Ignoring the U.N. while Using Its Name in the Skies Over Iraq

CLOVIS MAKSOUD

September 02, 1992|By CLOVIS MAKSOUD

WASHINGTON — Washington.--President Bush announced the establishment of a ''no-fly zone'' in southern Iraq ostensibly to deter repressive measures of the Iraqi government against its Shiite population.

Irrespective of the motives that prompted the United States, Britain and France, this intrusive decision undermines the credibility and future effectiveness of the United Nations at a moment in history when most countries of the world pin so many of their hopes and expectations on its revitalized role.

Representatives of the Western powers -- with Russia reduced to the role of pathetic witness -- put Iraq on notice at the French mission to the United Nations.

This was a clear signal that the Western powers have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret and implement U.N. resolutions without recourse to the Security Council. This constitutes, in my view, a clear usurpation of the functions and authority of the Security Council.

Moreover, Mr. Bush's statement implied that the coalition that redressed Iraq's invasion of Kuwait remains intact. Such is not the case, unless the three Western powers have subsumed the coalition.

It also implied that the coalition, either in its previous broader framework or present narrower membership, can substitute for the Security Council by exercising its authority without explicit authorization, let alone consultation. And that the terms of reference as spelled out by the Western powers can become operational guidelines regardless of accountability to the Security Council or to the U.N. secretary general.

It can be argued that with Russia removed from the equation, the Security Council is helpless in the face of an avalanche of Western decisions. The Western insistence on claiming the U.N. imprimatur while circumventing its machinery smacks of hypocrisy.

In this instance, the behavior pattern of the Western powers reinforces a sense of helplessness in the global South. In the short term, the West is emboldened to demonstrate its primacy in the ''new world order.'' In the long term, however, such actions incite memories of imperial control and plant the seeds of eventual confrontation between North and South.

Even if the Western declaration of a no-fly zone might be justified in view of Saddam Hussein's deplorable record of human rights violations, the decision should be a genuinely collective effort, respectful of the sensitivities, concerns and interests of the states and peoples of the region, as well as the overall interest of the United Nations.

The perception that internal political considerations play a role in the Western decision cannot be avoided, despite Mr. Bush's denials.

Although the level of infringement on Iraq's sovereignty in the south is limited to reconnaissance flights and monitoring, the fact that this undertaking is managed exclusively by Western powers strikes a raw nerve in the Arab psyche and further deepens a sense of collective vulnerability.

Reference to the minor role played by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait does not alleviate the pain.

In view of the present state of disarray in the Arab system, the pain will not necessarily metamorphose into any serious challenge to Western policy.

It adds, however, to accumulated frustrations and resentments, and it strengthens the view that what the West is really after is humiliation of the Arabs. Such anxieties on the part of Arabs might seem far-fetched to outsiders. Nevertheless, they can be transformed into serious political forces.

It is the specter of this possible development that inhibits the actions of countries like Turkey, Egypt and Syria, which joined the coalition in 1990 when Iraq's transgression was clear-cut. They do not want to be party to the decisions of the coalition's shrunken successor.

The U.S. and Western assessment of the situation in Iraq bears the same flaw that was evident in the misreading of events in the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia: a failure to calculate the long-range policy ramifications of today's policy decisions.

So eager is the West to project power and achieve instant easy results that the aftermath, even when tragic, seems irrelevant. The consequences of the West's inaction in Bosnia exposed the hollowness of its pretenses.

Now the incomprehensible intransigence of Saddam Hussein's regime provides the West with an apparently easy opportunity to exercise its will, demonstrate its capability and dominate the course of events.

These short-term accomplishments may mask the failures of the ''new world order.'' Regrettably, they also may mask the ensuing potential for instability and chaos.

Clovis Maksoud, former ambassador of the Arab League, directs the Center for the Study of the Global South at American University and wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

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