ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 20
Inside the glass house

Chapter VII a dangerous tool in the hands of Bush administration

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

NEW YORK - When the US-led coalition invaded Iraq more than three years ago, the Bush administration legally justified it on the ground that the resolution adopted by the Security Council called for military action under Chapter VII of the UN charter.

Despite the fact that the resolution did not specifically call for military action against Iraq, the US interpreted the existing resolution to justify its action. The crucial element in the resolution was the invocation of Chapter VII which calls for "action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression."

John Bolton (R), United States Ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the media after a morning meeting of the five permanent members of the Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and United States) plus Japan, where they discussed a resolution on the North Korea nuclear situation on Wednesday at the French mission in New York. AFP

But that interpretation brought a strong negative response from Secretary-General Kofi Annan himself who unequivocally ruled that the Iraq war was "illegal" because it did not have clear and unambiguous Security Council authorization. The argument was that there should have been a second resolution calling for military action: a resolution which the US knew would have been vetoed by either China or Russia, or both.

Annan's statement about the "illegality" of the war was also a turning point in his 10-year tenure in the world body. The right wing neo-conservatives in the US, the linchpin of the Bush administration, not only never forgave Annan for his outspokenness but also went on a witch hunt trying to destroy his credibility and to politically lynch him in public.

The Russians and the Chinese, two veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, perhaps learnt it the hard way that the Americans could use the nuances of the English language to craftily justify whatever they do: torture prisoners, hold terror suspects in indefinite detention, violate human rights, re-interpret the Geneva conventions to suit their purpose, or even go to war.

But the skilful misinterpretation of Chapter VII by the Bush administration in the war on Iraq has now come back to haunt the White House – this time in relation to North Korea. Since Chapter VII makes sanctions mandatory and military action a strong possibility, both Russia and China are now stalling on a US resolution aimed at punishing North Korea for conducting its first nuclear test. Punish North Korea, yes. Chapter VII, no.

When the Bush administration sought a resolution against North Korea last July to penalize Pyongyang for launching long-range missiles, Russia and China agreed to support the resolution only after Washington dropped the reference to Chapter VII. After the bitter experience of Iraq – where the US cleverly outmanoeuvred the Security Council on military action – the Russians and Chinese remain wary. They think that Chapter VII is a dangerous instrument in the hands of the Bush administration.

While both Russia and China think that North Korea should be penalized for its nuclear testing, they don't want stringent economic sanctions against Pyongyang or a US military attack. North Korea has been a political and military ally of both China and Russia, and therefore both countries are obviously willing to protect Pyongyang -- just as much as the US is bent on safeguarding Israel, right or wrong.

A visibly exasperated John Bolton, the much-maligned US ambassador to the UN, has been saying that Chapter VII will not be a pretext for military force. "It's simply incorrect," he told reporters last week. "It would require a separate resolution, if one were needed, to authorize the use of force." But Bolton's interpretation was far different from that of his predecessors who justified the US invasion of Iraq based on a Chapter VII resolution.

The growing opposition to US punitive action in several global political hotspots -- including Iran, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Myanmar (Burma) -- has rankled the Bush administration. Both Russia and China have continued to stall proposed US actions against all four countries -- including Chapter VII enforcement.

Richard Grenell, a spokesman for Bolton, reflected his boss' obvious irritation when he told reporters that Russia and China were blocking action against the four countries. "It's all right to keep talking if you are really going to get action, but not if it's just delay, and delay and delay."

After North Korea, the Bush administration plans to also move against Iran for its continued nuclear enrichment programme. But any US resolution that calls for Chapter VII enforcement is likely to be shot down in the Security Council.

In an editorial titled "The Age of Impunity," the New York Times said last week that the US is being increasingly challenged by its political adversaries. Sudan has refused to permit a UN peacekeeping force into its politically troubled Darfur. Iran is defiantly enriching uranium.

"It wasn't supposed to be this way. The Iraq war and President Bush's with-us-or-against-us war on terrorism were supposed to frighten the bad guys so much that they wouldn't dare cross the United States. But the opposite has happened," the Times said. The reason: the US has squandered both its moral authority and lost its moral high ground in the world.

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