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Why the UN is in the Firing line over Iraq

David Miller Online: Why the United Nations is in the Firing line over Iraq.

Although the military offensive in Iraq has not yet been launched, the war has already started. In fact, it never actually ended because even though the hostilities on the battlefield may have subsided, the never-ending war of opinion has ground on at the United Nations for over a decade. As soon as the Bush Administration re-started its plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power, they engaged in a diplomatic offensive that has not only split UN but also NATO and the European Union as well.

The stance taken by the United States and Britain is that any time given to the UN arms inspectors in their search for weapons of mass destruction is time given to Saddam and his efforts to conceal them. The US and Britain claim that any more time granted relieves the pressure on Iraq rather than increases it. While the chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reported that no evidence of WMD had been uncovered he did point out that the Iraqi’s had not been as forthcoming as they might have been in co-operating with the weapons search. It is on this basis that Britain and the US build their case.

The debate over the Blix report and whether it is a case for war or not, will not be discussed here. Instead, this week’s column is concerned with the concern that amidst all the division the United Nations is losing credibility. I have never been a great admirer of the United Nations in its efforts to prevent and control war and I have often spoke out against what I see as a world body that was struggling to deal with the vast array of issues confronting it. The United Nations is an institution designed for the Cold War and the onset of the globalised 21st Century has exposed many of its shortcomings.

However in the case of Iraq, the United Nations is in an unenviable position. Its role and position as the world body is being manipulated, by both sides in the argument. On the one hand there are those opposed to war claiming that the UN must pass a resolution before war can occur while the US and Britain are arguing the UN’s credibility and influence is being eroded by its inability to act in their favour. There have been comparisons to the ill-fated League of Nations and some commentators are claiming that UN has reached its Abyssinian Moment, which is a reference to the League of Nations failure to prevent Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1934. This reference is made in order to emphasise that if the United Nations fails to act now to prevent Iraq from concealing and possessing weapons then it will follow the same path of its processor. One assumes that the same point can be made only this time directed at the UN’s need to prevent the US and Britain from unleashing their attack.

The problem for the United Nations is that its influence and direction comes solely from those same countries that are currently locked in a bitter debate. This has been the fundamental flaw in the UN structure ever since it was created in 1947. By allowing the power of veto to rest with five states, those who drew up the UN Charter built in its Achilles Heel. France appears to be the country most likely to veto any UN legislation on Iraq, as its own self-aggrandising agenda seldom allows it to follow the US line.

Given that the power of the UN comes from its member states it is unlikely that the UN will emerge from this crisis with much credibility. If the member states cannot agree then it is the UN that appears as the house divided. If the member states cannot agree a course of action then it is the UN that appears to be the house that cannot agree. And, if some member states act unilaterally and without a resolution then the UN appears to be the house that is powerless and cannot act. If this is the Abyssinian moment and the outcome is war, then the UN will find its credibility and influence lost forever and it will be a casualty in the war in Iraq.

Footnote. If the reports that Nicky Haeger released the names of SAS troops to make a point about government secrecy over Afghanistan are true then he really has reached an all time low in his campaigning. To endanger lives to make a point about government policy is not only wrong but also contemptible. It is true that the SAS identities and operations are kept secret but that is the nature of Special Forces operations. Unfortunately for Mr. Haeger and others who wish to see otherwise, so to are those of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world.

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