The US and UN: A New Joining

SADDAM HUSSEIN'S aggression has united the international community as never before. It is proving difficult, however, to turn shared outrage into joint action. This will require building a workable and durable marriage between United Nations legitimacy and United States power. This, in turn, will require both the US and the UN to kick old habits. US policymakers are coming to recognize that going-it-alone is not an option. Without broad international support, the US is incapable of enforcing economic sanctions, isolating Saddam Hussein within the Arab world, sustaining popular support at home, or bearing the financial costs indefinitely. Joint action under the Security Council prevents Hussein from picturing this as a conflict between Arabs and the US.

The US has every right to expect Europe, Japan, the Soviet Union, and other states to shoulder their fair share of the burden. But it will require more than after-the-fact consultations to sustain an international burden-sharing arrangement. If there is to be a rational division of labor on the military front, then greater transparency, communication, and coordination will be needed. This runs against the grain of traditional military operations, which put a premium on speed, surprise, mass, and decisiveness.

The UN community, on the other hand, should overcome its ambivalence toward and resentment of US power. The US has in fact emerged as the natural, though not dominant, leader of the post-cold war world. The UN, moreover, was designed to be an empty vessel without the political, economic, and military clout of the US and other major powers behind it. There is thus nothing incompatible about a strong UN coexisting with a militarily strong US, so long as American power is exercised in a manner consistent with the principles of the UN Charter and the decisions of the Security Council. At times, such as heading off an assault on Saudi Arabia, there is no substitute for quick US unilateral action, to be followed by help from others.

This relationship was well understood by the drafters of the UN Charter. But their conception of collective security, based on international authority backed by national power, has been dimmed through a checkered history of lost opportunities and cold war tension. Two generations of world leaders learned the limits, not the potential, of the UN.

Forty years ago, the Security Council - with the Soviet seat temporarily vacant - delegated command of UN forces resisting North Korean aggression to the US, which was authorized to select the commander and to fight, along with whatever forces could be raised from other member states, under the UN flag. The UN, in essence, lent its political authority to what was basically a US-directed military action.

Since then, the UN has sharpened its capabilities of ``pacific settlement'' under Chapter 6 of the Charter, embellished by the useful addition of lightly armed peacekeeping missions. But Chapter 7, which authorizes economic sanctions and military actions, has rarely been invoked. The Military Staff Committee, intended as a coordinating mechanism for joint military steps, has fallen into disuse. In their reluctance to contemplate the use of force, many people in the UN have forgotten that the Charter devotes more attention to organizing joint military action than to questions of arms control. The use of force may be out of fashion, but the Charter explicitly upholds the ``inherent right of individual or collective self-defense.''

The world is changing. Just three years ago the Reagan administration rejected the idea of putting a UN flag on Kuwaiti oil tankers to discourage Iraqi or Iranian attacks. Today, the Bush administration is going much farther by seeking UN authorization for a blockade of Iraq and reviving the Military Staff Committee.

Something historic is underway. The unprecedented cooperation among Security Council members, especially between the US and the USSR, means Chapter 7 may be brought to life.

At this point, three steps under Chapter 7 should be pursued:

A Security Council resolution calling for a UN blockade of Iraq to insure the economic boycott is observed, and calling the five permanent members of the Security Council to help implement it.

The convening of a refurbished Military Staff Committee on a regular basis to ``advise and assist'' the Security Council and to promote better communication among the various naval and air forces carrying out the blockade.

The establishment of an ad hoc ``regional subcommittee'' of the Military Staff Committee through which parallel efforts by states in the region and by the Arab League can be coordinated.

None of these steps need entail international command over US forces but could help launch a new era in the use of US power in international defense. A precedent in international military cooperation would be established. The UN would be brought closer toward realizing its potential in a rapidly changing world order.

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