Bush sent American troops into Iraq without the backing of the UNited Nations, how relevant is the UN?
On March 19, 2003, President George W Bush sent American troops into Iraq to destroy the Hussein regime and seek out weapons of mass destruction. Although he had the support of over thirty-five countries, in taking this action, Bush breached international law by acting without a United Nations (UN) mandate. (Hanly 2003, p. 3). With this breach began a debate about the relevance of the United Nations as a peacekeeping tool within the modern global arena. Critics argue that the organisation has become a “theatre of the absurd or a mere debating society, no longer relevant to the broader issues of international relations,” (Murphy 1983, p. xiii) Advocates argue that with current world political tension, the UN is becoming an increasingly indispensable “forum in which the full pressure of publicity and public opinion is brought to bear on involved parties,” (Annan 2002, p.18.)
This essay will contend that while the United Nations strives to fulfill an honorable mission, in its current operational capacity it is no longer a relevant means of achieving international peace and security – its primary objective under the charter. To demonstrate this, three arguments will be explored. Firstly it will be asserted that the liberal foundation of the UN is essentially undermined by the realist nature of international politics. Secondly, it will be established that the UN has not adapted to deal appropriately with revolutionary warfare, which has superseded traditional state-to-state conflict, and “does not fall neatly within the scope of the charter,” (Murphy 1983, p. xi). Finally, it will be shown that while the UN was not established as a world government with correlative police powers, its lack of power to enforce its mandates contributes to a growing irrelevance as powerful member states actively undermine UN ruling.
Firstly, the juxtaposition of ideologies of the United Nations and its member states is such that the organisation is limited in its capacity to fulfill its mission under the Charter. After World War II and the collapse of the League of Nations, there was a resurgence of liberal sentiment, epitomized by the creation of the United Nations in 1945 (Dunne in Baylis and Smith 2001, p. 163) The primary mission of the founding document, the Charter, is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,” (Charter of the United Nations, ). According to Dunne (in Baylis and Smith 2001, p. 164) this mission embodies “the high water mark of liberal thinking in international relations: that warfare is an unnecessary and outmoded way of settling disputes between states.”
While it is true that many member states aspire to certain aspects of liberalism (for example, many nations embrace free trade), according to Hoffman (1987 p.396), realism is the dominant theory of international relations. Realism does not accommodate the “essence” of liberalism, which is “self-restraint, moderation, compromise and peace.” Rather, Dunne and Schmidt (in Baylis and Smith 2001, p. 142) suggest that most important to realism is the pursuance of power by the state. They write “it is the duty of the statesperson to calculate rationally the most appropriate steps that should be taken so as to perpetuate the life of the state in a hostile, threatening environment.” Furthermore, they note that in fulfilling this duty, the use of force resulting in war, is a valid tool. Hoffman (1987 p.396) argues it is this line of thought that infiltrates international affairs. He notes, “International affairs have been the nemesis of liberalism.”
This is a preview of the whole essay
The realist attitude of states is particularly evident regarding the area of security and defense, where such self-orientated beliefs often lead states to be engaged in a ‘security dilemma’. In this case, “attempts of states to look after their security needs tend, regardless of intention, to lead to rising insecurity for others as each interprets its own measures as defensive and the measures of others as potentially threatening,” (Herz 1950, p.157)
The existence of such dilemmas is becoming increasingly evident in today’s global society and is exampled in the current crisis surrounding North Korea, where diplomatic talks are underway in order to persuade North Korea to cease work on a nuclear program. The security dilemma was summed up in a statement by the country’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Kim Yong-il: “We can give up the nuclear program if the US drops its hostile policy towards North Korea,” ( ‘Korea accused of nuke test threat’ 2003, p. 24). Dunne (Baylis and Smith 2001, p. 163) writes the inevitability of such dilemmas means “as long as states continue to exist in relation to one another, the liberal project of providing peace and progress will forever be undermined.” Thus it can be seen that the fundamentally liberal core of the UN conflicts with the essentially realist nature of world politics, posing largely irreconcilable problems for the successful practice of the UN.
Adding further to the irrelevance of the United Nations is the changing nature of international acts of aggression and the inability of the United Nations to deal with the rise of revolutionary warfare. The United Nations Charter was created at a time when international violence took form in state-to-state combat. Indeed Murphy (1983, p. 169) notes that models for the charter were “Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia and the march of Hitler’s troops into Poland.” However, in recent times, this traditional form of international aggression has been transcended by revolutionary warfare, namely terrorism. Identifiable blocs of aggression have been replaced by smaller, largely indefinable pockets of ‘resistance’. This is exampled by the rise of groups such as Al Qaida, Jamah Islamiah and Hamas. These groups have been largely responsible for acts of violence that have recently dominated the international scene, such as September 11, the Bali bombings and stealth bombings in Jerusalem.
According to Righter (1995, p. 21) such revolutionary violence in the form of international terrorism represents the most serious challenge the United Nations has had to face since its conception. Admittedly, the UN has adopted international antiterrorist conventions, the basic purpose of which is to establish international cooperation between states in preventing and suppressing international terrorism (The United Nations resolution 1269 1999, ).
However, many argue the United Nations has not risen to the challenge embodied in revolutionary warfare. Murphy is one such critic and writes that countries subject to acts of international terror are not interested in peaceful solutions. “They are pressing hard for victory ie: the defeat of their opponents and their replacement in power with allies,” (1983, pg169). This is exampled in the reaction of the United States to the September 11 attacks of 2001. America’s need to quell their patriotic rage with a sense of justice represented in retaliatory action was demonstrated in George Bush’s speech on the day of prayer: “This conflict was begun on the timing and terms of others. It will end in a way, and at an hour, of our choosing,” (Bush 2001, ). And again in his speech to congress: “Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done,” (Bush 2001, )
Furthermore, Roberts and Kingsbury (1995, p. 52) suggests that governments are often very reluctant to acknowledge their inability to handle acts of internal terrorism, and are even more hesitant to admit that such acts are threatening international peace and security. While this is no fault of the United Nations and has no reflection on the efficiency of the organisation, its relevance as a peacekeeping tool depends on the ability of the states to recognise problems and acknowledge the role of the UN in resolving these problems.
Finally, Freddoso (2003, p. 3) suggests that the inability of the United Nations to enforce its mandates designed to maintain peace, has resulted in waning respect for its authority. Within the United Nations, “primary responsibility” for maintaining peace and international security falls to the Security Council. Under Chapter VII of the Charter, the Security Council is authorized to make decisions and recommendations and decisions regarding economic or military sanctions against states that pose a threat to international peace (Charter of the United Nations ). According to Article 25 of the Charter, any such decision made by the Council is binding on member states, although the permanent members have the right to exercise veto power to prevent action to which they are opposed, (Patil 1992, p. 5)
However, According to Murphy, the United Nations Council “has been rendered largely null because the five permanent members failed to agree on the armed forces to be made available to the Security Council in accordance with the terms of special agreements concluded between the council and the member states.” (1983, p. 21) This means that further to the fact the UN is thus inhibited from making binding decisions to use force, the Charter idea of a “Security Council acting in concert and supported by a permanent peace keeping force” is essentially flawed. Bertrand (1997, p. 82) notes that without this force, the UN remains fundamentally an instrument of persuasion. While the Security Council can authorize states to use force to contain aggression, “it cannot direct the operation as it was intended when the Charter was formed.” .
Additionally, suggests while it is widely recognised there is an increasing need for global mediation, this may merely serve to further ostracize the UN from . The writes, “the greater the public need for global mediation and centers for cooperation, the sharper will be the assessment of the global organisation’s capacities and the greater the readiness to use alternative channels where the UN is judged inadequate.” _______ furthers on this notion, suggesting that the global community is unsatisfied with the UN as an answer when they see the need for physical action. He writes that “realists, especially American realists traumatised by September 11th 2001, argue that every village needs a policeman, and the only one on hand may be America.
Indeed it is widely argued by critics of the UN that one of the major contributing factors to the organisation’s irrelevance is that it is subject to the whim of America, arguably its most powerful member (Ryan, Parker and Brown 2003, p81). Hanly (2003, p25) writes “UN has become irrelevant because the U.S. either uses it to further its imperial policies when it is able to do so, or ignores it when it cannot.” The primary supporting example of this is the recent unauthorized invasion of Iraq by America. President Bush displayed this disregard for decisions made within the Security Council by stating if the UN would not carry out its obligations, then the U.S. would.
Thus the inability of the U.N to control its member states in times of critical importance destroys its credibility and contributes to its irrelevance.
In conclusion, the United Nations is a tool that has become obsolete in regards to fulfilling its mission under the Charter of 1945. This essay has demonstrated this through three points. Firstly, the liberal ideology of peace and compromise it upholds, while noble, is undermined by the realist nature of member states. Secondly, the rise of revolutionary warfare in the form of international terrorism has presented a challenge, which the United Nations has so far failed to meet. Finally, the lack of authoritative and binding power of the UN to enforce its mandates means that its mission under the Charter cannot be fulfilled. For these reasons it can be argued that the United Nations, as it currently operates, does not hold a relevant position within the current global arena.
Words 1654 (not including references)
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