War on Iraq

A U.N. Resolution for Peace?

If the Bush administration attacks Iraq, the world can unite to stop the war by using a highly effective legal procedure authorized by the United Nations.
If the U.S. attacks Iraq without support of the U.N. Security Council, the world is not powerless to stop it. Employing a legal procedure called "Uniting for Peace," the U.N. General Assembly can demand an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

This alternative is neither utopian nor impractical. It has been employed ten times in the past at the behest of the United States.

When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and began advancing on the Suez Canal. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in to demand that the invasion be stopped. The U.S. sponsored resolutions in the UN Security Council calling for a cease-fire, but Britain and France vetoed them. The United States then appealed to the General Assembly, proposing a resolution calling for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of forces. The General Assembly held an emergency session and passed the resolution. The result: Britain and France withdrew from Egypt within a week.

The appeal to the General Assembly was made under a procedure labeled "Uniting for Peace," which is designed to enable the U.N. to act even if the Security Council is at a stalemate because of a veto exercised by one of the permanent members. Resolution 377 provides that, if there is a "threat to peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and the permanent members of the Security Council do not agree on a course of action, the General Assembly can meet immediately and recommend collective measures to U.N. members to "maintain or restore international peace and security."

The Bush Administration is currently promoting a Security Council resolution that it claims will authorize an attack on Iraq. However, huge opposition from global public opinion and most of the world's governments make its passage unlikely. Even if the resolution is withdrawn or defeated, the U.S. is likely to attack Iraq even without Security Council approval.

While Washington would undoubtedly use its veto any attempt by the Security Council to halt the war, it has no such power in the General Assembly. Lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights have drafted a proposed "Uniting for Peace" resolution that governments can submit to the General Assembly. It declares that an attack on Iraq without a Security Council resolution authorizing such action is contrary to the UN Charter and international law.

The global peace movement should begin to discuss the value of such a resolution right now, while war is still a few weeks away. With sufficient popular support, it can become a central demand in the next round of global anti-war demonstrations. We can then mobilize pressure on governments that claim to oppose the war -- the great majority of UN members -- to demand that they initiate and support such a resolution. Countries opposed to the war can be asked to commit themselves to convening the General Assembly if and when the United States attacks Iraq.

The sooner we begin laying the groundwork for such an action, the better. Wide public advocacy will help governments overcome their reservations, while the threat of global condemnation may help deter the Bush administration -- and to a far greater extent its wobbling allies -- from launching such an attack in the first place.

Prepared by Jeremy Brecher ([email protected]). Information on Uniting for Peace based on "A U.N. Alternative to War: Uniting for Peace‚" by Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights and Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh Law School www.ccr-ny.org.
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