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BTL: A U.S. War on Iraq Violates U.N. Charter


From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines


Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 24, 2003


A U.S. War on Iraq Violates U.N. Charter 'Uniting for peace' resolution may be last option to stop conflict

Interview with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights conducted by Scott Harris

Listen in RealAudio:

Echoing the script of an old Western, President Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein in a March 17th television address -- that if he and his sons do not leave Iraq within 48 hours, war would be the inevitable result. The Iraqi leader's immediate rejection of Washington's demands set the stage for a war that an overwhelming majority of the world's people and governments oppose.

President Bush's failure to win Security Council backing for a resolution authorizing war against Baghdad represented a stinging rejection of the White House argument that Saddam Hussein's regime posed an imminent threat to the U.S. and the world. United Nations' Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored widespread hostility to the Bush position when he said on March 10th, "If the U.S. and others were to go outside the (Security) Council and take military action, it would not be in conformity with the (U.N.) Charter...the legitimacy and support for any such action will be seriously impaired."

With war all but certain, two groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Greenpeace, called on the U.N. General Assembly to hold an emergency session and adopt the little-known "Uniting for Peace" resolution #377 to declare a U.S.-British war without Security Council authorization as illegal and a crime against peace. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who explains the "Uniting for Peace" option and the damage that he fears will be done to the system of international law by a unilateral U.S. war on Iraq.

Michael Ratner: The Security Council is really a very undemocratic body. It has five big powers, not the biggest -- India is not in there, and neither is Germany. But it has five veto-bearing countries in there. There's 191 countries in the United Nations. You could argue that the more democratic institution would be the General Assembly. There is a procedure that the United States actually set up, because of the Soviet veto in the 1950s -- that procedure is one in which if there's a deadlock or there's a threat to international peace and security and the Security Council can't solve it -- in this case of such a deadlock, lack of unanimity or a threat because the U.S. is about to go to war without the authority it needs -- then the matter can be moved to the General Assembly and the General Assembly can vote on what is the Uniting for Peace Resolution. The name is obvious, it's uniting for peace and not war. It was first used by the United States in the General Assembly afte! r France and Britain attacked Egypt to take over the Suez Canal after Egypt had nationalized the Suez Canal under (Egyptian President) Gamal-Abdul Nasser).

The French, Israelis and the British went in to take that canal. Obviously any resolution would be vetoed in the Security Council, and so the U.S. decided, heck with this, we'll move this whole matter into the General Assembly -- they did, the General Assembly voted that the U.K. and France had to get out of Egypt and out of the Suez Canal. They did, it was within a week of that resolution and the matter was resolved peacefully, essentially. So that is the best use. It hasn't always been as effective. It's only been used 10 times, so it's very rare. More listeners of this radio show probably have never heard of it. Most U.N. officials probably don't know about it or U.N. countries. We made sure that's not the case anymore, we sent it to every single one of the embassies and we met with all the missions in New York that we can so that they're aware of it.

So it can be used. Will it be successful, I don't know. I certainly think it's an important vote if we can get it, 170, 180 votes against the United States. But I must say, the United States already looks pretty isolated. The so-called Summit in the Azores really comes down to making the United States look worse, not better. The fact is, it's three stinkin' countries out there of a world of a 191 countries -- looks more like a coalition of the bullies.

Between The Lines: George Bush has stated that the United Nations is irrelevant because of the opposition to his war plans on the Security Council. But if this war was launched, how does that damage the institution of the United Nations that was created to keep the peace and to at least build international consensus for war if there was agreement that there had to be war?

Michael Ratner: You know, I think that in some way that is the question that people are asking and all the newspapers ask that. I think that's the wrong question. I think the right question here is how does this damage the United States? The Security Council and the United Nations did something that was remarkable here. They had stood up to the most powerful country in the world that tried to coerce each of these countries with everything from cash bribes, like Turkey -- to other kinds of bribes whether it was joining NATO or NAFTA or other kinds of things -- and they have stood tall here, essentially. They have said to the United States, the biggest military power, the biggest political power, biggest, biggest, biggest -- they have said no. They have said 'no,' despite this. So the United Nations has actually played the right role here. It has said 'no.' It's the United States, I think, that has lost its credibility here -- a tremendous amount of credibility. It's basically! thrown out the system that we have used to govern the world since the second World War.

The U.N., I think, would have become irrelevant had it gone along with the United States and had just simply voted for war even after a struggle . That would be it saying "We can be coerced, we can be bullied, the superpower controls the whole thing." Now we actually have a different world out there, we have a world in which we can say, the superpower may not control the whole thing.

Between The Lines: Michael, it seems that as we speak, war is inevitable. What are some of your feelings, what in your mind should activists be doing at this moment?

Michael Ratner: My first feelings are how sad I am for the people who are going to be facing those bombs. They've talked about what's called "shock and awe," which is 3,000 cruise missiles going right into Baghdad. Well, those things cannot be precise enough to hit only military targets. They're going to wipe out the electrical grid, and they're going to kill a lot of civilians. So the first thing is the real sense that I think all of us have is the tragedy of any war, which indicates to me the incredible necessity of the people of the world to do everything they can-- whether it's this war or the future -- to stopping war. That's my optimism, which is that we basically build up a worldwide peace movement that no longer finds war as an acceptable way to solve problems.

Your next question is harder, of course, because once the war starts, you can no longer really stop at least, the initial war. But obviously, I think people have to massively hit the streets and protest against this war. Basically say, "We don't agree with this war, we don't agree that war should be a first resort. It should be an absolute last resort, if at all." This is not a case where we were in danger. It should make this administration pay a price for it. I would include in that demonstrations, I would include civil disobedience, I would certainly include, when it comes down to that time, voting out of office those people who voted for this war. So I want people to get out there and do something.

You know I'm optimistic about it. I've never seen such a fast-growing peace movement in my life. I mean, a year ago, I was very pessimistic. We were facing all these civil liberties blowback; we were facing people in the seat of government who seemed to be incredibly popular; we're facing a world that seemed cowed by them and now we see a different situation; we see a worldwide peace movement of people moving with their feet and with their bodies and with their voices. You see the Internet able to connect those people. We see, for example, even in my own small field of lawyers, we see lawyers across the world uniting to try and say, there has to be justice against what these people are doing, fighting in the U.N. … I'm actually, in terms of that, I'm very optimistic and believe it is something we haven't seen for scores of years. I think people are just sick and tired of war and sick and tired of a country like the United States going to war on pretexts when it's really tryi! ng to essentially redraw the map of the world so that the United States can continue to dominate and be this remaining and only superpower for the next hundred years.

Contact the Center for Constitutional Rights at (212) 614-6464 or visit the group's Web site at

Other related links on our website at for the week ending 3/28/03


Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending March 28, 2003. AOL users: Click here!

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