United States leads charge to discredit U.N.

Arrogance: Like other empires, America believes it can write its own rules for its dealings with other nations.

August 08, 1999|By Phyllis Bennis

IT WAS EMINENTLY predictable. Just weeks after the end of NATO's bombing campaign, U.S. officials are blaming the United Nations for NATO's failure to restore peace in Kosovo and the rest of Yugoslavia.

It wasn't until the bombing failed to stop the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo that Washington and its NATO allies grudgingly allowed a role for the once-excluded U.N. The bombing devastated Yugoslavia and shored up support for Slobodan Milosevic. So, it turned out that the United States and its allies needed the U.N. to orchestrate the deal for ending the air war, withdrawing Yugoslav troops and creating an international protectorate in Kosovo.

But it was clear from the beginning that part of the U.S. strategy was to set up the U.N. (already denied adequate resources, personnel and authority) as the fall guy for the not-so-peaceful conclusion of the Yugoslavia war. The United States rejected any U.N. role in decision making about military action. But now Washington holds the U.N. accountable for the messy aftermath of the U.S.-NATO war.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry H. Shelton and Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen focused their recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on condemning the U.N.

"We need to put as much pressure as possible on the U.N. to do more," said Cohen. Adding to the accusations, the committee's chair, Sen. John W. Warner, complained that "the United Nations moves very slowly to assume its responsibilities."

What the officials ignored, among other the things, is that thanks largely to the miserliness of the United States and its NATO allies, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees has received only $140 million of the $400 million needed to rebuild homes for the returning Kosovar refugees.

The New York Times reported that "only 150 police officers of a projected 3,110-member international force are in Kosovo," and one can almost see the shaking heads of disapproval at the U.N.'s failure. But the real problem is that the members of the volunteer force of more than 3,000 must be individually recruited and sent to Kosovo by separate governments around the world. This is largely because of U.S. opposition to the creation of a standing U.N. rapid-deployment force that could, under the direction of the secretary general, move into crisis zones to act as peacekeepers.

The Clinton administration refuses to help rebuild Serbia's bomb-devastated infrastructure so long as Milosevic remains in power, and it is pressuring other NATO members to do the same. This means that while Kosovo, with its largely Albanian population, will receive millions in reconstruction money, the rest of Serbia will get nothing. As this situation causes ethnic tensions to rise, the U.N.'s task will become more daunting, and Washington's position is likely to make the mission's failure much more likely.

The Clinton administration refuses to recognize how much it needs the U.N. for any hope of achieving a more peaceful world. The United States violated the U.N. charter by using NATO, a military alliance, to authorize its air war against Yugoslavia instead of placing the issue before the United Nations. Widespread human rights violations -- such as those that occurred in Kosovo -- might, indeed, necessitate the consideration of international intervention, even within a sovereign state. But only the U.N. is entitled to make such a determination.

Fear of a possible veto by other Security Council members does not give the United States and Britain the right to do an end run around the U.N.'s primacy in matters of international peace and security. By acting solo, the United States trumpets its contempt for other nations.

So, what's going on here? Why is Washington leading the charge to discredit and undermine the U.N. and international law even further, now that NATO's unauthorized war in Yugoslavia is over?

It's an old story -- the story of a strategically unchallenged dominion, at the apogee of its power and influence, rewriting the global rules for how to manage its empire. The Greeks did it a couple of thousand years ago. Thucydides described how the lands conquered to ensure stability for Greece's golden age would be governed by laws wholly different from those of the Athenians' tranquil (if slavery-dependent) democracy at home. So, too, the Roman empire. During the past couple centuries, the sun-never-sets-on-us British empire did the same thing. And now, having achieved once unimaginable heights of military, economic and political power, Washington takes its turn.

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