UN Must Reclaim Role in the Gulf

By Laura S. Hayes Holgate. Laura S. Hayes Holgate is a research assistant Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. | The Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 1991 | Go to article overview

UN Must Reclaim Role in the Gulf


Laura S. Hayes Holgate. Laura S. Hayes Holgate is a research assistant Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University., The Christian Science Monitor


PRESIDENT Bush rightly framed his initial reaction to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait within the United Nations process. With the passage of the resolution containing the Jan. 15 deadline, however, the UN ceded its leadership. It is imperative that it take steps to reclaim its central role in resolving the conflict in the Gulf and in the "new world order."

But as smart bombs and Patriot missiles have replaced the UN resolutions in the headlines, the UN itself has faded from view. It must reassert its primacy in the resolution of the conflict. In doing so, the UN has several important roles to play.

- Create and extend diplomatic opportunities. The UN is well-positioned both to act as an intermediary itself and to provide a forum for third-party efforts at mediation. The UN could also provide the vehicle for promises of international assistance to Iraq, Kuwait, and other regional sufferers as an incentive for Saddam's withdrawal from Kuwait.

Activities such as these, carried out in the name of all nations, would carry the weight of internationally shared norms and values. The current perception among some Arab people that the UN has been tainted by American domination must be recognized and perhaps defused by special efforts to reach out to Arabs in the search for options. UN leaders should be actively seeking to improve communication between the warring parties.

- Plan for a Gulf peacekeeping force. American military officials anticipate a relatively prompt removal of US forces from the region after the war ends. By this time, American troops in the region are likely to have encountered so much Arab hostility that they will become a destabilizing force themselves. A neutral, defensive military presence must replace the coalition forces to enforce a cease-fire.

The UN peacekeeping tradition offers the obvious answer to this need. The existence of such a multilateral arrangement would contribute to broadening participation in the postwar diplomatic and reconstruction efforts. The UN forces could also assist in the enforcement of embargoes on military imports to the region that will surely follow the end of hostilities. Detailed planning for the earliest possible insertion of another blue-helmeted force should begin at once.

- Strengthen UN structures to address future aggression. The stature of the UN has unquestionably benefited from the end of the US-Soviet deadlock that paralyzed the Security Council. This rapprochement has contributed to the heightened UN peacekeeping activities around the world and ought to form the basis of a renewal of the Hammarskjoldian vision of an activist United Nations. …

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