How the UN Can Recover

The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

How the UN Can Recover


"Agora: The Future Implacation of the Iraq Conflict," with article by Todd F. Buchwald and others, American Journal of International Law (July 2003), American Society of International Law, 2223 Massachusetts Ave., N.W., D.C. 20008.

Is the United Nations Charter a dead letter thanks to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and the new U.S. doctrine of preventive war?

That, in a nutshell, is the question that the editors of American Journal of International Law put to a dozen symposium contributors. The nine closely argued legal articles that resulted follow different paths, but all lead to some version of a negative answer.

John Yoo, former U.S. deputy assistant attorney general (1991-93), is one of several contributors who argue that the Bush administration acted in accord with international law in taking up arms against Iraq. But he says that Iraq was a "unique case," because UN Security Council resolutions dating back to the 1991 Gulf War provided a legal basis for action. In the new world of terrorists, rogue states, and weapons of mass destruction, the luxury of time is absent, and new rules will be needed.

Richard A. Falk, a professor of law and international organization at Columbia University, rejects such arguments. There's a conflict, he says, and it's not the UN Charter system that needs to be fixed, but rather U.S. foreign policy. Miriam Sapiro, a National Security Council official during the Clinton years, argues that the new U.S. doctrine of preventive war enunciated in September 2002 is a challenge to existing international law, and she thinks the Bush administration could and should quietly narrow its scope. …

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