If the UN vetoes the US, it risks irrelevance?
By Dr. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D.
President Bush is determined to attack Iraq. It is also clear that if he cannot convince, he will bully the
international community into compliance with his wishes. First Bush and now Powell have threatened that UN Security
Council by stating that “it risks irrelevance” if it fails to join the US. Their argument runs as follows:
Iraq is in “material breach” of UN Security Council resolution 1441 and therefore unless the UN immediately goes to war
against Iraq to impose this resolution, it will lose its international influence. If the UN vetoes US military action,
it will become irrelevant because Washington is determined to attack Iraq, with or without the UN.
The irony, hypocrisy and absurdity of this position seems to escape most American commentators. The US is determined to
go along with International Law if it concurs with it or else the US is determined to break international law to impose
international law (1441)! If the US violates any UN resolution how is its position different from that of Iraq’s. Both
will be in breach of UN resolutions.
Apparently the UN’s relevance is contingent upon its subservience to US policies. How can the administration ignore that
in the eyes of many Americans (65% according to a recent Los Angeles Times survey) a UN approval is necessary. For Tony
Blair, who is supporting the war on Iraq in spite of 80% opposition from the British public, British democracy and his
own people are irrelevant but the UN still matters as even he --- the lion hearted poodle – is reluctant to accompany
Bush on this new crusade.
American commentators seem to be under the illusion that America is world community. Yes, the US is the sole super
power; it has zillions of nuclear bombs and great stacks of chemical and biological weapons and hundreds of thousands of
missiles and planes and can kill the entire human race many times over. Sure it has power. But America is not the world.
Even if America thinks the UN is irrelevant, there are over 2oo countries who know that today in this unipolar world the
only thing that stands between America’s weapons of mass destruction and them is the UN.
Thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians will die by the smart weapons that the Bush administration is so eager to launch
at them. Right now only the UN stands between them and the US.
Even if the US attacks Iraq, the Iraqis who survive will still have the UN to thank for the extra months (oh no! weeks
not months) that they got to spend with their near and dear ones. Who can predict where America’s smart bombs will land.
In Belgrade they landed on the Chinese embassy, in Afghanistan on a wedding party. Will the UN ever be irrelevant to a
father who could hug his child for a few extra weeks? We know that American lives are worth far, far more than those of
the miserable Iraqis, Madeline Albright told us that when she justified sanctions which killed half a million Iraqi
children. But to an Iraqi, her family matters and the UN is as relevant as the future of her dear ones.
In spite of its rhetoric, the Bush administration recognizes the relevance and significance of the UN in a world so
intricately interdependent. That was the principal reason why they went to the world body. Bush did not go to the UN as
a charitable gesture to the world. He has already expressed his total disregard for “others” and his determination to do
whatever he thinks he needs to do.
He went to the UN for two things – legitimacy and post war reconstruction support. The American economy is on downward
spiral. The federal and state budgets are in deficits, unemployment and debt is on the rise. America cannot afford to
spend billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq and plant democracy there as it promises. It needs the EU to help pay for
Above all it needs legitimacy in this war to enjoy multilateral support in the war on terror. If the Bush administration
thinks it can thumb its nose at the world and ride its hobbyhorse, it will have a non-multilateral world and an
“irrelevant UN” in the real war on terror that it must fight regardless of what happens in Iraq.
Moreover if the UN capitulates to the US it will be seen as just another Tony Blair. It will lose its significance. By
opposing the sole super power the UN will gain in prestige and significance for the rest of the world.
The US has prevented the UN from enforcing several resolutions against Israel for decades, has that made the UN
insignificant? Sure the UN cannot enforce its writ unless the major powers motivated by self-interest act in concert.
But one thing is for sure the UN can give or strip a country’s international actions of their legitimacy. It can make
American actions illegal or legal in the eyes of the international community. If the US attacks Iraq against the will of
the UN, it will be against the will of the world and illegitimate.
In a civilized world the UN will remain significant as long as it represents world opinion. It is not the US that
determines its relevance, but a shared global vision of peace and international legal and humanitarian order that makes
it the beacon of hope and harmony that it is. If we choose to part ways with this global vision, it is we who stand to
loose and not the rest of the 5.75 billion people on this planet.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan is Director of International Studies at Adrian College in Michigan. His website is
M. A. Muqtedar Khan, Ph.D. Director, International Studies Program Chair, Department of Political Science Adrian
College, Adrian, MI 49221