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Why The United Nations Can't Bring Peace
AFTER WEEKS of intensive bombing, with US ground forces in use and casualties growing, voices are calling for an end to the military campaign.
As an alternative to bombing Afghanistan, some anti-war activists, such as ARROW, raise the idea of a United Nations (UN) settlement to bring the terrorist forces to justice and provide a new government for Afghanistan. They invoke UN law to oppose continued military action. Should socialists support these demands? Can the UN play such a role?
In fact even the UN themselves seem doubtful of taking any such action. Last week John Negroponte, US ambassador to the UN, held top-level talks with UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi, UN special representative for Afghanistan.
The talks appear to raise the possibility of a UN peacekeeping force in Afghanistan to replace USA forces once their immediate mission is completed. UN forces would then bring together the disparate opposition forces with 'moderate' parts of the Taliban and form a new government under the possible leadership of the former king.
This 'mission impossible' horrifies experienced UN workers. "We've been burned too often. What have they got in mind? For how long? What would the mandate be? The conditions are not there for deploying troops, let alone anything else." (Observer 21/10/01)
Last year, the Security Council recognised the need "to enhance the effectiveness of the UN in addressing conflict". Just weeks before this meeting a UN report, reflecting on failed missions in the Balkans and Sierra Leone, said: "Over the last decade, the UN has repeatedly failed to meet the challenge (of protecting people from war) and it can do no better today."
Who are the UN?
A BRIEF look at the UN's record shows that capitalist countries have found it impossible to prevent or resolve conflict. In reality they have piled problems on top of problems.
Formed in 1945 to replace the League of Nations, which had failed disastrously to prevent the Second World War, the UN rapidly fell into crisis as the Cold War developed and the USA's and USSR's superpower interests collided.
As it seemed to unite world powers around a document of international laws, many saw it as an independent body rising above the individual interests of competing nations.
In fact particularly since the USSR collapsed, the UN is increasingly dominated by USA, which uses its position as the world's only superpower to its own advantage.
The USA uses its economic power to politically buy friends and intimidate opponents. During the last few weeks, there have been frantic international negotiations between the USA and its allies but completely outside the UN.
These steps have been taken despite the US's dominant position. Opposition voices within the UN frustrated the USA in the past, particularly over Iraq in 1998 when the USA and Britain restarted its bombing campaign. Nations with their own competing interests clashed with the USA and voted against supporting bombing, leading to the breakdown of the security council.
The USA still prefers independent action, rather than using the UN as a fig leaf to legitimise its actions. During the Kosova crisis, the bombing of Serbia was carried out under NATO's flag, a more reliable cover for US military action.
Bush's USA outrageously appointed ultra right-wing Republican John Negroponte as its representative to the UN. Negroponte was involved in funding and arming the Contra paramilitaries that fought Nicaragua's elected left-wing government in the 1980s.
Other members of the powerful Security Council include Russia, which under Putin carried out the mass bombing of Chechnya and flattened its capital Grozny, and China which ruthlessly suppressed pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The UN institutionalises contact between rival state terrorists.
What is the UN's record?
UN LEADER Kofi Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize days before the attacks in the USA. Yet the UN has failed to prevent war in Africa (Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone and throughout West Africa), in the Indian sub-continent (Kashmir) in Europe (former Yugoslavia), or the middle East, (Israel/Palestine).
They have also failed to provide stable peace agreements or democratic governments, more often imposing governments and restricting democratic rights.
In Bosnia the UN runs a protectorate, an undemocratic, unaccountable government that carries out a neo-liberal economic policy of privatisation and attacks on ordinary workers' living conditions.
The USA have acted alone with Blair whose diplomatic tour has offered inducements to disreputable allies and threatened any country failing to collaborate. This approach angers both the UN and some European allies, such as European Commission president Prodi.
Pakistan's military dictator Musharraf has received increased aid, been freed from sanctions, had its debt restructured and been given a say in Afghanistan's future government. The European Commission has given $1.35 billion trade concessions. Oman's feudal monarch has been promised $1 billion of US arms.
Other powers in the UN are helpless to oppose the US superpower. The US government's freedom ultimately is limited by the social forces on the ground and the threat they pose to US allies in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Protests throughout the middle East - and later in the USA itself - will have the most constraining effect on USA imperialism. But only if these movements adopt a socialist programme can real solutions to intractable problems be found.
Does the UN justice system have the authority to conduct a trial?
EVEN IF the perpetrators of the 11 September attacks can be captured, the UN has no authority, particularly to the Arab masses, to carry out a fair trial. The UN's failure to oppose the US-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon means that the Arab masses see it as a hypocritical force with no legitimate authority.
Historically the UN and the major capitalist powers have failed to remove from government or bring to justice those guilty of crimes against humanity. After the war Nazis were allowed into the USA and Latin America.
More recently the sheltering of figures such as the Shah of Iran, or current allies such as Pakistan's dictator Musharraf, shows that the USA, UN and its allies have no mandate to carry out a trial.
Even when Pinochet was under house arrest in Britain, the courts failed to put on trial a military dictator responsible for the murder of thousands of socialists, trade unionists and workers in the 1970s in Chile.
Who can resolve the situation, then?
ONLY THE organised working class has the legitimacy to put on trial the perpetrators of acts of terror or state terror. If those who carried out the 11 September attacks should be in the dock, so should such capitalist leaders as Kissinger and Thatcher who were responsible for acts of genocide in the past.
The UN cannot bring justice for those that have died in the USA and Afghanistan.
The USA will still act independently of the weak UN where it sees fit while its current policies increase the world's instability and lead to more innocent people's deaths.
Those that look to the UN as an instrument of justice are ignoring a bloody history of class injustice. The USA and the UN will solve nothing but endanger everyone.
The Socialist Party and the Committee for a Workers' International are striving to build mass socialist forces worldwide to unite the working class against their wealthy, powerful oppressors and fight to remove the economic problems for workers and the poor.
In Afghanistan we believe that only the ordinary workers and poor peasants - through a struggle for socialist change - can ultimately bring the Taliban, Northern Alliance and other reactionary forces to justice.
A socialist world, ending the poverty that is the principal cause of such conflict, would provide the basis for real world peace and allow the perpetrators of terror and state terror to be brought to book.
In The Socialist 26 October 2001: