Politics & Policy

U.N. Talk

After Iraq, White House words may haunt the U.S.

The White House needs to be a bit more careful. In seeking to dragoon every possible justification for war with Iraq, the administration may inadvertently create precedents that will complicate American foreign policy.

Speaking at the annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute this past Wednesday, President Bush declared: “In confronting Iraq, the United States is also showing our commitment to effective international institutions. We are a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. We helped to create the Security Council. We believe in the Security Council — so much that we want its words to have meaning.”

On the surface, this appears to be uncontroversial. Why shouldn’t Security Council resolutions be enforced? The problem is, the United States — not to mention the other permanent members of the Council — has been mighty selective in determining when the Security Council’s words should “have meaning” and when they simply reflect preferences.

One does not need to dredge up the complicated web of resolutions and decisions that pertain to the Arab-Israeli conflict to illustrate this point. Let’s take the case of U.N. Security Council Resolution 353, which calls for an “immediate end to foreign military intervention in the Republic of Cyprus.” Passed in July 1974, it was designed to facilitate the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Cyprus en route to a final political settlement on the divided island. As anyone who has traveled in the Mediterranean is well aware, there is a more lackadaisal attitude to time than among northern Europeans and Americans, but 29 years later, the troops are still there.

Why this fact may cause difficulties in the event of hostilities with Iraq is that Turkey has requested the right to create a “temporary buffer zone” in northern Iraq. The Kurds are understandably worried that Ankara’s definition of “temporary” may differ considerably from theirs. Given the extreme reluctance of the United States over the years to put pressure on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Cyprus, the Kurdish leadership has little faith in Washington’s assurances. There is a very real risk that, in the wake of a successful campaign against Saddam Hussein, a low-level conflict could break out in the north, if Kurds perceive Turks as occupiers rather than liberators.

The absence of a viable Cyprus settlement within the next few weeks, as looks increasingly possible, will also fly in the face of the president’s rhetoric that the United States seeks to ensure that the words of the Security Council should “have meaning.” After the president’s appearance before the United Nations last fall, Cyprus Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides issued a challenge to the United States that, if it was truly serious about enforcing U.N. resolutions, it needed to play a much more proactive role in solving the Cypriot dispute. (Read his remarks here.)

To his credit, the president did appear, in the next paragraph of his AEI remarks, to introduce a qualifier to his earlier remarks about the U.N., making it clear that most urgent priority needed to be given to strengthening “international bodies with the authority and the will to stop the spread of terror and chemical and biological and nuclear weapons. A threat to all must be answered by all.” In other words, U.N. resolutions that address a clear and present danger to the international community cannot be ignored.

This caveat, however, is also problematic. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, speaking to Belgrade’s B-92 radio station on February 27, complained: “I think it is time to stop applying double standards. When they ask us to cooperate with the Hague court, because this is an organ of the U.N. Security Council which we respect, then let us ask who is obliged to implement the resolution adopted by that same Security Council on the return of a thousand Serbian soldiers and police to Kosovo Why is it not yet time for the return of Serbs to Kosovo while it is always time to implement decisions of the Hague Tribunal?”

In Djindjic’s opinion, Kosovo has been on the backburner precisely because it is not viewed as a pressing threat to international security. Thus, he concluded, “Because the international community only responds to crisis situations, my goal has been to establish Kosovo as a politically critical situation, because no one will respond to demands put at the diplomatic level.”

Writing in NRO last fall, I warned: “The president’s enthusiasm that all U.N. resolutions vis-à-vis Iraq be implemented immediately, and without delay, may come back to haunt the United States, when presented with evidence of other mandates similarly left unenforced. Security Council Resolution 1244 calls for the return of all refugees to Kosovo and mandates the province remain a part of Yugoslavia. The administration should think very carefully about all the ramifications of assuming the mantle of the ‘enforcer’ of U.N. resolutions. Tread carefully.” I’d only repeat that now.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is editor of In the National Interest and a senior fellow at the Nixon Center.

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