Iraq & crime

Published : Dec 15, 2006 00:00 IST

A scholarly analysis of the role of the United Nations in Iraq over the past 25 years.

IRAQ affords an instructive study in international crime: first, as its perpetrator and next as its victim. The United States' attitude in 1980 when Saddam Hussein invaded Iran verged on complicity. In 1990 when Kuwait's oil was at stake, it seized the opportunity to establish a presence in the region, with fateful consequences. In 2001, it decided, in partnership with the United Kingdom, to use the 9/11 cover to invade Iraq, which it did in 2003. The exquisite phrase that The New York Times coined reveals the mindset of Americans who attack George W. Bush today - "a needlessly hurried and unilateral invasion". (International Herald Tribune, October 25). It is the failure, caused by a "needlessly hurried" venture, that is lamented. The crime is not denounced. Evidently, the newspaper would have preferred Iraq's bipartisan, consensual "invasion" to a "unilateral" one, rather like rape with consent.

We have been treated to apologies, exposs and denunciations limited to certain phases. This is a cool, scholarly analysis of the United Nations Security Council's (UNSC) role in the crises over a quarter century.

The author is an academic, diplomat and journalist. A distinguished member of Canada's diplomatic service, he was president of the International Peace Academy at New York, from 1998 to 2004, rejoined the service as Assistant Deputy Minister dealing with Global Issues, and is now Canada's High Commissioner to India.

Thoroughly researched, with copious situations, the book is a dependable work of reference. It is based on hundreds of interviews besides. The author's insightful reflections add to its worth.

The book has twin themes: Iraq and its consequences for the UNSC. It traces four trends: "(a) the instrumental multilateralism of all five permanent members [P-5] on the Council; (b) the emergence of new threats, and question of legality and legitimacy, representation and democracy; (c) the underlying evolutionary trajectory of Council practice, away from a politico-military mode in which it mediated between warring states, to a mode in which it sits at the apex of a global legal-regulatory architecture; and (d) the emergence of a comprehensive approach to peace, justice, security, and development."

As the U.S. emerged, in the words of the outstandingly able Egyptian jurist and diplomat Nabil Elaraby, as "the supreme power", the UNSC began outsourcing its authority and power by authorising U.S.-led coalitions to do its job. The coalition unravelled on Iraq as the P-5 fell apart.

The UNSC went into five phases: peacemaker and peacekeeper, policeman, creeping unilateralism, UNSC sidelined, and the crisis of confidence (2004-2005). Each is analysed in detail.

This thoughtful study describes the new pecking order in world politics. The U.N. Charter's checks on power, such as they were, are eroded - but the author has not lost hope.

"The U.N. Charter provides a carefully designed role for the Council, as valid and necessary today as in 1945, central in international law, and potentially again central in international politics. The Iraq case shows it used for good and ill over the twenty-five years to 2005 and highlights its unique attributes and value when engaging creatively and meaningfully the key international players. As the Volcker Inquiry into the OFF [oil-for-food] programme put it:

" `In the absence of the United Nations, no other organisations or nation, may be readily available, or available at all, to take on the complex missions cutting across national boundaries and diverse areas of competence. And, singly or together, the Agencies do have skills and experience - and a presumption of legitimacy - difficult or impossible to match.'

"It would take a global catastrophe to design an alternative and that alternative might not represent an improvement."

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment