Ian Linden, General Secretary of the Catholic Institute for International Reiations, reflects on the dilemmas that could damage the long-term credibility of the UN THE recent raids by the "allied coalition" on Iraq have again thrown up troubling questions about the role of the United Nations. Is this another example of the United States' success in waving the UN flag the better to prosecute its national interests, or more narrowly those of the Pentagon and a retiring President? If the end result is the humiliation, prior to the overthrow, of Saddam Hussein's regime, does it matter?
"We don't have to worry about the Russkies now," Stephen Chen, an economics adviser to President Clinton, told the London Clintonomics love-in earlier this month, "so it is going to be hardball all the way". Well, if tough realpolitik is inevitable, perhaps we should enjoy the positive benefits.
But legally questionable justification for US military action that makes the UN complicit is not positive. The manipulative misuse of the United Nations and the damage that this causes is cumulative. Selective amnesia and lack of impartiality are a serious threat to the credibility of the UN. The case of Israel's non-compliance with UN resolutions is a glaring anomaly. Since the Gulf War, to many developing countries, it looks for all the world as if the UN is further being reduced to three permanent members of its Security Council, France, Britain and the US, their foreign policy interests and vision of its role.
To take the initial justification for the recent air-strikes. Security Resolution 688, dating from early 1991, is repeatedly cited by the US. A turning point in international intervention, it demands humanitarian access to repressed communities in Iraq, and relates to the threat to international peace and security of large-scale movements of Kurdish refugees from northern Iraq into Iran. It remains acutely relevant today for the threatened Kurdish population. But it significantly does not refer to those articles in the UN charter which permit armed intervention; the airexclusion zones came into existence as a continuation of the Gulf War, as the allied forces were forced to respond to the international outcry over the Kurds. Difficult to see how bombing "nuclear fabrication sites" and missile batteries in the "no-fly zone" in southern Iraq can be legally justified by it.
It is particularly tragic that these developments are happening precisely when the disintegration of the Soviet Union has offered a window of opportunity for the UN to find a vital, new and effective world role. Secretary General Boutros-Ghali's agenda for 1992 peace foresaw the UN playing a growing operational role in peacekeeping and peace-making. But his vision has rapidly been put to the test in Angola, Bosnia Cambodia and Somalia, and found wanting. The reform of the UN bureaucracy, set in train by the secretary-geheral, while necessary and welcome, does have worrying implications. It seems to follow the particular and limited vision of the US and UK which emphasise some aspects of the Charter and not others. Firstly, the rationalisation has hit hardest at the social and economic work of the UN central to the Charter. In practice this will mean that the Bretton Woods institutions, set up after the second World War, the IMF, GATT and World Bank, originally conceived as subsidiaries of the UN, will finally become rival world bodies. Since they are controlled by the treasuries of the western industrialised powers, with their particular ideology, this will further add to the economic margMalisation of the Third World Finally, the UN cannot possibly live up to current expectations without adequate funding and personnel. It remains in the shortterm interests of the US to keep the world body underfunded and nitpick on costs. That way the UN is forced to bow to US power and capability.
Likewise there is no reason why the armies of the powerful industrialised nations should not train rapid development forces expressly for service under UN command, for peace keeping and humanitarian purposes. This would require a new style of training, and have implications for military production. Do we really have the best planes, troops and equipment for humanitarian relief, peacekeeping and peacemaking?
That such requests by BoutrosGhali appear utopian is some measure of the problems facing the UN in the 1990s. As Lord Judd has said, "The UN is no more and no less than the Member States and the governments which form it and, if it is criticised, we should look at our government and our society to see just how much we are doing to enable it to be effective."