Iraq has made the United Nations more relevant, says top scholar

Far from proving the United Nations’ irrelevance, the Iraq war is proving its relevance, Dr Ramesh Thakur, vice-rector of the United Nations University in Tokyo, said yesterday Wednesday.

“The more the United States protests that the United Nations is irrelevant, the more the world digs its heels in, saying the United Nations is relevant,” Dr Thakur, who has written a report on reform of the world body, said in a speech to the United Nations Association which will be music to the ears of Prime Minister Helen Clark.

“Would the United States and Britain have put so much effort into getting a Security Council resolution (approving the Iraq invasion) if they believed it to be irrelevant? Those who say it is irrelevant are either disingenuous or self-serving.”

The Iraq crisis had ignited a world debate, Dr Thakur said. The result was that “the Security Council has been playing precisely the role intended for it — more so than in any previous crisis”.

This had been a “critical and historical dialogue” that the world had to have and it owed a debt to the Bush Administration for initiating that debate. The Security Council had, as a result, had “unparalleled attention”.

And its role had been underlined: only the Security Council can legitimise war, except in the case of self-defence. The Iraq war was a “war of choice, not necessity”.

The United States’ approach to the United Nations — “We will wage war, with or without your approval” — had been that United Nations backing would augment United States’ operations but not stop them.

“But the people of the world defected from the United States and converted to the United Nations,” Dr Thakur said. The United States-led war had posed three questions: what sort of world nations want; by whom it is to be ruled; and whether by rules and laws or by force.

By way of an answer “the people of the world have put their faith in the United Nations. It has been an exhilarating affirmation of the centrality and relevance of the United Nations,” he said. The United Nations offers the “only hope for unity amid diversity in a global world where global problems require multilateral solutions”. It combined realpolitik (political realism) and idealism.

Dr Thakur was scathing of protestations by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, echoed by the United States, that the Iraq war was to promote democracy. “This is a strange way of doing it,” he said, forcing Turkey to act against the attitudes of its people and going against popular majorities in every country except the United States (whose people were ignorant of the facts) and Israel (which was a special case).

“Democracy is the last thing the United States wants in Iraq, ” he said.

Worse, “every time there is an attack on Arabs, there is a regression to more fundamentalism rather than progression towards more democracy”.

Dr Thakur said that the easy part of the Iraq intervention was the war. The hard part would begin when the war was over, with the reconstruction amid heightened tensions.

Dr Thakur’s speech was on the paradox of a “universal wish for peace amid the pervasive reality of war”. He outlined a dozen “contradictory logics” which explained the paradox.

He outlined the new doctrine of “responsibility to protect” which has been propounded by a Canadian-sponsored international commission on interventions to stop humanitarian disasters such as in Rwanda in 1994 and the Balkans in the 1990s.

He noted that more people had been killed by their governments than by wars between states. When a state cannot or will not protect its citizens, the “responsibility to protect” doctrine suggests other nations should intervene — but only in severe cases and under United Nations auspices.