Saturday, 21 April 2012

United Obsoletion

British MP George Galloway, among others, has laid stress on the argument that the flouting of international law by the UK and US, in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, has undermined the concept of international law in general, and therefore made the world a more dangerous place in the future.

There are several problems with this position. It's not actually a settled question whether the invasion was in fact illegal under UN law. The UN Security Council has not been called upon to hold trial, and by UN law all individuals are innocent until proven guilty. It's fine to be suspicious of Bush and Blair, but by the same standard we should have to be suspicious of Saddam Hussein's involvement with weapons of mass destruction - which would have mandated the invasion - and members of the anti-war movement such as Galloway seem to want to have it both ways,

The US and UK are two of five states that have absolute veto power in the UN; this means that any attempt by the Security Council to investigate and punish the Bush and Blair can be instantly dismissed by the UK. Veto power wasn't acquired by force; all members of the UN, when entering into the deal, were aware that the US, UK, France, Russia and China would have veto power. They willingly entered anyway; this is tacit admission that the US and UK won't necessarily be punished for anything they do. Thus, even if illegal, Bush and Blair's actions can be considered decriminalised; it's analogous to making marijuana possession illegal but unpunishable. This is, in my opinion, a fundamental flaw with the structure of the UN, but cannot be construed as a flaw with the Iraq invasion itself.

We shouldn't heed Mr Galloway's implicit premise that the UN charter was ever taken seriously in the first place. China was one of the original signatories of the UN Charter and it took them just four years to begin their ongoing occupation of Tibet. The US, Israel, Iraq and others have been ignoring UN rules for as long as anyone cares to remember; Bush and Blair can hardly undermine an institution which nobody pays attention to anyway.

The consistent anti-war movement also needs to recognise that ignorance of UN rules works both ways. The Clinton administration put pressure on the UN to reconstrue the Rwandan genocides as something less, in order that Clinton would not be forced to invade. One of the worst massacres of the decade ensued as a consequence.

Most importantly, the UN shouldn't be taken seriously. This is an organisation which recognises the self-determination of brutal dictators, but not of their people. Johann Hari put it like this:

But when it comes to legality, you have to answer a basic question: who is sovereign in Iraq? If you believe the Iraqi people are sovereign, then there was no crime, because Iraqis and now their elected government say they wanted the invasion to proceed. You can’t invade the willing. The problem is that currently international law does not recognise peoples as sovereign.

Rather than pretending that the morality of the invasion at all relies upon its legality, we shall have to assess it on other terms. Until the UN can function like a democracy it cannot be of relevance.

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