UN Must Reclaim Role In the Gulf

By , Laura S. Hayes Holgate is a research assistant at the Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

PRESIDENT Bush rightly framed his initial reaction to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait within the United Nations process. With the passage of the resolution containing the Jan. 15 deadline, however, the UN ceded its leadership. It is imperative that it take steps to reclaim its central role in resolving the conflict in the Gulf and in the ``new world order.'' But as smart bombs and Patriot missiles have replaced the UN resolutions in the headlines, the UN itself has faded from view. It must reassert its primacy in the resolution of the conflict. In doing so, the UN has several important roles to play.

Create and extend diplomatic opportunities. The UN is well-positioned both to act as an intermediary itself and to provide a forum for third-party efforts at mediation. The UN could also provide the vehicle for promises of international assistance to Iraq, Kuwait, and other regional sufferers as an incentive for Saddam's withdrawal from Kuwait.

Activities such as these, carried out in the name of all nations, would carry the weight of internationally shared norms and values. The current perception among some Arab people that the UN has been tainted by American domination must be recognized and perhaps defused by special efforts to reach out to Arabs in the search for options. UN leaders should be actively seeking to improve communication between the warring parties.

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Plan for a Gulf peacekeeping force. American military officials anticipate a relatively prompt removal of US forces from the region after the war ends. By this time, American troops in the region are likely to have encountered so much Arab hostility that they will become a destabilizing force themselves. A neutral, defensive military presence must replace the coalition forces to enforce a cease-fire.

The UN peacekeeping tradition offers the obvious answer to this need. The existence of such a multilateral arrangement would contribute to broadening participation in the postwar diplomatic and reconstruction efforts. The UN forces could also assist in the enforcement of embargoes on military imports to the region that will surely follow the end of hostilities. Detailed planning for the earliest possible insertion of another blue-helmeted force should begin at once.

Strengthen UN structures to address future aggression. The stature of the UN has unquestionably benefited from the end of the US-Soviet deadlock that paralyzed the Security Council. This rapprochement has contributed to the heightened UN peacekeeping activities around the world and ought to form the basis of a renewal of the Hammarskjoldian vision of an activist United Nations. At the same time, the UN must take steps to redress impediments to its effective participation in the new world order.

One important step is improving the staff and portfolio of the secretary-general. Already a relatively weak actor within the Security Council, the secretary-general's office is further hampered by over-bureaucratization and a lack of coordination among the various branches of the UN. A broader and stronger vision of the near-term and long-range aspirations for the world, and for the UN, must be articulated from the secretary-general's office.

Contributing to the strength of the secretary-general, the Military Staff Committee, which lapsed into disuse in the 1950s, should be resurrected in a form similar to that envisioned in Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. The chiefs of staff of the permanent members of the Security Council would jointly direct a standby armed force placed at the disposal of the Security Council, and would provide military advice to the secretary-general.

In the current crisis, the presence of a defensive, multinational force would have avoided the pressures for offensive action encountered by the large coalition forces, as well as the personalization of the conflict as a showdown between Bush and Saddam. Saddam would have been denied the advantage of claiming Western persecution, and the role of the entire international community in opposing his actions would have been crystal clear. The UN force could have assisted in enforcing the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, while preserving the option of more intrusive uses of force.

A basis for military cooperation under the Military Staff Committee already exists in the high-level contacts between US and Soviet military officials begun in the late 1980s. The events of the last year have created an auspicious moment for the development of a standby UN force, trained and equipped as a unit, but representing all the regions of the world. Deployments of such a force may be the best method of defusing the myriad smaller conflicts that are sure to accompany the transition from superpower hegemony to a multilateral world order.

The Gulf crisis won't be the last of such conflicts. Let us hope that the UN will take advantage of this opportunity to ensure that the next one is not nearly so bloody.

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