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Friday 14 February 2003

The UN Credo: Speak Softly, and… Continue Speaking Softly

The purpose of the UN, as near as I can tell, is similar to the confrontation-by-friends known as an ‘intervention’. When one friend tells you that you’re turning into a jerk and might want to lay off the sauce, it’s easy to convince yourself — very easy, as a matter of fact, remember that you’re a drunk — that he’s just an asshat and trying to tell you how to live your life.

When all of your friends, though, get together and tell you that you’re a problem, you have a choice: either accept that you’ve got a problem, or accept that you have to find all new friends. In a small enough town, this means either living as a pariah or moving away.

The difference between what the U.N. does and what individual nations do diplomatically before things degenerate into war is the difference between what a single friend does, and what an intervention of friends does to the drunk. And what we’re seeing now in the U.N. are friends going out drinking with the drunk friend after the intervention.

It’s obvious to anyone who is not wilfully blind that the Iraqis are not in compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Nobody, not even the French or the Germans, disputes that. The best that these countries have to say is that the Iraqis are in less non-compliance than they were previously.

The only question is what should happen as a result of Iraq’s non-compliance. France, Germany, and Russia believe that more inspections are the answer — that if Hans Blix & Co. continue to look under rocks in Iraq, that’s good enough, and that will keep Iraq from continuing to develop banned weapons. The United States and its allies believe that bombing is a better plan.

I don’t think that the U.S. government has made much of an irrefutable case that Iraq has banned weapons. Hans Blix this morning pointed out the obvious — that Colin Powell’s satellite photographs of trucks outside a bunker might not indicate anything more sinister than, well, trucks outside a bunker; he points out that activity outside a bunker on 10 November might have nothing at all to do with a UN inspection on 22 December. Bully for Blix. Those satellite photos don’t even seem to show the same buildings on the different dates, anyway. When you’re presenting evidence intended to convince the skeptical, and that’s the best you can come up with, you tend to actually harden the skeptics’ positions.

Myself, I tend to believe the U.S. government’s position that Iraq is in posession of banned weapons, and that the Iraqis are actively thwarting the UN inspections. But I have not yet seen any information that incontrovertibly proves this.

But in any case the issue at hand is not at all whether Iraq posesses prohibited weapons. The issue is whether Iraq is complying with the UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to disclose information related to its weapons programs, to cooperate with the UN inspectors, and to prove, to the extent possible, that it does not have any banned weapons. Nobody seriously suggests that Iraq is doing any of this, and it’s been pointed out time and again that Iraq’s behavior very strongly suggests that they have something to hide.

But the real danger of this behavior on the part of the UN has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with North Korea. That drunken state in the far east chooses to see criticism of and displeasure with its policies and actions from individual countries — the United States, say — as motivated primarily by supposed imperialistic ambitions, and not by any general sense that countries with little or nothing to lose should not be in posession of incredibly powerful weapons.

trbigstick.jpg The UN Security Council — to which the North Korean situation has now been referred by the IAEA — could stage an intervention, as it were, with North Korea, pointing out that not only the United States but the rest of the world community has a problem with its actions. Unfortunately, the North Koreans have noticed that, even were this to happen, it would not be much of a hindrance to their ambitions. The UN Security Council has established that its most serious sanction is a lot of frowning in the direction of countries that defy it. The problem with this is that pariah states are used to being frowned at, so it really isn’t much of a threat.

This is the point of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice to speak softly, and carry a big stick: without the stick, and the will to use it, you’ll soon shout yourself hoarse.

The Security Council may eventually authorize the use of military force against North Korea if the Koreans continue to use nuclear weapons to threaten and to blackmail other countries. But by choosing peace now with Iraq at all costs, it’s significantly increasing the chances that that cost will be a far more dangerous war with North Korea later.

Posted by tino at 12:33 14.02.03
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Personally I agree based on Iraq’s actions it looks like they have something to hide. I also agree that the US government has failed to make a convincing case that they have anything approacing a ‘smoking gun’ of Iraq’s posession of WMD.

As to the reluctance and out right hostility of France, Germany and Russia I think they (and more the French than the other parties) are seeking to establish an alternative bloc to US power. This becomes more clear when you see the actions of NATO. By blocking NATO from assiting in planning for Turkish defense doing this they are hoping to presure the Turks into siding with their side agaist US action towards Iraq. (Curiously I wonder if there is any back channel talk about leting

Turkey into the EU, something the desperately want and might be a good enough carrot to make them think about opposing the US)

I think the unintended consequences of these actions will be a weaking in the short term of NATO (which could contribute to its eventual

dissolution, at the very least you will see more talk in the US why we are paying to keep such a large military force in Europe and especially

Germany), more division within the EU (especially with the establishment of miltiary component…the British, especially, might have second thoughts committing troops to a common force when France and Germany might have such a large say in how they are used or not used), and of course (as many conservative pundits like to point out) the UN becoming a modern day League of Nations.

Interestingly the only time the UN Security Council has taken major agressive action have been on the Korean peninsula (but only because the

Soviets weren’t ther to veto the action) and Gulf War I (when the world was still giddy from the fall of the iron curtain and all the diplomats

hoped that a show of unified force would cause all future dictators to think twice about being mean to their neighbors). Also interestingly in

neither case was the agressor nation defeated, rather armistices were established in each case. So even when the UN acts it only seems to act

to contain the status quo as it exiisted prior to the agressor nation acting against a neigbor. As such the French, Germans and Russians are continuing this tradition….inspections will continue to contain Iraq….why bother with anything more.

Ultimately the US will launch a war against Iraq because for good or ill the current US Executive branch (with the full complicity of the US

Congress who largely abdicated their responsiblity when they rubber stamped the Presidential use of force with little debate) has decided that is what needs to be done. Only time will tell if this action is wise or foolish.

Posted by: Paul Johnson at February 15, 2003 11:46 AM

Regardless of whether you favor or oppose a war with Iraq, we must all be skeptical of the timing of it. For some reason (I wonder why?!), the Bush administration really really wants to do it now. My favorite tactic of theirs is how they think France and Germany are so stupid that they would fall for the invasion under a different name (“okay, we understand, no war with Iraq – how about an ‘offensive defense’ of Turkey instead from a possible attack by, say, Iraq? Totally different plan, you gotta believe us.”) It reminds me a bit of the early SNL Land Shark skit – the Bush administration basically thinks we’re dumb enough to fall for “candygram.”

Of course, this is all inconsequential – the Bush guys will do what they want, with or without full European support. Not that that matters – as Ross Perot says “Going to war without France on our side is like going deer hunting without an accordion.”

Posted by: Shaye at February 17, 2003 05:14 PM