Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Courted, Seduced and Abandoned after the Vote for Collective Action

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Courted, Seduced and Abandoned after the Vote for Collective Action

Article excerpt

The weeks since the beginning of the Second Gulf War have not been good for the United Nations. As one staffer put it, for five months the organization was wooed assiduously, then seduced, and has now been abandoned by America. (Indeed, to pursue the analogy further, the US is in arrears on its maintenance payments, owing around half a billion dollars in dues.)

In the early stages of the crisis, the USSR had insisted on the revival of the Joint Military Staff Committee -- an organizational fossil from the closing days of World War II -- which would have maintained UN control over the forces in the Gulf. In the end, the only compromise secured by the Soviets was the extension of the deadline for war from 30 to 45 days, meaning from Jan. 1, 1991 to Jan. 15, 1991. Apart from that concession, resolution 678 gave the US a blank check for its conduct of the war, and also for its interpretation of war aims.

Possibly the last direct UN involvement was the telephone call Secretary-General Perez de Cuellar received from President Bush giving him an hour's notice that the bombers were on their way to Baghdad. "I don't think it's time for diplomacy at this very moment, which means that there's not much I can do," de Cuellar told the press. His assessment of peace prospects was equally wearied. "It depended on Iraq, whether Iraq capitulates."

After a week of the war, Yemen discovered the limits to non-permanent members' powers in the Security Council. It tried, unsuccessfully, to get a meeting on the war. "It's the first time that this has happened," Yemeni Ambassador Abdalla Al-Ashtal told the Washington Report, accusing Zaire, council president for January, of unconstitutionally refusing his request. He added, "The new world order is making it more and more an institution to serve US policy. Resolution 678 does not call for the destruction of Iraq and the conduct of the war is going beyond its purpose."

However, Al-Ashtal's case was not helped by Iraq's Ambassador, Abdulla Al Anbari, who told the Secretary-General that there was no question of relinquishing Kuwait. Zimbabwe held the presidency for February, but despite its stalwart non-alignment, its ambassador made plain that any meeting on the issue would need firm proposals from Iraq. And, of course, the West could veto any proposal that it did not consider satisfactory.

After the shooting, there may well be some serious questioning of the prerogative of the Security Council. The "new world order," as proclaimed by US President Bush, bears a striking resemblance to the old world order, enshrined in the make-up of the Security Council, where the US, USSR, UK, China and France owe their permanent seats and their veto power to their victory over Germany and Japan in 1945.

A balance between powers was once maintained by the Soviet and Chinese use of their vetoes on behalf of the Third World. In the new regime, the only consistent veto is the one Washington exercises on Israel's behalf.

In addition, Germany and Japan are not now defeated nations, but economic superpowers in their own right, while over a hundred, mostly Third World, states have joined. None of them feel committed to the Yalta carve-up. Japan has let it be known that it thinks it merits a permanent seat. Any question of revising the UN charter, however, would open a whole can of worms, throwing into doubt the justification for France and Britain's positions.

UN General Assembly Votes 144 to 2 for Middle East Conference

Naturally, there is some resentment amongst General Assembly members that they often seem to have no function except as a sort of running international opinion poll. However, the Assembly's role should not be discounted; rather it should be publicized.

In general, the Assembly, unfettered by vetoes, is more consistent in its decisions than the Security Council. It did indeed oppose the annexation of Kuwait, with only Iraq voting against. But, also in December, Israel and the US were the sole nays to a series of resolutions on the Palestine question, calling among other things for an international peace conference on the Middle East (144-2), and Security Council action to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories (141-2). …

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