Bush Was Right: The United Nations Failed Us
On Monday night, in his address to the nation, President Bush declared, "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities." He was right. The United Nations failed the global community. But for the opposite reason expressed by Bush.
Secretary General Kofi Annan had told the world a week before that, "If the United States and others were to go outside the Security Council and take unilateral action, they would not be in conformity with the charter"
On Sunday, the Security Council was told that the United States would attack Iraq within a matter of days. Yet the United Nations didn't act. Realizing it didn't have the votes to pass a resolution in favor of war, the United States decided to withdraw the resolution. But a few days before Chile had come up with a compromise resolution that would have given Iraq up to 45 days to comply with all the UN's demands. France had come up with its own similar compromise proposal that contained a check list of five steps that Iraq would have to take over the next 4-6 weeks to avoid a war.
It appears likely that the Security Council had the 9 votes necessary to enact these resolutions. But when push came to shove, France and Germany and Russia and China and the others on the Security Council who had insisted they were opposed to war decided not to put it to a vote. That allows the United States at least the fig leaf of relying on earlier United Nations resolutions (678 and 687) to invade Iraq.
A vote against war by the Security Council would have formally declared the United States a rogue nation if it attacked Iraq. Kofi Annan could have followed up the vote by refusing to withdraw the inspectors from Iraq because the Security Council had set a rigorous timetable for compliance and the inspectors needed to stay on the job.
Taking such action would have indeed made this, in George Bush's words, "a defining moment for the United Nations."
Would the United States still have gone to war? We'll never know. The United States could have vetoed such a resolution but that itself would have underlined its status as a rogue nation hell bent on war. We could have attacked Iraq even with the inspectors still there but the pictures on television would have enraged the world.
The Security Council did, to its credit, stand up to the United States. But refusing to give permission to invade a sovereign nation is not the same as denying permission to invade a sovereign nation. With war about to start, the Security Council shirked its responsibility and stood on the sidelines.