UN's 'two standards' under fire
Critics ask why some nations are held to UN resolutions and others are not.
As the Bush administration drums up support to arm-twist Iraq into complying with UN Security Council resolutions, some critics are turning the tables on Washington, accusing it of "double standards" for not being as tough on its ally, Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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Israel has flouted 29 Council resolutions, say critics. Iraq has ignored 16. Israel's supporters call this an apples-and-oranges comparison. But even UN advocates say the two cases put the flaws of the international system into sharp relief.
"In the case of both Iraq and Israel, the Security Council has passed resolutions that are generally in line with the aspirations of the international community," says James Paul, executive director of the Global Policy Forum, a UN watchdog. "But how do you get them into compliance? That's the conundrum of the international system: You don't have a very good enforcement process. If a great power wants to do something in its national interest, it will. In a world of strong and weak nation-states, the weaker nations have this 'weak sovereignty' they're not able to defend their sovereignty from the powerful actors in the system."
The actions of the 15-member Security Council this week have reignited the double-standard debate.
One week after Washington riveted UN attention onto Iraq, Israel was hauled into the spotlight early Tuesday morning: prodded by Syria, the Security Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution that demanded Israel end its siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters and withdraw from Ramallah. The US abstained, and Israel soon after indicated it would spurn the resolution. Arab diplomats are venting their frustration.
"Why do we target one country, and at the same time, why is there no outcry about Israel not implementing its resolutions. Why?" asks Yahya Mahmassani, the permanent UN observer for the League of Arab States. "Why should Israel be above the law? Because some members of the Security Council or one member, maybe is all the time protecting Israel. If the UN is to be fair, there should not be double standards."
The UN and its Security Council are sensitive to the charge of hypocrisy. Israel historically has been far and way the most popular target of UN resolutions. Iraq, since the Gulf War, runs a close second. And since the Gulf War, Arab officials have routinely complained that more heat is applied to Iraq than Israel, mostly because of the US role. Israel's supporters counter that the UN has painted the Jewish state as the world's great pariah.
But Iraq vs. Israel is not the only example of an apparent disparity in who is pressured, and by whom. Take Russia and China, both permanent, veto-bearing members of the Council. Had they been smaller, weaker countries, their actions in Chechnya and Tibet, respectively, would likely have faced harsh Council rebuke, say UN observers. Meanwhile, still on the books are Security Council resolutions which are carry the weight of international law that demand Turkey's withdrawal from Cyprus, which it invaded in 1974, and for Morocco to withdraw troops from Western Sahara, occupied in 1975.
The bottom line: Size and connections matter. In these cases, Turkey is a NATO member with powerful friends; US and French oil interests keep an eye on the oil-rich coast off Western Sahara.
Yet, in terms of their ability to stir the passions of the UN's large, influential bloc of Arab and Muslim member-states nothing tops Iraq and Israel. So, borrowing from President Bush's Sept. 12 speech at the UN in which he exhorted the world body to "enforce its own resolutions," pro-Palestinian advocates insisted Monday that the same be done vis-à-vis Israel.
But Israeli and American officials say the two can't be equated.
"There is no comparison," says a State Department official, who requested anonymity. "Israel is a functioning democracy, committed to land-for-peace negotiations although it's not going very well at the moment and wants to live in peace with its neighbors. Iraq, on the other hand, is a brutal dictatorship, has attacked its neighbors, used weapons of mass destruction against its own people, and threatens to use them against its neighbors. I could go on and on."