John Kerry’s would-be foreign policy, articulated in a speech at Westminster College in Missouri on Friday, ought to ring alarm bells across America. He announced that the U.N. must “provide the necessary legitimacy” for the successful prosecution of the war against terrorism on the Iraqi frontlines and the ultimate transformation of Iraq. According to Kerry, the U.N. “is the key that opens the door.”
Let us therefore consider whether the U.N. record on terrorism is deserving of this central role.
The U.N. has no definition of terrorism. For years, a working group of the General Assembly has been unable to finalize a comprehensive convention against terrorism because consensus has been blocked by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC maintains that blowing up people in the name of self-determination or an end to occupation does not count as terrorism.
In the absence of a definition of terrorism, the Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee, created after 9/11, has never named a single terrorist or terrorist organization. Security Council meetings on the subject repeatedly end in stalemates or in the necessary use of an American veto because members of the Security Council are continually unable to condemn those on the State Department terrorist list, such as Hamas, or identify their victims.
It isn’t likely that Winston Churchill–with whom Kerry seems to think he has something in common–would have taken sustenance, let alone divined legitimacy, from an organization that cannot identify the enemy.
Kerry also invokes a U.N.-led multilateralism in the name of common interests–common to the other permanent members of the Security Council: the U.K., France, Russia, and China. These countries’ shared interests are sufficient, he believes, for them to willingly “share the political and military burdens of Iraq with the United States” and to do so with an international security force “clearly under US command.”
Unfortunately, the messianic age is not yet upon us. One way of measuring the commonality of values among the permanent members of the Security Council is their recent record at the annual session of the U.N.’s chief human rights body, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which ended in Geneva on April 23. Russia and China did not vote with the U.S. on any resolution identifying human rights violations in any specific country. In fact, Russia and China voted differently than the U.S. on 79 of the 86 votes that occurred. One memorable contrast was Russian and Chinese support for a resolution entitled “Human Rights and Terrorism,” which incorporates the Non-Aligned Movement’s position “reject[ing] recent attempts to equate the legitimate struggle of peoples under colonial or alien domination and foreign occupation, for self-determination and national liberation with terrorism.”
As for holding hands on democracy building in Iraq, a prerequisite would seem to be a common idea of what constitutes democracy. The U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution about “the essential foundations of democracy,” adopted on April 19 over the objections of all Western European countries and the U.S., is therefore revealing. It claims that “there is no one model of democracy, therefore we must not seek to export any particular model of democracy,” and it fails to delineate any essential elements of a democratic state or powers of the citizen.
The commission, in fact, adopted a number of resolutions on democracy–which put all Western European countries and the U.S. in the minority–while Kerry’s hoped-for Russian and Chinese friends went in the opposite direction. There was one resolution on “a democratic and equitable order” which opened with an affirmation of “full respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, the non-use of force or the threat of force in international relations and non-intervention in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.” And then there was a resolution on “human rights and human responsibilities” which promoted the idea that human rights are conditional on the performance of “human duties” and responsibilities to the State. Chinese Ambassador Qi Xiaoxia summed up prevailing sentiments towards collaborative exercises in democracy-building on April 19 by stressing self-definition in accordance with local political, cultural, and religious history, a route which led him to applaud Chinese democracy.
Heeding Kerry’s advice to “listen” carefully to the words of such sought-after allies in the U.N., we cannot help noticing the marked absence of shared values either about terrorism or democracy.
When it comes to erstwhile friends on the Security Council like France, Kerry’s suggestion that all one has to do is explain nicely that joining the cause is “in their self-interest” begs a primer in realpolitik. President Jacques Chirac’s interest, expressed as recently as April 19 from Paris and repeated by French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, is not sending French soldiers to Iraq, but in “reconstruction” (read: cashing in on oil revenues on the backs of American servicemen and women). Or as then Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin put it on March 19: “terrorism didn’t exist in Iraq before the war; today, that country is one of the main centers of terrorism worldwide. The terrorism is affecting us all, the threat is today omnipresent. The Madrid tragedy clearly shows that Europe isn’t spared.” In short, France’s stated interest is in blaming the U.S. for global terrorism and hoping to reap the benefits of standing on the sidelines.
Just before the Iraq war, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan deliberately released an inflammatory report warning of an impending humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq–which never occurred as Iraqis were liberated from decades of human bondage. Kerry’s foreign-policy strategy will now encourage Annan to issue more self-serving reports and statements in the run-up to the election, in the expectation that a Kerry win will mean legitimizing U.S. foreign policy in U.N. offices rather than in American homes.
–Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.