Pre-Emptive Strike Policy And The United Nations
Denis J. Halliday
(Swans - February 2, 2004) The greatest danger to the survival of humankind is not alone President Bush's conservative and born-again simplistic perceptions of "evil" and "terror" floating outside established state boundaries. It is a Washington regime that is unable to comprehend the absolute necessity of respecting the rule of international law.
Until the USA understands that international law also serves the rich and powerful, and is required for any semblance of an international community, the United Nations is significantly disabled. Prostheses will not support its weight, even the visibility of UN tribunals prosecuting the "evil doers" or "losers," nor UN collaboration with the righteous "winners" quagmired in illegal occupation, nor the reconstruction of the Secretariat building in Manhattan. Meantime, any serious intention of enhancing the potential for preserving peace and security by means of reforming the United Nations is premature.
Without a sense in the White House of understanding, vulnerability and a vision of what humanity is all about, amelioration of the Security Council would have to overcome the insurmountable hurdle of a Charter that can only be revised with veto-power approval. Without any appreciation for the spirit of the Preamble, whereby nation states must find a common way forward together via peaceful means, the United States will remain the ultimate rogue state amongst lesser rogues, including those who float outside state boundaries.
In order to move forward, an appreciation is needed of what lies behind the 9/11 attacks, and more recent bombings directed at the ambitions of "western" hegemony. The United States is a frightened place. The end of fear can only come when the White House understands what drives the acts that terrorize, and begin the process of redress. To end the current state of lawless aggression in Washington, a way must be found for the USA to end its interference, neo-colonialism, and exploitation that sustain the response that so frightens. This is the go-round response that has sidelined the United Nations.
The acts of "terror" we witness today do not take place in a vacuum. They respond to real or perceived injustice; threats to religious or cultural values; exploitation of peoples, human rights, and the natural resources of others. Why are we surprised? How else can those threatened by the USA and its friends respond when they lack the weapons of mass destruction used by Washington? Are we shocked because their acts seem so personal, when in comparison cluster bombings, use of depleted uranium missiles that kill and maim thousands of civilians are impersonal? What makes long distance killing, from 30,000 feet or from many miles respectable? Why is the death of others deemed "peripheral?"
In contrast, the United Nations Charter opens with a preamble that beautifully lays out the fundamentals of an international community working as one:
WE THE PEOPLE of the United Nations determined .... to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war .... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small .... to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained .... to promote social progress and better standards of life and to these ends practice tolerance, and live together in peace .... and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security .... have resolved to COMBINE our efforts to accomplish these aims.
Sadly, observing the behavior of the lead authors of the Charter (America, Britain, China, France, and the Soviet Union) and their often unsavory record since 1945, one can only assume that the master-drafters -- the five victorious nation-states of the Second World War -- had stepped out for a smoke when the Preamble was written. It is direct and to the point. It is extraordinary in that it talks of "we the people" in the context of an intergovernmental organization. Of what were they dreaming? Whatever it was, it has proven to be naïve. The "peoples" have been squeezed out and civil society has never been able to play any decision-making role in their peace and security -- the mandate of the Council!
The Preamble envisages the well-being of all, not just the few that dominate the Council today in wealth and opportunity. How unfortunate that that message of the Preamble has been so consistently neglected and that "we the people" have been largely forgotten, or set aside.
The period since 1945 has seen many wars, acts of aggression by all of the five permanent members (P5) and others, the use of new and terrible weapons, and the development of others. It is a period when genocide was defined and encased in a Convention, but often not acknowledged as such for fear of the obligations that recognition imposes -- be it saving the people of Rwanda, or terminating UN Sanctions on the innocent of Iraq -- consistent with the tragic years when European Jews were being massacred, and we all looked the other way. It has been a time when massive disregard for, even targeting of, civilian lives has continued. And this targeting can take the form of bombing, or economic sanctions, or imposition of tariffs and subsidies in respect of agricultural produce that undercuts the low cost production capacity of the Third World. The result is the genocide brought about by absolute poverty and all that entails for billions of human beings.
Today, rapacious globalization and foreign privatization of captive countries is the current assault on the fundamental human rights of the weak, the poor of the South. Why is it so hard for democratic and other leaders to remember that the UN Charter includes all? Just as it includes those in the rich North where skewed income distribution creates hunger, homelessness and despair in the midst of wealth and plenty.
Those few who have sat in on the closed discussions of the Security Council, the home of peace and security, will have witnessed a body dedicated to the self-interest of the same member states that dominated the original Charter discussion. These "suits" represent leaders, regimes if you will, willing to use any resort, cook any deal, bribe by any means, undertake any violence necessary to obtain their ends. These are the same nation states that created the twin concepts of veto power and permanent seating -- representing total control. This is the raw power that has corrupted the working of the Council and its mandate. It produces decisions that when implemented can run counter to the very purposes and principles of the UN itself as set out in Articles 1 and 2. These are the member states that talk of democracy and freedom, but chose to dominate the UN via their own joint dictatorship, excluding the General Assembly of some 190 member states. In order words, those states that most often bear the brunt of dishonest Council resolutions are not involved in the decision making. I refer to decision making by the five bully-boys, the results of which are often incompatible with the spirit of the Charter.
Recently, even joint dictatorship has sprung a leak. The Bush concept of the "pre-emptive strike" was too rich even for the blood of the P5, too outrageous and too threatening, or was it too unattractive, when only the single superpower, alone, had the means? I refer to both the means to lash out militarily and to be arrogant, or is it ignorant? In short, the means to break with the rule of international law.
Clearly the hyper-power now led by President Bush finds that joint dictatorship creates unacceptable constraint on ambitions for empire, unacceptable violence and greed. This is not something entirely new in Washington and has been a theme of UN rejection strong even before the current crop of neo-conservatives occupied the seats of power. Congress and several Administrations have chaffed at a United Nations that appears to constrain, even attempt to impose international standards of behavior. As Madame Albright said some years ago when Ambassador to the UN before becoming the Secretary of State, she viewed the UN as only "a tool of American foreign policy."
Whether it is US corporate, political or military warfare, this viewpoint leads to the violation of fundamental economic and social human rights, as spelt out in the Universal Declaration, including diminishing the very lives of billions. It is only too clear that Washington's "security" policies cannot be accommodated within the United Nations rule of law when driven by ever more questionable "American values" and democratic ideals, military aggression, and the corporate private sector.
The pursuit of "America first" as envisaged by the current Washington regime is not compatible with the best interests of the world community. There is no understanding in Congress and the White House that the U.S. is best served when the interests of the entire international community are best served. The concept is recognized outside the U.S., albeit sometimes reluctantly. It is accepted that larger needs require compromise of sovereignty and self-interest. That acceptance is an anathema to those in Washington sworn to uphold the Constitution and the interests, as they see it, of the United States of America above all else!
In the absence of the concept of essential global togetherness, the United Nations cannot function in a manner to reach and serve the lives of all. The countries of the European Union are struggling everyday with a similar concept, and painfully so after so many years of nationalistic myopia. This is not about altruism, but about a realistic means to work together in order to survive and enhance the well-being of all.
The most conspicuous extremist signal of Washington neo-conservative thinking so far has been the pre-emptive strike used on Iraq. It is the natural outcome of the threats that Mr. Bush made to the General Assembly in September 2002 -- the "go it alone" speech of some infamy. And since then, we have seen that even the hyper-power cannot go it alone, as has been demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Any kind of dependency is un-American, it seems. Yet surely those in Washington must understand the massive dependency of the U.S. on foreign inputs, even if most Americans do not. For example, the $87 billion the White House recently needed to further finance the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq was financed by China, Japan, some of the Arab States and the EU countries! Despite the weak dollar, and a questionable economy, the world is still ready to lend. How very unfortunate, and what a waste of financial power that could be used to curb the unilateralism of Washington. US dependency for economic survival on the resources and low cost productivity of the rest of the world is strangely hopeful.
The U.S. does not appear to see its current security depending on the poverty of leadership and exploitive opportunities found overseas. Perhaps with the loss of millions of blue- and white-collar American jobs overseas, the often silent majority will understand that the Washington elite often acts in a less than patriotic manner. Perhaps the defeat on retaining protective steel tariffs will lead to a more grassroots understanding of what is happening. Maybe better information on the painful consequences of undue protection for agricultural produce at home will lead to an understanding of why US foreign policies are so hated and feared overseas. It is not about disliking individual Americans, it is about hate for the often deadly impact of foreign, trade and military policies.
What can be done? How do we convince Washington to see the wisdom of the rule of international law if only in its own vested self-interest? A vested self-interest that would not just serve the United States, but the role of the United Nations serving all member states.
A few suggestions for Washington:
- Encourage the expansion of the Security Council so that permanent seating would be available for large geographical blocks such as Central and Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Sahara Africa, South Asia and South East Asia, and the South Pacific countries. Rotating permanent seats for these regions would strengthen the voice of the South in decision making. Retire the use of veto power as a museum piece of the 1945 Charter. In other words, bring democracy into the Council.
- Highlight the importance of a new UN focus on economic, social, cultural and religious issues by having such issues treated as integral to peace and security. By so doing, and regardless of which comes first, begin to tackle the many wrongs that lead to acts of terror, and the forms of state terror in response.
- Establish an oversight body -- by enhancing the International Court of Justice with Civil Society dominance -- to review, consider, and publish the impact of implementation of Security Council and General Assembly decisions. Have them check their compatibility with the Charter, the Universal Declaration, and even the Geneva Conventions. By this means, keep the UN member states honest and their impact legitimate.
- Instruct the Secretary-General (SG) to use the authority under Article 99 of the Charter to stand up and be counted. The SG's mandate is to advise member states of events, crises, and the consequences of their own decisions when needs or consequences demand attention. Silence is complicity and the SG cannot be complicit in neglect of the Charter of which he is a guardian. To facilitate this kind of role, the SG should be elected by secret ballot after a proper and full international selection process.
- Find devices, themselves compatible with the spirit and wording of the Charter to enforce compliance with the provisions therein without resorting to devices in Chapter 7, such as military force and economic sanctions that produce results that violate Articles 1 and 2, and provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
- Reestablish the protection of national sovereignty from invasion and unilateral interference. Prohibit "pre-emptive strikes." At the same time, establish standards in respect of international law and human rights below which no member state can acceptably fall. To maintain these standards, UN inspections would be expected. Inspections would focus on the offending issue(s), be it capital punishment, racism, voting manipulation, or any violation of human rights. And similar UN inspections would be established in regard to nuclear and other weapons, including those of the current permanent members, until such time as all nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are destroyed. This would require an end to exemptions for the permanent members and their friends holding illegal nuclear and other prohibited weapons.
Is all this pie in the sky? It might seem so, particularly in respect of a Washington regime that believes that might is right, supports double standards, and violates human rights overseas at will. It would not be easy for a White House that would like to continue to exempt citizens from war crimes prosecution under the International Criminal Court, and has refused to have inspections of its chemical and biological weapons programs. However, we have to assume that wiser heads will emerge someday, that responsibility and adult behavior will win out. We know that empires do come crashing down, fade and die. Protective laws that may seem redundant today for an empire, jingoistically constraining in fact, can be essential when circumstances of empire change.
Those in Washington who think will find long term added-value in a United Nations of some strength, and the rule of international law that ultimately serves all.
We the peoples .... representative of real people, the little people, the massive excluded majority .... need to enter and occupy the United Nations arena. Civil Society needs to be involved in agenda setting, discussions, decision making, financing and in oversight of implementation -- in that all decisions are effectively peace and security related. All decisions have people-impact.
This essay has focused on the USA and the current regime in Washington, but what is said applies as appropriate to all member states, large or small, permanent or not. There can be no longer any special cases. The situation of 1945 is long gone. Circumstances change. President Bush may be threatening the survival of the United Nations and the rule of international law today; who knows who can come along tomorrow?
© Denis J. Halliday 2004. All rights reserved. Please DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work on the Web. See our reprint policy.
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Other Essays in this Special Issue
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Iraq on Swans (all articles regarding Iraq published on Swans)
Outside Resources on Iraq (Web sites of interest)
Additional Resources (compiled by Tanweer Akram)
Denis Halliday's References
Charter of the United Nations
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Geneva Conventions and Protocols
The Paradox of American Power, by Joseph Nye
The UN Convention on Genocide
Before and After, by Phyllis Bennis
Hegemony or Survival, by Noam Chomsky
The New York Times
The Manchester Guardian
The New Rulers of the World, by John Pilger
Plus other books and endless articles that flow through his e-mailbox daily