19 November 2004
From Arafat to al-Zarqawi
Western diplomats may have been stunned by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan's blatant effort to ward off the newest coalition offensive against terrorist strongholds in Fallujah, but they should not have been surprised.
Mr. Annan's plea, contained in letters to President Bush and to the Iraqi prime minister, provides another indication of a disturbing and yet ongoing pattern of U.N. intervention in the most sensitive global crises, whereby the U.N. appears to be more preoccupied with defending those most directly threatening international peace and security, while criticizing the policies of those protecting world order and asserting their right of self-defense. For in effect, Mr. Annan was providing diplomatic cover for the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while undercutting the embattled legitimate government of Iraq.
This wasn't the first time the U.N. tilted to the wrong side. During the last decade, the U.N. was repeatedly afflicted with this syndrome as it sought to deal with one explosive crisis after another. In the analysis of its highest officials, there appeared to be a reversal of causality in explaining the roots of the worst military confrontations, which assigned equal responsibility for the outbreak of wars to the victims of attacks as much as to those who planned and executed them. In Bosnia, this produced a disturbing institutional sympathy in the U.N. for Serb aggressors and a repeated criticism of their Muslim victims. In Rwanda, it led to a crippling moral equivalence between the Hutu-power regime and the Tutsi tribesmen it planned to slaughter, causing the U.N. to strictly adhere to a policy of "impartiality," even when confronted with reports of impending genocide.
In the Middle East, it led the U.N.'s judicial arm in The Hague, the International Court of Justice, to insist that Israel dismantle its security fence in the disputed West Bank without calling for specific measures against the suicide terrorism that caused it to be built in the first place - one wonders if the U.N. had existed in the Middle Ages whether it would have banned the use of shields and armor while sanctioning the employment of the cross-bow. Finally, when the full story of the U.N.'s "oil for food" scandal is finally uncovered, it is likely to reveal an attitudinal flaw among senior officials that placed the Anglo-American policy of sanctions on Iraq on the same plane as the atrocities of the rogue regime of Saddam Hussein.
These are not just academic distinctions for a university seminar, for they have dire implications for foreign policy and national security. It is to be remembered that the U.N., with its claim to represent the views of all of mankind, is still viewed in many quarters as a beacon that represents international justice. Indeed, Mr. Annan always reminds foreign leaders that the U.N. is "the source of international legitimacy." But if it repeatedly confuses the aggressor and victim who is defending himself, how can the U.N. represent justice of any sort? The U.N. General Assembly, despite appearances, is not a world parliament creating law, but rather a body that generates an amalgamation of the interests of its largely authoritarian majority, with no checks and balances protecting the constitutional rights of member states. Unfortunately, the U.N. Secretariat too often reflects the lopsided moral universe that the General Assembly has erected.
But if the U.N.'s moral code leads it to be ineffective, at best, in places like Darfur, Sudan, and even tilt in favor of the aggressors, what does that mean for the future of global stability? The handmaiden of terrorism is moral relativism that fails to distinguish between the suicide bomber driving his car to a civilian target and the pilot who destroys him before his attack. For the loss of moral certainty cripples nations, undermining their will to defend themselves.
It is here that the U.N. has a potentially destructive role. And, if generally, the U.N. insists that it is the sole clearinghouse for effective action of any sort against aggression, proliferation, terrorism, and even genocide, and yet the best that the U.N. Security Council can provide is paralysis, then that is a certain recipe for world chaos and not world order.
It is important to remember that the U.N. was born in an era of moral clarity, when America and Great Britain led an alliance against the evils of Nazi Germany and the Axis powers. Indeed, to join the U.N. in 1945, states had to declare war on one of the Axis powers and adhere to the U.N.'s founding principles contained in the U.N. Charter. This made the U.N. more of a military alliance, supported by common values, rather than the organization that exists today.
The whole idea of the U.N., according to its architects, was to create an organization that would nip aggression in the bud and prevent a re-play of World War II. However, with an authoritarian majority in the 1970s, the values for which the U.N. stood totally changed; indeed, in 1974, it invited the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, to address the General Assembly not long after the attacks he ordered on the Munich Olympic Games and on the American ambassador to Sudan; indeed, the architect of modern terrorism remarked in his address that he would never have been allowed to appear before the world body if it had been the same as the original U.N. of 1945.
It is not a long distance from that first moment when the U.N. legitimized the terrorism of the PLO to the special relations U.N. organs have developed with Hezbollah and Hamas in recent years. This also explains the blindness recently exhibited to the threat of terrorism to the new Iraqi government. The U.N. needs an accurate moral compass in order to accurately determine that aggression is occurring and must be stopped.
It is also necessary to deal effectively with the other main threats to international peace and security from weapons of mass destruction to genocide, as well. With the war on terrorism, the Bush administration is now placed in a unique position to restore much of the moral clarity of 1945 and lead a coalition of the willing to protect their peoples from the most pressing present-day evils that seeks to destroy us all.
Mr. Gold was Israel's ambassador to the U.N. from 1997 through 1999.He is the author of "Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos" (Crown Forum, 2004).