Can UN Play Tough Cop against Terrorism? ; Many Want the UN to Go beyond 'Soft' Issues by Setting Up Antiterrorism Agency

By Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, November 5, 2002 | Go to article overview

Can UN Play Tough Cop against Terrorism? ; Many Want the UN to Go beyond 'Soft' Issues by Setting Up Antiterrorism Agency


Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When President Bush challenged the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions or face becoming "irrelevant" in his September 12 speech to the General Assembly, the focus of his warning was Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.

But the United Nations is also grappling with another, less publicized effort to play a relevant role in the broader international war on terrorism. An escalation of terrorist attacks aimed at international targets has underscored the need for greater international cooperation to combat terrorism, leading some to suggest the world may need a permanent counterterrorism agency.

But others are asking if the UN is suited to that role. To date, the organization has been more successful dealing with issues such as poverty, health issues, or environmental degradation. Now, just as President Bush warns that the UN risks becoming a weakling reminiscent of the failed League of Nations if it backs down from acting on Iraq, officials at the international body in New York say terrorism presents a basic challenge: Can the UN take on more than "soft" international issues?

"Terrorism raises serious questions about whether the United Nations can deal with the sharpest ends of the world's peace and security," says Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, and chairman of the UN's year-old Counterterrorism Committee (CTC). "It's not a question of the overall relevance of the United Nations, but of whether it can make a difference on the most difficult issues - like terrorism."

An advisory committee

The CTC was created by the UN Security Council in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. In its first year of work, the committee has played an advisory role to countries looking to stiffen laws that fight terrorism by regulating financial flows or improving border controls. And the effort is getting high marks from the United States, despite some initial skepticism over what a UN committee could accomplish.

"If you're a country that wants to tighten laws and clamp down on the banking and financial systems ... the CTC will point you in the right direction," says one US official. "They're doing some very good work."

So far, the UN only reviews countries' periodic reports on their counterterrorism advances and advises on possible improvements. It has no judgmental or sanctioning role for countries lagging in antiterrorism measures.

But some UN officials say that a permanent UN counterterrorism agency could play an expanded role. Just as the World Trade Organization (WTO) promotes global trade by streamlining trade rules, settling disputes, and sanctioning violators, for example, a counterterrorism agency could promote and watchdog multilateral efforts. It might even reprimand countries that fail international counterterrorism standards.

Yet while some specialists say the UN should have a stronger role, they also maintain that the lead in the antiterrorism fight can't come from an organization of 191 countries. …

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