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Date:  Sun, 2 May 1999 19:27:32 +0900
From: Hendrik
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
Subject:  [NS] Al-Ahram, Cairo: The UN's death certificate

15 April 1999

The UN's death certificate

By Hassan Nafaa

Nafaa There are two sides to the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, precipitated by
recent developments in Kosovo. If we are to make an accurate appraisal of
the crisis raging in the Balkans, we must examine both.

First, the regime in Serbia is undeniably brutal. It has committed
unfathomable atrocities. No one with a conscience can look away from the
horrors being perpetrated by the Milosevic regime, or let them go
unpunished. To do so would be complicity in the crime. This consideration
has inspired many, particularly in the Arab and Islamic worlds, to support
NATO's military intervention.

The other facet of the truth is that NATO has excluded the Security Council
from involvement in the Kosovo crisis. It took the initiative with no
international authorisation, which would have lent legitimacy to the use of
force. This dimension casts a dark shadow over NATO's purported aims.

The desire to justify NATO's action is perhaps a natural reaction. At the
outset, it seemed reasonable to argue that NATO had no other choice but to
act alone. Russia supported the Serbs, was adamant in its refusal to use
arms against the regime in Belgrade and openly hinted that it would use its
veto in the Security Council in order to protect that regime. The Russian
position could clearly be interpreted as a green light for Milosevic to go
ahead with his policy of ethnic cleansing, which he had implemented
successfully in Bosnia. If NATO did not bother to obtain the clear prior
approval of the Security Council, certainly the urgency of the humanitarian
aims (stopping the ethnic cleansing) justified such a procedural breach.

From the perspective of the provisions of international law regulating the
use of force in international relations, provisions that are ostensibly
binding on all nations, NATO's behaviour takes on another light. By taking
the unauthorised initiative to intervene militarily in Kosovo, NATO has set
a serious precedent. This episode could lead not only to the total
marginalisation of the UN, but also, conceivably, to NATO supplanting the
Security Council in matters concerning the preservation of international
peace. Even presuming that noble motives are behind NATO's current action
-- and not all are prepared to concede that -- there are no guarantees that
these motives will always be noble when it decides to act without a
go-ahead from the Security Council. These apprehensions are legitimate and
do not bode well for the UN in the "new world order".

This is not the first time that the UN has been shunted aside, or that
collective force has been brought to bear outside the scope of
international legitimacy. On previous occasions, however, recourse to force
took place under a legalistic umbrella, using such justifications, however
spurious they may have been, as the legitimate right to self-defense. On
this occasion, NATO has acted as though the UN did not exist, as though
whatever ethical justifications it offered were sufficient to "legitimise"
its actions. Nothing like it has occurred before in international relations
since the founding of the UN and the founding of NATO.

The Kosovo crisis is therefore a landmark in the development of the
relationship between the UN and the international system. History may later
write that this marked the UN's clinical death, and that only the
opportunity to pull the plug on the life support machine remained before
preparing the corpse for burial.

The UN's slow demise has been paved by a number of international crises.
The horrors of World War II convinced the international community that it
was essential to create an effective system for collective security that
all countries could rely on. The UN Charter provided specific provisions
for such a system and laid down general rules for international behaviour
to which all member nations were expected to adhere. It also established an
international body -- the Security Council -- to monitor the behaviour of
nations, and endowed it with the powers and means to enforce respect for
international law. For this system to function, however, it had to meet an
important condition: the unanimous agreement of the major allied powers
which had been victorious in World War II -- the powers which, alone, are
permanent members on the Security Council. Sadly, such unanimity has rarely
obtained since the founding of the UN.

If the division of these powers into two camps forestalled the effective
implementation of the Charter's formula for collective security throughout
the period of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union raised hopes
that perhaps the system could be given new life. For a short time, it
seemed that the opportunity presented itself in the context of the
international consensus that prevailed during the Kuwaiti-Iraqi crisis.
That opportunity soon proved illusive, for subsequent events demonstrated
that unipolar hegemony over the world order is not conducive to an
effective system of international security.

While the notion of a mechanism for collective security was grounded in the
concept of joint participation in the international order, the party that
emerged victorious from the Cold War saw things otherwise, elbowing out of
its path all bidders for a share in the leadership of the world order. The
gap is growing ever wider between the desire of the international community
to revitalise the system of collective security laid out in the UN Charter
and the US's drive to secure its hegemony over the world order.

One of the sad ironies of the Gulf War was that the crisis which gave birth
to the slogan "the new world order" eventually furnished incontrovertible
proof of the attempts to bury the hopes and aspirations kindled by the
international consensus at the beginning of that war. The circumstances
surrounding the creation and enforcement of no-fly zones in Iraq and the
behaviour of the United Nations inspection team combined to marginalise the
UN and undermine its credibility.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US has adopted a systematic
policy intended to debilitate the UN. Still, until now, it has been careful
to cloak its designs behind a gloss of international legitimacy. For
example, it always claimed that the military operations it undertook
against Iraq, independently or with other countries, were legitimate
because they fell under the framework of the green light that had been
given to it by the Security Council, and because the ultimate aim was to
implement relevant Security Council resolutions. Now, in the Balkans, such
formalities no longer matter. The US, for example, could have called for an
emergency meeting of the General Assembly in the event of a Russian veto in
the Security Council. That it chose not to indicates that the US is seeking
a free and unfettered hand in the exercise of its policy, even over the
UN's dead body.

A comparison between the international and regional contexts under which
the use of force was brought to bear in the Gulf and the Balkans brings to
the fore vast differences between the two cases at both legal and political
levels. The Gulf represented an instance of blatant military aggression
waged by one member of the UN against another. The international alliance
created to liberate Kuwait was easily justified on the grounds that it fell
within the framework of legitimate collective arrangements for
self-defense. The alliance was further given a clear authorisation to use
force against Iraq in order to compel it to abide by UN Security Council
resolutions. The international community was also prepared to accept the
argument that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait threatened the vital interests
of the US and the countries of the Middle East. It is true that the US
later abused the authorisation conferred upon it by the Security Council
and intervened illegally in UNSCOM's activities; that, however, does not
preclude the fact that there was a strong political and legal foundation
for the use of military force in the Gulf.

In the Balkans, there is no outside aggression. However urgent it is to
offer protection to the victims of Serbian atrocities, military
intervention cannot be justified by an appeal to the principle of
international arrangements for self-defence. No member of UN or NATO has
been attacked by another, and no UN member has appealed for NATO
assistance. Nor can NATO be said to have acted to discipline one of its
member nations, because Yugoslavia is not a member. Finally, the Security
Council did not empower NATO to take punitive measures against Yugoslavia.
Russia and China are openly opposed to its actions, as are some members of
NATO itself, such as Greece.

There remains only the humanitarian justification. Yet armed intervention
must in all circumstances take place under the umbrella of the Security
Council, which is not the case in Kosovo. Furthermore, military action has
not alleviated the suffering of the Muslims of Kosovo. On the contrary, it
has given Milosevic the pretext to evacuate them preparatory to making the
region entirely Serbian. This development in fact justifies suspicions of
NATO complicity in the assault on the Muslims of Kosovo.

There are therefore strong grounds for arguing that the NATO bombing is
motivated by strategic considerations, the aim of which is to exclude
Russian influence from the Balkans and render the region an entirely
Western preserve. The US is doing all it can to prevent Russia from
establishing any measure of international influence. There is every reason
to believe that this is a top strategic priority at present, and that
helping the Muslims in Kosovo is no more than a camouflage. We should not
let our sympathies for the Muslims of Kosovo cloud our examination of the
potentially negative impact the NATO intervention in that region will have
upon global strategic balances.

NATO continues to assert that the air strikes will persuade Milosevic to
allow refugees back into Kosovo and to accept the deployment of an
international security force that will safeguard autonomous rule in Kosovo
for three years, after which the Kosovars can vote to determine their fate.
This means that NATO still believes it can accomplish its aims without
having to bring in ground forces. If that assessment proves correct, it
will come as a great relief, particularly to the Arabs and Muslims. Current
developments in the Balkans, however, suggest that this rosy scenario is
not within reach. Yugoslavia appears to have the ability to hold out
against air strikes for some time, particularly if Serbia finds a way to
compensate for its military and political incapacity to stop the strikes.

The longer the crisis continues without a military or political resolution,
the greater are the chances that NATO's resolve will be eroded. Finally,
should NATO go ahead and wage a ground assault, particularly one that does
not succeed quickly, it could broaden the scope of the conflict in the
Balkans, perhaps precipitating more direct Russian involvement. In other
words, however unpredictable the forecast, we cannot rule out the
possibility of the conflict there escalating into a full-scale European war
against a backdrop of intense US-Russian rivalry.


Hassan Nafaa is professor of political science at Cairo University.


Al-Ahram Weekly
15 - 21 April 1999
Issue No. 425
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875


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