The Way out of Iraq

A Convergence of Interests

When a little more than six months ago, the United States and Great Britain, faced with a Security Council both reluctant and divided, went ahead with military operations in Iraq without United Nations approval, it seemed to many that this signaled the beginning of an unstoppable decline for the U.N. Military action has been taken without U.N. authorization in the past—most recently in Kosovo—but in the case of Iraq there was a request for agreement first, and then dismissal.  The violation, if one may put it so harshly, seemed even more serious, and perhaps definitive.

But now, instead, we have witnessed the opening of the General Assembly and speeches by heads of state and governments of major powers, which were carefully listened to. We see a new resolution before the same Security Council that just a few months ago revealed itself to be impotent. Today that body seems decisive and able to find an acceptable solution to the Iraqi situation and capable of creating an international peacekeeping force.

So what happened on United Nations Plaza? Has a new phase begun, one in which we will see the organization actually take on the decisive role that its charter sets out for it? What has happened, of course, is that peace has been revealed to be just as difficult as war, that the United States needs an accord on postwar Iraq in order to turn responsibility over to someone honorably—and that someone is no one else but the U.N.

But we have also witnessed the confirmation that there is not just one U.N. but at least two. There is the U.N. of crises, for the moments when world security is threatened, the U.N. that must act promptly on major questions of war and peace. In reality, however, this U.N. does not exist, or only occasionally. It practically did not exist so long as the world was divided into East and West; it existed on a few occasions (as in the first Gulf crisis and in Timor) after 1989. But the great powers (and the middle-sized ones, too) do not pay attention even when their profound interests are at stake, unless the interest is security.

There is, however, also the U.N. of peace and reconstruction, and this one not only exists but is necessary, and there is no alternative. The repeated attacks on the U.N. in Baghdad indicate that this other U.N., too, has enemies: It is not facing the hatred of war, since the war is over, but the hatred of the peace yet to be won.

And it is peace that the current session of the U.N. and the accompanying talks should produce. The best possible conditions for finding such an agreement now exist. The United States is on the ropes and fears the Vietnam syndrome. France and Germany are aware that prematurely creating an Iraqi government that lacks a credible military apparatus could mean a civil war—compared to which the current guerrilla war against the Americans would be a skirmish. Russia will not repeat the mistake of direct opposition to the United States. China pretends to be distracted. Even if any prediction is risky, a Security Council resolution seems possible because there do not seem to be any fundamental opposing interests.

Kofi Annan would also like to see the U.N. confront the idea of reforming the Security Council, the topic that goes to the heart of the U.N.’s problems and its credibility. But that discussion seems really unlikely. That the current council is anachronistic is a fact. That France and Great Britain are permanent members with veto rights, and Germany, India, and Japan are not, is a paradox due to history, but not a reflection of reality. That Europe is overrepresented on the council, as Third World states complain, is once again a fact. The obvious answer would be to create a seat for Europe, but that is an argument that France and Great Britain, armed with their veto powers, will not consider. Reforming the Security Council has been talked about for 20 years. It is very likely that discussion will go on for another 20.