993-95. Authorization to use force was extended to France’s intervention in Rwanda after the massacres and to Italy’s operation in Albania in 1997.

“It will be unprecedented to go to war to compel Iraq to disarm,” said Laurenti. “The sanctions and the resulting misery of the Iraqi populace have been the enforcement arm on Iraq to come clean, and the shattered conventional military in Iraq. They haven’t been able to rebuild their conventional forces, thanks to the sanctions.”

U.N. analysts and observers said despite the initial opposition of many countries around the world to a preemptive strike on Iraq, the United States seems to be gaining ground in its bid to gain United Nations approval for an attack.

Jack Patterson, Quaker representative to the United Nations, said the model for the kind of carrot and stick diplomacy the United States is carrying on can be found in Chapter 17 of The Politics of Diplomacy by former Secretary of State James Baker, titled: “All Necessary Means.” The chapter details the run-up to the initial Security Council resolution on the Gulf War, and Patterson said a similar process is taking place right now. “Our sense is that [Bush] has got the votes lined up, and he will have used all the coercion or inducements necessary to get the votes. … Our speculation is there will be only two negative votes, and that’s Mexico and Syria and everyone else will at least go along by abstaining,”

Paul at the Global Policy Forum said the United States is the only country powerful enough to compel the United Nations to go along with its desires.

Feeling the heat

“This war is about oil and access to oil. It’s been the hope of certain countries, namely Russia, France and China, that they would gain important oil access in the world’s second-largest country in terms of proven oil resources. The United States is saying to them, look, the game is up, we’re going to throw Saddam out and if you want access to Iraqi oil at all, you’re going to have to go along with us,” said Paul.

According to one nongovernmental analyst who wished to go unnamed but has worked on Middle East issues for 30 years, Saudi Arabia and Russia have a disincentive to accept a U.S. attack on Iraq, but with Russia in desperate need of a loan from the International Monetary Fund and Saudi Arabia feeling the heat from the United States, both may feel they have no choice but to accede to U.S. plans.

“There’s a whole oil game in terms of the pricing,” the analyst added. “If we’re in control of Iraq oil following a successful invasion, we might arrange that the Saudi percentage of our oil decrease and Iraqi oil increase and there will be pressure brought to bear on the price of oil.”

Russia possesses untapped oil reserves that are among the largest in the world, he said, and the United States can play the Saudis off against the Russians. “With Iraq in play and in the United States pocket, the United States would have immense leverage over both of them.”

Patterson at the Quaker United Nations office said the vast majority of the members of the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly would prefer a resolution along the lines of French President Jacques Chirac’s proposals for a two-step solution to Iraq. The first step would be a strong resolution seeking Iraq’s unconditional acceptance of weapons inspectors and compliance with other U.N. resolutions and then some time for Iraq to comply. The second step would be another resolution of the Security Council related to consequences that might or might not be military if Iraq does not comply with the first resolution. The United States does not favor a second step approach, preferring to remain as unfettered as possible.

The French are pushing their approach, said Laurenti, because if the United States attacks Iraq, France would prefer it attack within the framework of the United Nations rather than unilaterally.

“Once they concluded they couldn’t stop Bush, they want to make it as legal as possible and set a different standard from what the Washington hawks would have as their goal: locking in American supremacy for the entire century by showing that no one can defy the United States and its awesome military,” Laurenti said.

Margot Patterson is NCR senior writer. Her e-mail address is mpatterson@natcath.org

Related Web sites

Global Policy Forum

Quaker United Nations Office

United Nations Association of the United States of America

United Nations Security Council

National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2002