United Nations: A Fig-Leaf for Imperialism

Can UN Weapons Inspections Avert a War?

In November, the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) unanimously passed a resolution ordering weapons inspectors back into Iraq. Unfortunately, any hope that this resolution has thwarted Bush’s drive to attack Iraq is in vain.

The central goal of the Bush Administration has been achieved. A weapons inspections resolution has been passed with so many requirements that it is inevitable that Iraq will break one of them, paving the way for a US-led military campaign. The reason that Bush went to the UN in the first place was that a UN resolution would lend the legitimacy of the “international community” to the planned US slaughter in Iraq.

This illustrates an important lesson: the UN is not a vehicle capable of standing up to the major powers and the interests of the big corporations they represent. In fact, the UN is an instrument of these powers.

Whose UN is it Anyway?

The UN was created and is sustained by the major powers in order to provide a fig leaf for imperialism and a distraction for resistance movements. While the UN is often made out to be a forum for the people of the world to negotiate humanitarian solutions to the world’s problems, in reality there are no genuinely democratic UN structures.

Despite the membership of virtually all the world’s nations, the UN Charter places all real power in the hands of the Security Council, which is dominated by its five permanent members: Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and the US. Each of these five countries has veto power, which means that the UN can only take action if they all agree.

In the General Assembly, led by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, all member nations can submit resolutions and vote. However, the General Assembly decisions are only recommendations, with no binding force on any member country. Only the Security Council has the ability to enforce its decisions.

Sometimes this means Washington is unable to get agreement on its projects. During the 1999 bombing of Serbia, for instance, Russia and others in the UN balked. The US simply ignored them, and used the cover of NATO to conduct its deadly bombing raids instead. Bush’s avowed willingness to act unilaterally against Iraq shows again how feeble the UN is whenever it isn’t acting in concert with imperialist interests.

Moreover, because the US presides as the planet’s sole superpower, Washington routinely employs its economic and military clout to arm-twist other nations into supporting “US interests.” This fact is revealed by the present “debate” over war on Iraq. Only months ago the leaders of almost every country publicly opposed Bush’s war drive. Now, in a stunning reversal, all 15 countries on the Security Council voted to back Bush’s resolution, albeit in a slightly watered down form.

This shift is the result of a relentless, behind-the-scenes campaign of diplomatic and economic bullying by the White House. This was spelled out by former CIA director, James Woolsey, when he said, referring to France, Russia, and China (who were opposing Bush’s UN resolution): “They should be told that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq towards decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American corporations work closely with them. If they throw their lot in with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them.”

A key concern of French, Russian, and Chinese governments is for the US not to have a monopoly on Iraq’s oilfields. In other words, the US is essentially saying: “work with us, or no access to Iraqi oil fields under a post-Saddam regime.”

Motivation for Inspectors

There are many people who argue that UN inspections offer a peaceful, legal way to deal with the very real threat posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of tyrants like Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, from the very beginning the “weapons inspections” policy been just another tool in Washington’s ongoing war on Iraq.

The previous inspections program, along with the sanctions policy, was designed to cripple Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War. When the UN inspectors had already destroyed all the biological and chemical weapons they could find in Iraq, and Saddam began to tap into growing international pressure for the murderous sanctions regime to be lifted, the US was under pressure to justify its policy. This became even more pronounced when Baghdad began claiming US inspectors were spying on behalf of the US military.

The Boston Globe confirmed this on January 6, 1999: “US intelligence agencies, working under the cover of the UN, carried out an ambitious spying operation designed to penetrate Iraq’s intelligence apparatus and track the movement of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.” The US gave the inspections team “eavesdropping equipment, including commercial scanners and U2 spy photographs.”

So in 1998, with the inspections program in crisis, the US instructed inspections director Richard Butler to provoke a confrontation. “Without consulting the UN Security Council as required, Butler announced to the Iraqis that he was nullifying agreements dealing with sensitive sites and chose the Baath Party headquarters in Baghdad–a very unlikely place to store weapons of mass destruction–as the site at which to demand unfettered access,” explained Stephen Zunes in The Nation (9/30/02).

This confrontation was the pretext for 1998 Operation Desert Fox, Clinton’s mini Gulf War. Though the mass media continues to peddle the official line about inspectors being “expelled” from Iraq, in fact they were pulled out by Butler just days before bombs began to fall on Baghdad.

The new inspections program will be used in the same way. It makes impossible demands on the Iraqi government, intentionally provokes confrontation, and sets a timeline that has more to do with weather conditions suitable for a ground war in Iraq than the practical requirements of an inspections program.

Regime Change From Above or Below?

The entire concept of UN weapons inspections is a complete breach of the democratic and national rights of the Iraq people. What gives Western powers the right to romp unimpeded around Iraq, detaining and questioning whomever they please, stopping all traffic at a whim, and pointing guns at whomever they deem uncooperative? Imagine the scenario reversed, with inspectors from Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Serbia, and Colombia demanding to inspect the US for weapons of mass destruction!

After all, since 1998 US and British bombs have been falling on Iraq, hitting both military and civilian targets. The sanctions have caused food shortages, hospital closures, unclean drinking water, no educational supplies, and mass poverty. By UN estimates, over a million Iraqi civilians have perished as a result, half of them children.

During the UN-supported 1991 Gulf War, Iraq was bombed with the most tonnage and at the fastest rate in the history of warfare. In 42 days of bombing, more than 200,000 Iraqis lost their lives. Yet who is calling for an “aggressive inspections regime” for the United States to “disarm” George W. Bush?

Working people in the US would rightly oppose another regime sending inspectors into the US proceeding in the same provocative, arrogant manner inspectors in Iraq have. We would rightly oppose a military occupation of the United States aiming to oust the un-elected and dangerous tyrant in the White House. We would correctly argue that the task of regime change in the United States is our own, though we would gladly accept any support and solidarity offered by the working people of the world.

If the US is seriously interested in removing weapons of mass destruction from Iraq, they should be calling for a democratic government that represents the working class and poor farmers in Iraq. The people of Iraq not only are the only ones capable of locating any weapons of mass destruction, but are also the only one truly interested in destroying them, because their use and existence hurts the Iraqi people most of all. But such a movement is the last thing the US government wants. The whole history of US interventions in the Middle East has been to prevent popular revolutionary movements from coming to power that might challenge the dictatorial allies the US props up to further its regional oil interests.

Ty Moore and Philip Locker, Justice