Should the Anti-War Movement Support the UN?

Many people look to the UN to stand above national interests and resolve conflicts in the best interests of humanity. Some in the anti-war movement believe the UN and France, Germany, and other countries can stop the US from attacking Iraq. But can the UN stop the US from going to war? Why are the French and other powers opposing Bush’s war drive?

The French “alternative” to war is an intensification of the already intrusive inspections regime, backed up by the threat of war. They are calling for the de facto occupation of Iraq by thousands of UN “peace keepers.”

The French also propose legitimizing the US/UK-imposed “no-fly zones” over Iraq and extending them throughout the entire country. The “no-fly zones” are used by the US and UK to bomb Iraq on average once a day – an undeclared, low-intensity war. They were never sanctioned by the UN but were imposed after the 1991 Gulf war by the US and UK who display the same contempt for the UN they say Iraq has displayed in violating UN resolutions.

Nor are the French calling for an end to the brutal US/UN sanctions, which have killed over a million Iraqis. Thus, the French “anti-war” position adds up to more war – hardly a position the anti-war movement can support.

Growing Inter-Imperialist Tensions

Just as oil is a key factor in Bush’s war drive, it is also a driving force behind the actions of France, Russia, and China. In the 1990’s, these governments negotiated oil deals with Iraq. “Some industry insiders reckon that Zarubezhneft, the Russian firm … may have secured oil concessions worth up to $90 billion… The national oil companies of China and India … have also been given slices of the pie.” (The Economist, 10/10/02)

“American oilmen insist that any [new] regime would tear up existing contracts” and sign new ones with US corporations (The Economist, 10/10/02). The French, Russian, and Chinese governments recognize that a US occupation of Iraq would strengthen US control over global oil prices and supply and undermine their own imperialist aspirations.

The leaders of France and Germany are opposed to a war with Iraq because they believe it will rebound against their capitalist interests. Their opposition has nothing to do with the concern for the Iraqi people shown by the millions pouring into the world’s streets against Bush’s war.

More sober and sophisticated than Bush, these European leaders understand this war risks destabilizing the Middle East and the world. It will strengthen Islamic Fundamentalism and the risk of terrorism, potentially provoke uprisings against pro-western dictatorships throughout the Islamic world and inflame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The French and German governments are also under tremendous pressure from their own staunchly anti-war electorate. In the recent German elections, Schroeder emerged from behind to win after making opposition to war his central message. The anti-war movements in Britain, Italy, and Spain are so strong that they might bring down their pro-war governments in the event of a unilateral US attack.

Bush’s war rhetoric and the threat of a unilateral war have triggered big divisions among the major powers. This is the sharpest expression of the growing inter-imperialist tensions since the end of the Cold War, which was the glue that held together the Western alliance.

Behind the anti-war rhetoric, deals are already being cut to aid US war plans. Germany is allowing the US extensive use of airbases from which to conduct the war, despite calls by the German anti-war movement to ban such use. The European powers have agreed to supply extra troops to Afghanistan, allowing the US to concentrate its forces on Iraq.

Confronted with the reality that the US will not be deterred from war, they will try and accommodate themselves to this and ensure that they get part of the oil – the spoils of war.

Role of the UN

If he can, Bush would prefer to use the fig leaf of the UN to legitimize US aggression. But the UN’s camouflage will not stop a single Iraqi from being killed when the invasion begins.

The Security Council, the decision-making body of the UN, gives five countries – the US, Britain, France, Russia and China – veto power. The UN is a club of the big powers, particularly the US superpower. By its very structure, the UN can’t act in workers’ interests.

Socialist Alternative is completely opposed to this war, with or without a UN flag of convenience. The anti-war movement should place no faith in the vacillating capitalist leaders, even when they cynically echo our anti-war message. The anti-war movement today has already confirmed the lessons of every past movement against imperialist war: we must rely on our own independent strength and the power of the working class around the world to resist imperialism successfully.

Justice #33, February 2003