"Ain't Gonna Study War No More"

My Photo
Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Right-To-Life Party, Christian, Anti-War, Pro-Life, Bible Fundamentalist, Egalitarian, Libertarian Left

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Reforming the UN the Bush way

Unfortunately, neither Wolfowitz nor any other neo-conservative of the Bush administration seems minutely disturbed by the flagrant discrepancies between international norms and their recipe for action, decried by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas as "the unilateral, world-ordering politics of a self-appointed hegemon" reducing the UN Charter to "a scrap of paper".

Whereas the first administration of US President George W Bush grievously undermined the United Nations organizationally, through its manipulation of the Security Council in its anti-Iraq crusade, the second administration is now gearing up to go one step further and subvert the UN theoretically, by infusing its unilateralist doctrine of "preemptive" warfare as a legitimate principle of the world's pre-eminent organization.

This much is clear by the energy and zeal with which US diplomats at the UN are nowadays pushing for the adoption of proposals for UN reform by a select "high-level panel", including the hawkish former US national security adviser Brent Scowcroft; if adopted, these proposals will seriously undermine the spirit of multilateralism and collective war-prohibition enshrined in the UN Charter.

A report by the panel, titled "The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change", is comprehensive and introduces 110 recommendations that cover not only UN institutions, but also other international agencies affiliated with the UN. Focusing on the spectrum of threats, old and new, confronting the international community, the report identifies six clusters of threats and makes specific recommendations as to how to address each of these threats considered highly "interrelated". These are: economic and social threats, including poverty, infectious diseases and environmental degradation; inter-state conflict; internal conflict, including civil war, genocide and other large-scale atrocities; nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological weapons; terrorism; and transnational organized crime.

Unfortunately, despite its keen analysis of the changing world milieu in the recent past, and the need to make the UN a more effective machine to fulfill its twin agenda of global peace and prosperity, the panel's report points broadly in the wrong direction in organizational and functional terms.

Case in point, the report seeks to revamp the notion of "collective security" by adopting a broad notion of security that covers poverty and development. Yet the principle of collective security, enshrined in the UN Charter as one of its prima facie roles and responsibilities, can only be actualized if there is a global consensus on the nature of threats and the proper remedies to address those threats.

The promotion of collective security in a situation of diverse, even polarized, threat perceptions cannot succeed in practice, particularly if the concept of security becomes vague and indeterminate, thus making it even harder for a collective response by the UN membership. The panel's securitization of health, human rights, economic and environmental issues and concerns, or its North-centric threat perception overlooking superpower militarism, is highly problematic, making collective security overly broad and indeterminate, whereas it must be capable of operationalization along a definite set of dimensions.

The expressed or tacit understanding of collective security in both the UN Charter and throughout its history coalesce around a diffuse but nevertheless clear conceptualization as a multilateral action stemming from the uncoerced and relatively horizontal relations among the member states. Contrary to the panel, there is no need for a new lens or paradigm on collective security, especially when what troubles the UN is more the lack of collective will and less the absence of consensus on what this will implies.

But by far the most troubling aspect of this report is its endorsement of the notion of "preemptive" warfare championed by the Bush administration. The panel tackles the vexing problem of "anticipatory" self-defense of states and argues that "according to long-established international law, a threatened state can take military action as long as the threatened attack is imminent".

But this is a brazenly dubious assumption as international law hardly confers an endorsement of this dangerous idea that, in all likelihood, will lead to greater resort to international violence by lowering the threshold for unilaterally determined contingencies that warrant acts of self-defense.

The UN Charter, Article 2.4, expressly prohibits member states from using or threatening force against one another, and Article 51 has clearly restricted the right to self-defense to the cases when an armed attack occurs, an interpretation upheld by the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (1947): "Preventive action in foreign territory is justified only in case of an instant and overwhelming necessity for self-defense, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation."

Indeed, various international law experts, such as Ian Brownlie (International Law and the Use of Force by States, 1963), have clearly maintained that "an armed attack must occur across national borders to trigger Article 51". As Abram Chayes put it in the case of the Cuban missile crisis (International Crisis and the Rule of Law, 1974), "It is a very different matter to expand Article 51 to include threatening developments or demonstrations that do not have imminent attacks as their purpose or probable outcome."

Yet US leaders today boldly claim a new policy that openly repudiates these crucial provisions of the UN Charter. The 2002 US National Security Strategy adopts the doctrine of preemption and states: "We must adopt the concept of imminent threat to the capabilities and objectives of today's adversaries."

Repeatedly, President Bush has stated that "the US will, if necessary, act preemptively", that the US will resort to "anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack".

This approach represents a significant departure from previous conceptions of self-defense and gives a green light to the US, or any other power, to commence offensive military operations without first exhausting other means, including diplomacy, and, worse, without fulfilling the requirement that an actual or an imminent armed attack has occurred.

The experience of the illegal invasion of Iraq, under the false pretext of weapons of mass destruction, presents a strong argument for narrower, and more restrictive, acceptance of anticipatory self-defense, notwithstanding Pentagon deputy chief Paul Wolfowitz' admission in Vanity Fair (May 2003) that "for bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on".

Unfortunately, neither Wolfowitz nor any other neo-conservative of the Bush administration seems minutely disturbed by the flagrant discrepancies between international norms and their recipe for action, decried by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas as "the unilateral, world-ordering politics of a self-appointed hegemon" reducing the UN Charter to "a scrap of paper".

Of course, the Bush administration has its own army of international-law "experts", for example, those who claim that the UN Charter "is long dead", as well as its American detractors, such as Harvard's Kennedy School dean, Joseph Nye, who has written that the US is finding it beneficial to seek to legitimate its preponderant power by building multilateral support for its own unilateral policies instrumentalizing the machinery of the Security Council.

Thus the question: why should the UN, currently debating the merits of the "High-Level Panel Report", narrow the conceptual gap between UN principles and the hegemonic outlook of a lone superpower that is intent on illegally meting out justice or democracy and openly contemplating military attacks against Iran, Syria and North Korea?

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has described the next stage in UN history as a crucial "fork in the road", yet few UN watchers doubt that a main challenge of the UN today is how to save it from the scourge of Washington warmongers.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and "Iran's Foreign Policy Since 9/11", Brown's Journal of World Affairs, co-authored with former deputy foreign minister Abbas Maleki, No 2, 2003. He teaches political science at Tehran University.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd.


Post a Comment

<< Home