Friday, December 03, 2004


The UN report on reforming the Security Council is out. It is breathtakingly obtuse.

A. The question of legality
185. The Charter of the United Nations, in Article 2.4, expressly prohibits Member States from using or threatening force against each other, allowing only two exceptions: self-defence under Article 51, and military measures authorized by the Security Council under Chapter VII (and by extension for regional organizations under Chapter VIII) in response to “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression”.
186. For the first 44 years of the United Nations, Member States often violated these rules and used military force literally hundreds of times, with a paralysed Security Council passing very few Chapter VII resolutions and Article 51 only rarely providing credible cover. Since the end of the cold war, however, the yearning for an international system governed by the rule of law has grown. There is little evident international acceptance of the idea of security being best preserved by a balance of power, or by any single — even benignly motivated — superpower.

"The yearning for an international system governed by the rule of law" was probably stronger when the USSR was driving tanks over its neighbors. It's just a lot more noticeable since Europeans can voice such yearnings without being arrested for sedition.
The complete lack of a global alliance against the United States demonstrates evident international acceptance of the reality that security is best preserved by a benignly motivated superpower.

I've been on committees that argued out drafts word by word. If you're not careful in editing the finished product, it can end up as badly formed as these paragraphs:
189. Can a State, without going to the Security Council, claim in these circumstances the right to act, in anticipatory self-defence, not just pre-emptively (against an imminent or proximate threat) but preventively (against a non -imminent or non-proximate one)? Those who say “yes” argue that the potential harm from some threats (e.g., terrorists armed with a nuclear weapon) is so great that one simply cannot risk waiting until they become imminent, and that less harm may be
done (e.g., avoiding a nuclear exchange or radioactive fallout from a reactor destruction) by acting earlier.
190. The short answer is that if there are good arguments for preventive military action, with good evidence to support them, they should be put to the Security Council, which can authorize such action if it chooses to. If it does not so choose,
there will be, by definition, time to pursue other strategies, including persuasion, negotiation, deterrence and containment — and to visit again the military option.

Note the open admission by the Security Council's own best advocates that in the evident a state should submit clear proof of imminent threat, the Security Council may choose not to act.
The panel apparently imagines that terrorists scheming to destroy a city with a nuke will dance attendance on the Security Council.
A transfer of nuclear weapons from a rogue state to terrorists, and its deployment by terrorists against its target, would not be in any way dependent on the cooperation of the target country or the international community as a whole. It would not be delayed by a withdrawal of international cooperation for such strategies as "persuasion, negotiation, deterrence and containment".
A denial of permission to act would not grant more time for other strategies. The terrorist timetable would countdown unaltered.

191. For those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of non –intervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.

Again, given the panel's own examples, this can only mean they conclude a legal precedent of intervention would be more damaging to the global order than a terrorist nuclear attack, a nuclear exchange, or fallout from a reactor strike.

If this is how the UN thinks, I'm not sure we want to have their support...

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