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The UN Security Council ruptured over Iraq because its legalist structure could not overcome friction among its member nations.

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“Why the Security Council Failed” by
Michael J. Glennon, in
Foreign Affairs class="text14"> (May-June 2003), 58 E. 68th St., New York, N.Y. 10021.


The dramatic rupture of the United Nations Security
Council over Iraq earlier this year made evident that the grand dream of
the UN’s founders—subjecting the use of force to the rule of
law—had failed. But the fault lay not with the United States or
France or other member nations, argues Glennon, a professor of
international law at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Rather, it
lay with underlying geopolitical forces “too strong for a legalist
institution to withstand.”


Given the recent evolution of the international
system, the Security Council’s failure was “largely
inexorable,” Glennon says. Well before the debate over confronting
Iraq, world power had shifted toward “a configuration that was simply
incompatible with the way the UN was meant to function. It was the rise of
American unipolarity—not the Iraq crisis—that, along with
cultural clashes and different attitudes toward the use of force, gradually
eroded the council’s credibility.”


In response to the emerging U.S. predominance,
coalitions of competitors predictably formed. “Since the end of the
Cold War,” Glennon writes, “the French, the Chinese, and the
Russians have sought to return the world to a more balanced system.” As Hubert Vedrine, then France’s foreign minister, explained in 2001,
“We have to keep defending our vital interests just as before; we can
say no, alone, to anything that may be unacceptable.” U.S. secretary
of defense Donald Rumsfeld could not have said it better.


“States pursue security by pursuing
power,” observes Glennon, and in doing that, they use the
institutional tools available. For France, Russia, and China, the Security
Council and their veto power were the tools at hand in the Iraq crisis. Had
Washington been in their position, it probably would have done as they did.
And, Glennon believes, had the three nations found themselves in the
position of the United States during the Iraq crisis, each of them would
have “used the council—or threatened to ignore it—just as
the United States did.”


No rational state today would imagine that the UN
Charter protects its security, says Glennon. The UN Charter permits the use
of force only in self-defense and only “if an armed attack
occurs.” But the provision has been flagrantly violated so often
since 1945 that it has been rendered inoperative. NATO’s humanitarian
intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was as blatant a violation as the recent
preventive war in Iraq. “The charter has gone the way of the
Kellogg-Briand Pact, the 1928 treaty by which every major country that
would go on to fight in World War II solemnly committed itself not to
resort to war as an instrument of national policy.”


If a new international framework is to be designed in
the future, Glennon warns, it must reflect “the way states actually
behave and the real forces to which they respond.” If it is built
again on “imaginary truths that transcend politics,” such as
the notion of the sovereign equality of states, it is doomed to failure.


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