U.N. can prove its relevance by resisting war

February 26, 2003|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON -- Unheeding of public opinion around the world favoring further efforts to disarm Iraq short of pre-emptive war, the Bush administration is pressing the U.N. Security Council to approve a second resolution essentially ordering an end to inspections and a start to military action.

With Britain and Spain dutifully in the passenger seats, President Bush has begun an aggressive diplomatic drive to get the council to adopt the resolution. The council is ambivalent, at best, about forcing Saddam Hussein from power.

Four major council members are against the resolution -- Germany, France, Russia and China, the last three with veto power, as well as Iraq's neighbor, Syria. Therefore, Bush and Co. have their work cut out for them to achieve the nine votes out of 15 required under the U.N. Charter to claim approval of the world community.

Beyond the three sponsors of the new resolution, only Bulgaria now supports it, meaning the administration is currently five votes short. One other non-permanent member of the council, Pakistan, is considered certain to vote against the resolution or abstain. That leaves five nonpermanent members -- Mexico, Chile, Angola, Guinea and Cameroon -- holding the key to the outcome.

To go after them, the president has dispatched Assistant Secretary of State Walter H. Kansteiner to the three African states and has phoned the Mexican and Chilean presidents directly to lobby them.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush has continued his drumbeat warning that failure to follow his leadership on an invasion of Iraq would reduce the United Nations to "irrelevance." But a legitimate question can be asked whether he is risking that outcome by stating that if the world body doesn't go along with him, he will go ahead without it.

The president and his subordinates have been particularly heavy-handed in accusing Germany and France -- which Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called the "Old Europe" -- of leading the United Nations into irrelevance. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has gone so far as to suggest they are following the "appeasement" path of Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938.

The Bush administration obviously puts in that category the French-German counterproposal to authorize four months or more of continued inspections under a series of more specific deadlines for Iraqi compliance. But it can also be legitimately asked whether French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are not making a last effort to preserve the relevance of the United Nations in choosing further diplomacy over bullets and missiles.

Such an attempt by France and Germany is dismissed by Mr. Bush and others impatient with Mr. Hussein's transparent stalling as mere whining against their own diminished world influence and the stature of America as the sole superpower.

But they are hardly alone in resenting the muscle-flexing and only slightly veiled U.S. bribery of other U.N. members to go along with Mr. Bush. Poor Eastern European members are grateful for U.S. support of their inclusion in NATO and ever hopeful for American financial aid. And not unnoticed was the way Turkey successfully held up Uncle Sam for a larger payoff for use of Turkish territory from which to attack northern Iraq.

At the same time, the administration is telling North Korea in its resumed work on nuclear weapons that Washington won't be blackmailed into diplomatic concessions. The resumption issue is being referred where? To a United Nations supposedly on the brink of irrelevance.

No amount of Bush administration rhetorical bullying is likely to change the view in the United Nations and in most parts of the world that an invasion of Iraq is not commensurate to any imminent threat from Baghdad. Mr. Hussein by general acknowledgment is a monster.

But to those still opposing war, the case of imminent threat is still to be made. Insisting that it be made can demonstrate the relevance of the United Nations, not the contrary.

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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