The articles “Why the security council failed” by Michael J. Glennon and “Why America still needs the United Nations” by Shashi Tharoor obviously experess, as their titles imply, opposing views. The former asserting the international institution’s irrelevance; the latter battling for its viability. Both articles were written in relation to the United States’ ambition to maintain its status as the single most powerful nation across the globe. One of the core principles of the United Nations, as stated in Article 1 of its Charter, is to “maintain international peace and security”.
This was used as a springboard as both articles discussed the institution’s relevance or its opposite. The UN’s failure to restrict the use of force within the framework of the rule of law came directly in the first part of Glennon’s article. He recalled the turn of events as the US lobbied for a “legitimate” intervention against Iraq. He cited that Bush tried to work within the UN’s framework but stressed that the US would act alone if not given the appropriate support they need.
With France, Germany and Russia curbing the US-passed Resolution 1441 to disarm Iraq, the US went on with its plan to attack Iraq without the world body’s sanction. This showed that the Security Council, as a key power structure of the UN, could not really stand up against powerful geopolitical forces. Moreover, it could not do much in the event that one of its key principles, which is the responsibility to maintain international peace and security, needs to be upheld.
However, there are other points leading to the UN’s lack or absence of will to act on the subject matter. It is not the Iraq crisis nor the failure of any member nation that made the international institution impotent. First, it is US hegemony and its explicit stance to maintain and all the more advance its political authority and military strength over other nations. It is with the US’ refusal to be subjected to any international organization requiring compliance to universal laws. The US has been very vocal on this following reactions from other countries.
China, Russia, France and Germany made pronouncements that they would not tolerate a US-led world and that they would strive to arrive at a multipolar world where there is equal distribution of power and no single state could rise above others. The superpower was not rattled at all. What the US did was to all the more clarified its intention of gaining superiority. The second point pertains to cultural divide. There was never a consensus nor a decisive majority agreement on when to use armed intervention.
Moreover, it is not just the issue of armed intervention but also the issue of universal laws. The questions concerning universal laws point to the architects of those laws. Should laws be drafted by nations or by supranational institutions? Americans are definitely opposed to supranationalism while Europeans are willing to be subjected to supranational institutions as we have seen in their experience in European Union. The UN, with all its power structures, does not have the right set of mechanisms to act in the midst of US hegemony and great cultural division.
Aside from the cultural division, the difference in attitude on how to comply with the UN’s rules on the use of force proved to be problematic. In reality, the rules on the use of force haven’t really been considered by member states binding. The insufficient or lack of foresight in providing clear-cut standards when to use or not to use force added to the institution’s lack of authority to judge whether an aggression is lawful or unlawful. The article now posed the question on why member states are in disagreement with the UN’s rules of law when they themselves are the ones that compose the world body.
The answer lies in safeguarding one’s interests. To protect and advance their own interests, states must gain authority over other states. And in gaining power they, particularly Russia, China and France, also use readily available institutional resources. One of those is the Security Council of which they are permanent members thus, having veto powers. Strengthening the council is of their interest because it would reflect a multipolar world where there would be re-alignment of power. Likewise, the US could also use the Security Council in its advantage.
But it could also disregard the council if it runs counter to its agenda. The latter reflecting a polar world where the power would be concentrated on the US. Given this situation, any country (France, Russia or China) would have done the same as what the US did had they been in the superpower’s throne. The inevitable unipolar system being advanced by the US had left the UN no choice but to adapt Resolution 1441. It reflected multilateralism but at the expense of the UN violating its own charter.