Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The future of the UN

Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix argues in the Guardian that while the crisis over Iraq has wounded the UN, it has not killed it - and that the refusal of the world to knuckle under and endorse the US invasion of Iraq in fact represents a small victory for the UN ideal. While Americans and UN-detractors may sneer at the UN "rubberstamp" as irrelevant, that denial of legitimacy is the primary reason why the Americans are effectively alone in Iraq. It is not just consent that is withheld, but cooperation. And America needs international cooperation very badly indeed if it wishes to escape a slow exsanguination in Iraq.

He also discusses the possibilities for pre-emption and humanitarian intervention in the future. He thinks that the majority of member-states will continue to be deeply suspicious of pre-emption, but also that endorsement of humanitarian intervention is possible in genuine cases:

Where intervention will be both justified as the only way to prevent grave violations of human rights and acceptable to a broad membership, I do not think that article 2:7 of the charter [about not interfering in essentially domestic matters] will stand in the way.

Iraq, of course, was not a genuine case.

This is interesting in the context of yesterday's report on UN reform, which urged a more active role for the UN, including greater intervention in member-states which refuse to protect their own citizens. Interestingly, the report provided strict criteria for such intervention:

  • the threat should be defined
  • the purpose of intervention should be clear
  • it should be a last resort,
  • the means should be proportionate
  • the consequences should be examined

The resemblence to the criteria used by Human Rights Watch above to judge the case for Iraq is striking (and again, the Iraq invasion would fail under these criteria).

Both Blix and the UN panel argue that an expansion of the Security Council would give greater legitimacy. While I would like this to involve stripping the permanant members of their veto, realistically this is not going to happen - but again, the negotiations prior to Iraq showed that the withholding of consent by smaller nations can have an influence; provided the requirement for a supermajority for any substantive motion is retained, then the power of veto-holders can be checked (at least when they are urging positive action).

The UN panel also suggested a number of other reforms, including the strengthening of regional bodies such as the African Union and the expansion of the G8. But the most interesting one is having the International Atomic Energy Agency act as a guaranteed supplier of uranium fuel for peaceful nuclear power projects. This would reduce the need for enrichment technology and therefore the risks of nuclear proliferation, but at the same time it raises the prospect of US pressure interfering with fuel supplies - a risk that few countries would be willing to take.