To “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”: that dream of the world’s people, who were shocked and suffering after World War II, was the stated goal of the United Nations at its founding.
Nevertheless, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice engaged in a full-court press to win UN approval for a genocidal war against Iraq. And their failure is not due to the idealistic, lofty language of the UN charter. Instead, it is because other UN member states have calculated that they stand to lose more than they would gain by endorsing the ambitions of the U.S.
An enormous part of those calculations has to do with the pressure they feel from the millions of people marching in their streets, demanding “No war!”
Diplomatic cover for murder. On September 12, 2002, when Bush laid the groundwork for an all-out war against Iraq in a speech at the UN, he was riding a wave of sympathy for the terrorist attacks of a year earlier. The high civilian casualty rate and disastrous postwar results of the assault on Afghanistan were not yet as widely known as they would become.
Said Bush, “We’ve accomplished much in the last year — in Afghanistan and beyond. We have much yet to do — in Afghanistan and beyond.” After a few oratorical flourishes, including a quickly forgotten call for an independent Palestine, he came to the point.
Speaking of Iraq, he said: “In one place … we find all these dangers [lawlessness, mad ambitions, murderous technologies], in their most lethal and aggressive forms, exactly the kind of aggressive threat the United Nations was born to confront.”
But casting the UN in the role of a force for peace and security is just as false as casting the U.S. in that role. The reality is a UN that, at the bidding of the U.S., imposed sanctions on Iraq in 1990 that have led to the deaths of more than a million civilians, half of them children.
Scott Ritter, a U.S. Marine who quit his job as a UN weapons inspector in disgust, said of the UN sanctions, “[Saddam] may torture to death 1,800 people a year. That’s terrible and unacceptable. But we kill 6,000 a month.”
Since the UN’s founding, the people of the world have seen the U.S., by intervening directly or by funding proxies, assist in the deadly dispossession of the Palestinians; wage war against Korea and Vietnam; and bomb, invade, or crush revolutions in the Congo, Angola, Iran, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Grenada, Bolivia, the Philippines, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans. The UN has allowed or actively been a part of all these tragedies.
A creature of the victorious Allied nations of World War II, and mainly of the U.S. and Britain, the UN has always represented the interests of the minority of super-powerful countries over the exploited majority. Control is concentrated in the 15-member Security Council, whose members rotate by election by the 185-member General Assembly. Five nations — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, and China — are permanent Security Council members with veto rights.
When a General Assembly decision goes against one of the imperialist countries, it is simply ignored. The attitude of the U.S. toward the UN is summed up in a statement by John Bolton, a U.S. undersecretary of state, who said:
“There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along…. When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests we will not.”
With so much at stake, this is not a time for harboring illusions. Who doesn’t wish for an international body with the interests of humanity at heart? But movement leaders who encourage working people to place any faith at all in the UN, as does the Communist Party, are doing an enormous injury to the real cause of peace.
Coalition of the bought and coerced. Bush’s opponents on the Security Council know that a U.S.-led victory in Iraq would put the control over Iraqi oil firmly in the hands of Uncle Sam, potentially jeopardizing their own access to oil and its profits.
Iraq has 112 billion barrels of proven reserves. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates additional possible and probable deposits of 220 billion barrels. And further exploration, impossible in the current situation, could reveal additional deposits that would bring Iraq’s total as high as Saudi Arabia’s.
France and Russia, who have been two of the most intransigent voices against war, have both forged close economic ties with Iraq in recent years. Looking ahead to the eventual lifting of sanctions, both have already inked major development deals with the current regime in Iraq. These plans will go down the drain once the U.S. takes hold of a postwar Iraq.
The other motivation for the opposition countries is the huge degree of antiwar sentiment among their people.
As for the countries that support Bush’s anti-Iraq campaign, they have seen the consequences of going along or refusing to go along with U.S. war plans.
In building his coalition for the Persian Gulf War, George Bush the elder used diplomatic and huge financial bribes to reward Iran, the Soviet Union, Zaire, China, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey. Syria was given a billion dollars’ worth of weapons. On the other hand, holdouts Yemen and Sudan suffered major reprisals.
Unified against predatory war. No one nation, or even group of nations, is now able to challenge the economic, military, and political might of the U.S. But another force, which does have this potential, is developing.
War against Iraq has been delayed for as long as it has because of the collision of the U.S. superpower with the international movement for social and economic justice, which emerged so explosively in the historic “Battle in Seattle” in 1999. When the New York Times refers to “world opinion” as Bush’s primary antagonist, this is the real meaning.
Those who want to stop this war are taking to the streets and organizing in their unions to make life unlivable for Bush, Tony Blair, and their partners in carnage. The road to peace lies not through the United Nations, but through a united international movement of working people who come to understand their own power.