We share the worldwide sense of dismay and outrage that the U.S. administration decided to abandon efforts to disarm Iraq by peaceful means through the United Nations, and to initiate a massive war with all that means in terms of human suffering, humanitarian catastrophe and risks around the world. We believe that the use of preemptive or preventive invasion in these circumstances is a violation of the United Nations Charter, a treaty ratified by the United States and thereby made a part of U.S. law. This preventive war has established a highly dangerous precedent.
During the months leading up to this military action, various administration officials and media commentators have told us that the Security Council process has failed, and that the U.N. has become irrelevant. We strongly disagree.
From its inception, the Security Council was designed to take action only when there was a consensus among the major powers. The veto power of the five permanent members necessitates that they find common ground. It is clear now that our government sought neither consensus nor common ground, but sought only Security Council acquiescence and endorsement of a U.S. decision to invade and occupy Iraq before the summer heat began. Most of the world did not, and does not, agree that war was justified or necessary, and the nations of the Security Council did not acquiesce. In fact, it appears the U.S./U.K. position never gained more than two other votes (Spain and Bulgaria) on the 15-member Council.
Now that the U.S. is the world's single superpower, the U.N. Security Council is perhaps the only place where the world can stand up to our overwhelming power, which is exactly what happened. Public and widely publicized Security Council deliberations led to unprecedented discussion about the legitimacy of war throughout the world. Looking back, the Council did not fail or abandon the U.S. Rather, the U.S. failed and abandoned the Security Council and international efforts to resolve this issue without a destructive and divisive war.
Further, when President Bush stated that the U.N. would be irrelevant unless it endorsed his administration's strategy on the single issue of Iraq, he was dismissive of a large portion of the world's population, and showed little knowledge of the U.N. The U.N. system provides the world's safety net, and the survival of many millions of people throughout the world depends on the work of such U.N. agencies as the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. In scores of nations, efforts to move beyond desperate poverty are supported by U.N. agencies such as the World Health Organization, U. N. Population Fund, U.N. Development Programme, and Food and Agriculture Organization. In East Timor, Bosnia, Afghanistan and other locations, U.N. missions are helping societies move from war toward peace, stable government and progress. While certainly not flawless, throughout the world the United Nations and its agencies have become an invaluable and trusted partner, more relevant than ever.
In the aftermath of the war in Iraq, it will be critical for the U.S. to collaborate with and support the work of various U.N. agencies, both to meet humanitarian needs and to begin the redevelopment process. Hopefully, this will also be an opportunity to begin rebuilding relationships with our allies and the rest of the world. The U.S. will be well advised to vest coordination of restructuring and reconstruction efforts in the U.N., as in East Timor for example, rather than pursue an interim U.S. military authority.
We are convinced that solutions to international security and humanitarian issues can best be achieved through collective international action within the framework of the United Nations and international law.
Gary Davis of Monterey is retired from a career with the United Nations Development Programme, Larry Levine of Carmel is President of the Monterey Bay Chapter of the United Nations Association, and Kimberly Weichel is President of the United Nations Association of Marin County and a board member of Marin based Pathways to Peace.