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Scoop Editorial: Hold The Line

Scoop Editorial - Hold The Line

By Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson

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''I hope that he certainly works with the U.N. I know he will,'' Hastert said of [President] Bush. ''But we are a sovereign nation and we're not going to put anything in that says that the U.N. has to act first or tell us what we can do.'' - U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., September 28 2002.

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The Rule of Law is what holds the fabric of civilised society together. Indeed general acceptance by a society of the Rule of Law is probably the principal ingredient in defining what a civilised society is.

Unfortunately however many law makers in the United States appear not to understand this. Either that or they have forgotten what the law is.

To wit, the words of the U.S. President and Commander in Chief:

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“I can't imagine an elected United States -- elected member of the United States Senate or House of Representatives saying, I think I'm going to wait for the United Nations to make a decision. It seems like to me that if you're representing the United States, you ought to be making a decision on what's best for the United States. If I were running for office, I'm not sure how I'd explain to the American people -- say, vote for me, and, oh, by the way, on a matter of national security, I think I'm going to wait for somebody else to act. “ – President George Bush, September 13th 2002
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In the face of comments like that above, one can only wonder what status United States politicians believe the U.N. Charter holds in U.S. law. Are they signatories to the agreement or not?

For the benefit of those who have forgotten what was agreed in the aftermath of World War II, the objectives behind the United Nations are worth repeating.

The primary purpose of the creation of the United Nations was to explicitly end the era in which nations asserted their “sovereign rights” to make war on one another.

The United Nations like all Rule of Law based institutions is based on a trade off. In return for obtaining collective security administered by the United Nations, the sovereign nations who have joined the U.N. renounce their sovereign rights to make war on their neighbours.

Admittedly the first five decades of the operation of this trade-off have been far from plain sailing.

U.S. Presidents in particular have often found it hard to follow international law. President Clinton’s cruise missile volley into Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 is one of several recent examples of a clear breach of the law. But in the past even when breaking it there has usually been at least an attempt to comply with the spirit of the law.

In Clinton’s case the U.N. Charter’s Article 51 doctrine of self defence was invoked to explain the apparent breach. And in order to avoid censure - once it was discovered that the missiles target in Sudan was not a weapons facility but a pharmaceuticals factory – the U.S. fell back on its right of veto.

Similarly it is also true that the 1998 war over Kosovo was “technically” illegal in that it was not approved by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

But at least in Kosovo the United States had the unanimous support of its 22 NATO allies and many other nations in the world. Now, if U.K. PM Tony Blair is to be taken by the word he gave to his Parliament, then even he, The U.S. Administration's biggest cheerleader, is opposed to acting against Iraq without a U.N. mandate.

Meanwhile it ought to be a matter of some pride for both President Bush and PM Blair that a clear majority of their public, now appear to agree that U.N. authorisation and collective action ought to be a precondition to any military strikes.

This indicates that the presumption behind an International Rule of Law - that collective security is in everybody's interests - is gaining currency.

To be fair to President Bush, the U.N. Security Council has often over the past 50 years found itself hamstrung by the conflicting interests of the two great Cold War powers and their often exercised powers of veto.

But the numerous failures by the permanent five to follow international law in the past do not justify the deliberate intentions of U.S. law-makers and the U.S. President to break the law now. We are supposed to be able to learn from our mistakes.

Moreover in the long run the only thing that will bring the world lasting security, and true international civility, will be when there is a generalised acceptance among the leaders of all sovereign nations that international law must indeed be followed by all.

This is why it is now vitally important that the U.S. House of Congress, the U.S. Senate, Russia, China and France, and indeed the United Kingdom now hold the line on Iraqi weapons inspections, and demand United Nations authorisation before there is any use of force against Iraq.

If there is to be a war against Iraq let it be a just war, a war undertaken in accordance with the law, and not a naked affront to the same international law that George W. Bush’s administration claims it is seeking to enforce.


Which brings us to the current debates over resolutions before the U.S. Congress and the U.N. Security Council.

What should these responsible bodies now decide to best reflect the wills of the peoples of the U.S. and the world?

The starting point for the discussion in the Congress and Senate ought to be that they not break their own law. That is, they should not grant the U.S. President powers to make war without U.N. approval.

Which means of course that Denis Hastert’s and reasoning - “and we're not going to put anything in that says that the U.N. has to act first or tell us what we can do” – must be abandoned.

Instead President George Bush should be authorised by his Congress and Senate only to pursue his war through the proper channels, namely the auspices of the U.N. Security Council.

When it comes to the U.N. Security Council itself the picture becomes far less clear.

In deference to President Bush and Prime Minister Blair’s political need to save face it is perhaps desirable that some new resolution be approved by the U.N. Security Council with respect to Iraq.

However the formulation currently proposed by the U.K. and the U.S. requires a great deal of amendment.

As a first principle any resolution needs to be fit for purpose. In this case the immediate purpose is to secure Iraq’s compliance with inspections. The wider purpose, in accordance with the principles of the U.N. Charter, is the maintenance of the peace and security.

The U.S. and U.K.’s proposed resolution seeks to achieve neither of these objectives.

The current draft resolution appears on its face to have been calculated to create as highly a charged situation as possible. A situation that is more likely than not to lead to war in as short a time as possible.

Firstly there is the seven day deadline for Iraq to indicate absolute acceptance of the resolutions terms.

Quite apart from the fact that this so clearly betrays the impatience of U.S. and U.K. to move straight to the enforcement stage of this exercise, the terms of this clause are a blunt insult to the art of diplomacy.

As has been said before on Scoop, deadlines are the enemy of diplomacy. Deadlines are designed not by people who are seeking agreement, but by people who want a fight.

Then there is a proposed clause insisting that the weapons inspectors be accompanied by armed guards.

The first thing this draft (or should that be daft?) clause brings to mind is the fact that the inspectors themselves, who presumably know their business, have expressed no desire at all to have armed guards. In all likelihood they consider such a proposal to be a danger to their safety. Which begs the question why has such a suggestion been made.

The effects of this clause appear to be threefold:
1 ) it will offend Iraq’s sense of sovereignty, and thereby to make it refuse to accept the resolution within the seven day period, thereby triggering a war;
2) it will complicate and thereby delay the deployment of inspectors, frustrating the objective of neutralising the currently highly charged atmosphere;
3) in the unlikely event that it is accepted by Iraq, it will place the commanders of the armed guards (presumably the U.S. and the U.K.) in the perfect position to provoke a firefight and thereby an excuse for war.

Iraq un-surprisingly took no time at all in saying that the draft resolution was unacceptable. Having earlier come to an agreement with the U.N. Secretary General on the general terms of inspections, this agreement ought to be honoured, an Iraqi spokesman said.

Russia responded, very sensibly, saying that the most important thing was for inspectors to start work as quickly as possible, and pointing out that the new resolution would complicate and probably delay their work.

France too remained sceptical and did not appear to soften their position following a flying visit from the U.S. Under-secretary of State Marc Grossman over the weekend.

China, which has been maintaining a low profile in the debate thus far, responded only by repeating the message of Russia, that nothing should delay the work of the inspectors.

So what happens next?

So far it would appear that at least three of the permanent five are holding the line.

Most of the world would probably agree that the best possible outcome looking forward would be for the weapons inspectors to be deployed as soon as possible.

This would also appear to the will of most of the members of the Security Council, and was also the stated objective of the U.S. President when he addressed the U.N. on September 12.

To save face for the U.S. and U.K. the U.N. Security Council might perhaps back their deployment with a resolution clarifying whatever the weapons inspectors and the Iraqi negotiators agree with each other in their present discussions in Vienna.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding about what is agreed such a course would probably be advisable in any event.

But any such resolution ought to not implicitly or otherwise authorise any military action against Iraq.

As France has argued the Security Council can convene and consider any failure by Iraq to comply when and if it happens.

Meanwhile the steady build up of U.S. military hardware in the Gulf region can hardly fail to make it clear to Iraq what the risks of non-compliance are.

If the outcome described above is achieved from the current circumstances then the trust that the public and their leaders hold in the International Rule of Law will be reinforced and strengthened.

On the other hand if the International Rule of Law is not followed then the security of us all will be severely damaged.

It would be in the interests of us all if the raison d’etre of U.S. Foreign Policy changed from:

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"Every nation in every region, now has a decision to make, either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." - George Bush September 21 2001

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“And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.” – Gospel Of Luke Chapter 9 vs 50

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