The UN and the Kosovo Legacy


by Jim Addington

The UN Security Council is a flawed institution. It can act quickly as it did after the Madrid bombs by blaming ETA even before the real perpetrators could have been known. It can move too slowly for the United States when that government wants to go to war. But the effects of its indecision over former Yugoslavia and the actions of some UN members have led inevitably to the invasion of Afghanistan, to last year's attack on Iraq and to the renewed crisis in Kosovo.

The principal reason for the failure of the Security Council is its manipulation by the United States, aided from time to time by other self-interested governments. We need only look at the US backed campaign to break up Yugoslavia during the 1990's supported by the German government when it unilaterally approved the independence of Croatia. This encouraged other constituent parts of Yugoslavia to break away.

When the attack on Yugoslavia was launched in 1999 in aid of the Albanian majority of Kosovo it was too late to invoke the 1975 Helsinki Declaration when 33 European states, together with the US and Canada, guaranteed never to breach another state's borders. In its illegal attack on Yugoslavia, unsanctified by a UN Security Council resolution, the US government was supported by 18 other NATO member states.

Since the break up of Yugoslavia foreign troops have been deployed, ostensibly on behalf of the UN Security Council, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. Britain alone has troops in eight foreign countries.

In Afghanistan, because of the terrain and the fragmented nature of power in that country, the presence of foreign troops is tolerated while they stay mainly within the environs of Kabul. Even NATO, which has been invited to send military forces to control the rest of Afghanistan is showing understandable reluctance to become more involved.

The history of the last fourteen years shows the urgency of the need for UN reform. In 1991 the massive attack on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait destroyed much of its infrastructure. This was followed by 13 years of penal UN sanctions enforced by the US and UK governments.

During that period we saw the dismantling of Yugoslavia and an attack over Kosovo without UN authority. After September 11 (2001) Afghanistan was invaded under a UN resolution which authorised retaliation against the perpetrators although they had come from Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan was not mentioned in that resolution. Once again the UN had given carte blanche to the US and anyone else who wanted to go to war.

Last year, without the support of a UN resolution endorsing war Iraq was attacked by three UN members, the US, UK and Spain. The result is now well known. The occupiers are unable to keep the peace. While parts of Iraq are calm and some of the infrastructure has been repaired, there is an underlying atmosphere of resentment with frequent attacks on the occupiers and their surrogate Iraqi forces. The incoming Spanish  Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodrigues Zapatero said last week  "My position is very clear and very firm. The occupation is a fiasco. Combating terrorism with bombs, and with Tomahawk missiles, is not the way to defeat terrorism. Terrorism is fought by the state of law.  That is what I think Europe and the international community have to debate". 

Promises of an independent Iraq and the withdrawal of the occupiers are shown to be false by the plans of the US government to build three massive military bases and the world's embassy. Typically the British government also intends to build a major new embassy in Iraq to support the American occupation. Now the focus has switched back to Kosovo. More UN-supported troops are being sent in to prevent ethnic cleansing. When will its inhabitants decide that they too are in an occupied state?

The UN Charter does not give authority to remove a regime or for a pre-emptive attack. Attempts to use the Charter as a basis for spurious humanitarian reasons of self-interest should be resisted. While we must be concerned about coercive regimes and work for their reform the Charter must be upheld.

Next year the UN will be 60. Action for UN Renewal, a very small group among UN reformers, plans to alert ministers, parliamentarians and the media to support UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposals for the reform of the Security Council. It must be enlarged, with far more regional members, to give it the power to act responsibly.


Jim Addington is chair of the UK organisation Action for UN