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UNSCOM Has Always Done U.S. Bidding

  • January 7

    [After we read reports of the U.S. using the U.N. to spy on Iraq, we called Phyllis Bennis, an expert on U.S.- U.N. relations to get her thoughts on just how bonedheaded the operation was. She sent us this e-mail in response.]

    The fact that U.S. officials may have used U.N. weapons inspectors to spy for them isn't surprising. Whatever Iraqi secrets UNSCOM's on-the-ground inspectors were able to provide to the U.S. were likely matched by the wealth of NSA satellite surveillance that Washington can gather at will.

    The real issue is the willingness of the U.S., once again, to treat the United Nations with the utter disdain of a feudal emperor dissing his vassal king. Certainly that sort of treatment isn't new. Washington's current $1.5 billion in overdue U.N. bills is only slightly larger than usual—the U.S. stopped paying its full bills a decade and a half ago, during the Reagan administration.

    This is the part that matters most: UNSCOM was largely a creature of the U.S. from its beginnings. It has always been viewed with a jaundiced eye by observers critical of U.S. domination of the U.N. And it has generally lived up to the most cynical expectations.

    Although UNSCOM has ended up a disaster, it initially represented a U.N. effort, however flawed, to craft an international enforcer for disarmament—not such a bad idea in these arms-bloated times, especially in Iraq's arms-bloated neighborhood.

    So what now? The U.S. cannot be allowed to claim the unilateral right to determine Iraq policy on its own. Iraq policy must be returned to the United Nations. Not the U.N. that was the victim of Desert Storm's false consensus and of Desert Fox's indifferent violations, but a new U.N., working to craft a new kind of multilateral diplomacy.

    To begin that effort with policy towards Iraq, the following ideas might be considered:

    • The Security Council's corner on Iraq policy must be broken. The Council's undemocratic makeup, and its subservience to U.S. and British vetoes, make it an insufficient venue for serious consideration of Iraq disarmament policy. Other U.N. agencies must be brought into the mix.

    • Real disarmament, not pretext disarmament, must be reinstated as the key aspect of U.N. policy in Iraq. To start with, UNSCOM must be allowed to go public with the records found in Iraq and already in its possession, documenting the source of Iraq's weapons programs. (Currently—and since its creation—UNSCOM has been prohibited from such disclosures.) This would facilitate campaigns to stop the spread of weapons by going to the root of the problem. Inspectors could identify and shut down supplier companies, and target supplier countries with diplomatic pressure.

    • The U.N. resolutions now governing Iraqi disarmament efforts must be applied evenhandedly. Just for starters, those calling for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone throughout the Middle East—not just in Iraq. With the U.S. responsible for the vast majority of arms flooding into the region, that's not a bad place to start.

    • The crippling, civilian-slaughtering economic sanctions must be ended. The example of Denis Halliday, who quit his post as the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Iraq to protest the impact of sanctions on civilian Iraqis, should serve as an object lesson for what a new kind of internationalism and a new kind of international organization must look like. Efforts to isolate regimes responsible for their population's suffering must not be rooted in strategies that make that suffering worse. Answering the Baghdad regime's long-standing violations of civil and political rights (which were just as bad during its two decades of close military alliance with the U.S.) with new and even deadlier violations of economic and social rights by the U.S. and its allies is not what we can accept as a "human rights-driven foreign policy."
    There's a long way to go. But it has to start somewhere.

    Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Her books include Calling the Shots: How Washington Dominates Today's U.N. and Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader.