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David G. Miller Online

David G. Miller Online

Why America Suddenly Needs the UN

Despite its arguments to the contrary, the Bush Administration has been left with little choice but to call for United Nations assistance in policing and rebuilding Iraq. Earlier this year, it appeared that the future of the United Nations as a pre-eminent instrument in international affairs was at a cross -roads. Many commentators, myself included, felt that the Coalition’s unilateral action could seriously diminish the UN’s influence and even its relevance in world affairs however the actions of the Bush Administration in seeking UN help has forced a serious re-evaluation on this issue. The deteriorating situation in Iraq and the fact that the White House is now afraid that its forces will become bogged down in a costly guerrilla war has thrown the UN a lifeline that it must take to re-establish itself as the world body.

This change of stance on the part of the US and Britain has not been undertaken due to any sudden fondness for the United Nations or awareness that it is the correct authority to govern Iraq until a permanent government can be established and its economy resuscitated. This call has been taken because the US cannot maintain the post-war peace in Iraq. Guerrilla attacks are increasing and the Coalition is faced with a massive budgetary strain as the Treasuries in London and Washington find the billions needed to maintain their military presence. There is also the question of military over-stretch, especially as the allies have large commitments in other parts of the world, for example, West Africa, Afghanistan and the Korean Peninsula.

The problem facing the Bush Administration is that while it is seeking a heavy UN involvement it is not willing to compromise its position completely. The decision to keep the operation under US Command means that while the UN is being asked to contribute the bulk of the peace keeping forces, the US will keep its control over the country and will not place its forces under any UN administration. This is not a tempting bargain for UN member states who might of otherwise agreed to deploy troops and it will also increase the perception among the Ba’athist extremists that the UN is merely an instrument of American foreign policy. This was demonstrated by the recent bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad. Mr. Bush has missed his opportunity to embark upon this course and as a result it is likely that the Coalition will have to increase its troop presence rather than decrease it.

In my July column I argued that it was crucial that the Coalition won the ‘hearts and minds’ of the Iraqi people. This campaign is more important than the initial military offensive that overpowered the Iraqi Armed Forces because if not undertaken correctly then the Coalition become regarded as occupiers and not liberators and this has the potential to draw their forces into a low-level war. The killing of several Iraqi police officers in a friendly fire incident in the Sunni triangle has damaged an already fragile and deteriorating relationship between the US and the Iraqi people and it will only serve as further incentive for those opposed to the US to carry out attacks.

The decision by the Polish Government to assume control and responsibility for the central region of Iraq is a bold move by Warsaw. Poland does have a solid peace keeping record however one can only assume that the decision it has taken has been motivated by the desire to secure along term US alliance and investment. The Poles may be serve under the UN banner and as a ‘blue helmet’ force however it is likely that could become a target for those still loyal to the old regime. It is not surprising that the name ‘al-Qaeda’ has surfaced in connection to the violence in Iraq although one cannot know for certain that elements of the group are operating there or on what level. Either way this is another opportunity for the reputation of this group to build and with each report that links an attack to al-Qaeda the aura and mystique around this movement grows. It is a dangerous cycle.

Despite Poland’s commitment and the negotiation that is currently underway in the UN it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached that allows the US to transfer the responsibility for Iraq to the world body and allow it to start removing its forces. France, Germany and Russia have already stated that they do not believe the draft resolution has gone far enough and will not agree to its passing. Hence the Coalition will have to remain committed to Iraq and will find it more difficult to pull out as the casualties mount. For its part, the UN is in a position to increase its bargaining power with the US and gain concessions from the White House that should have been granted before the war began. My prediction is that these efforts could easily fail. Not because of any weakness on the part of the UN or its inability to undertake the task set before it. Instead its failure will be due to the US’ lack of desire to see its own control of the Iraqi oil supply diminished and the country’s economic wealth taken out of its control.

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