Standing Up for the United Nations

by Kevin Carmody | 2/26/03 6:00am

Opponents of a U.S. military campaign to disarm Iraq say that the United States has plans to act unilaterally. That's not true. Rather, the United States stands united with other liberal democracies which share our belief that continued Iraqi noncompliance with Security Council resolutions cannot be allowed. This coalition recognizes that Iraq's illegal possession of weapons of mass destruction is a dangerous threat to international peace and that its continued defiance of the United Nations threatens that body's relevance.

For France and Germany to call our action unilateral requires that one pretend that Australia, Britain, Italy, Spain and the rest of our allies don't "count." If what opponents of military action truly desire is unanimity from the United Nations, then they ought be honest and say so, since multilateralism has already been achieved. What proponents of appeasement realize is that the case for unanimity is morally bankrupt, since it calls for the approval of states whose membership in the United Nations has not prevented them from engaging in gross violations of international law and human rights. To wit, think Libya and Sudan. That those two nations were deemed more deserving of a spot on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, while the United States is denied a seat, is a perfect example of the meaninglessness of unanimity.

In light of Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted unanimously on Nov. 8, 2002, there can be no doubt that the Council has come to a final judgment on the nature of Iraq's noncompliance. While network commentators repeat the phrases "smoking gun" and "material breach," suggesting that inspectors have yet to discover the former, which would then unquestionably constitute the latter, the Security Council has already declared that "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions" It has given Iraq one "final opportunity" to allow " immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access " to all its facilities. And if Iraq does not? UNSCR 1441 reiterates the explicit authorization given to all member states of the United Nations, to enforce the resolutions "by any means necessary."

The United States, then, is faced with a predicament as a leader of a coalition that opposes Iraqi noncompliance. If the United States does not militarily enforce the U.N. resolutions, as it has been invited to do on several occasions by the Council, then it will prove to the world that it is unconcerned with the legitimacy of the United Nations. If that international body cannot rely on its most powerful member to use force, then it can rely on none. Inaction on the part of the United States and her allies would effectively declare that the United Nations is little more than an inefficient charitable organization or a boring debating society.

If the United States does militarily enforce Iraqi compliance, then it will prove that the United Nations still possesses a mandate and that its resolutions go unheeded at the peril of pariah states. For over a dozen years, the world has observed the Security Council issue blistering resolutions demanding Iraqi disarmament. Yet since the Gulf War, the United Nations has never shown itself willing to live up to its threats.

The decision is an ironic one on several levels. Popular majorities in many countries, especially in several European countries like France and Germany, strongly oppose military action. While citizens complain that the United States is acting inappropriately, they should be even angrier with their own governments for getting them into this mess to begin with. France has veto power and could have prevented this showdown by obstructing the passage of UNSCR 1441 and its predecessors. Instead, like Germany, its government chose to lie by making commitments it never intended to fulfill. And now the United States must decide whether or not to save an international organization that the international community is ready to drop like a radioactive handful of enriched uranium.

Yet the United States should not abandon the United Nations. 50 years ago, the blood of a generation paid the price of a war that could have been avoided had an international body stepped in and taken a stand against a group of rogue states. And even though, for politically self-serving reasons, weak leaders of insecure states will continue to lie and make promises they have no intention of keeping, the United States cannot abandon its Wilsonian pursuit of a true community of nations. And in the short run, that means that the United States has to drag the United Nations, some of its members kicking and screaming, back from the brink of irrelevancy. Nobody said that being the lone superpower would be easy.