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Europe's fears of US domination

The vote on a UN ultimatum to Iraq may be put off until next week, the White House says.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 14, 2003


As US troops ready for possible battle even without a United Nations mandate to invade Iraq, many of Washington's allies and partners fear that a war could shatter the 50-year-old foundations of their joint security structures.

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If Washington proceeds without UN backing and NATO support, the network of international institutions designed to impose rule of law over raw power will be dangerously weakened, they warn. A war to topple Saddam Hussein without the UN's imprimatur "would create a very dangerous precedent" Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said this week.

UN Security Council members remained split yesterday over a US resolution that would give Iraq until Monday to disarm, with France, Germany, and Russia yesterday rejecting British proposals aimed at breaking the deadlock. Meanwhile, the White House reversed its insistence that a vote would be held this week, saying that the diplomatic process could extend into next week - which means that the Monday deadline would also be put off.

European doubts about the wisdom of war against Iraq center on concerns for their future in a US-dominated world. "We want to live in a multipolar world, one with a few large groups enjoying as harmonious relations as possible with each other, a world in which Europe, among others, will have its full place," French president Jacques Chirac said in a television interview Monday.

At the heart of that world stands the UN, which President Bush has warned risks irrelevance if it does not follow up on its threats against Iraq.

That leaves the UN in an awkward spot, says Georges LeGuelte, an analyst at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris. "Either it adopts the US-backed resolution, in which case it will seem to be doing Washington's bidding and lose its legitimacy, or it doesn't and the US will ignore it, which will also damage its credibility."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that "if the US and others were to go outside the Security Council and take unilateral action they would not be in conformity with the (UN) charter," which could be construed as a breach of international law.

Underlying the dilemma lies a fundamental difference of approach between the US administration and its European allies. "Multilateralism is a principle for us, but for the US, it is just one of many options," says Karsten Voigt, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's point man for relations with Washington.

Dwarfed by America's military power, neither Europe nor any other group of nations has such options at its disposal. They are frightened by Washington's new National Security Strategy, which asserts that no nation should be allowed to challenge US global power and primacy. "Their strategy talks about American citizens' security, not about freedom in the world," says Mr. LeGuelte. "The Americans cannot tolerate anyone limiting their military supremacy, and other countries cannot accept that. It means a return to the law of the jungle."

The thinly veiled threats that US diplomats have been issuing to Moscow and Paris, which have both indicated they would veto a UN Security Council resolution authorizing war in Iraq, are seen as a foretaste of the world that will emerge when the conflict ends. US ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow has roiled political waters there with an interview in the daily Izvestia in which he said that joint US-Russian programs in space, energy investment, and the war on terror would be endangered by a Russian veto.