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The UN to the Rescue?

In response to:

Disaster: From Suez to Iraq from the March 29, 2007 issue

To the Editors:

Brian Urquhart’s review essay “Disaster: From Suez to Iraq” [NYR, March 29] notes that the Security Council of the United Nations refused to endorse the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but does not mention that the council has validated the ongoing occupation.

In Resolution 1546 of June 2004, in anticipation of the full transfer of sovereignty to the government of Iraq, the council, by unanimous vote, conferred a mandate upon the US-led multinational force to assist Iraq authorities in the maintenance of order and to help improve the quality of Iraq’s security forces. The resolution anticipated that the occupation would become unnecessary within a year. However, as the violence accelerated, the mandate was extended in 2005 (Resolution 1637). In November of this past year the council again unanimously extended the mandate for another year (Resolution 1723).

The Iraq government can ask for the termination or review of the mandate at any time, and the council indicated that the mandate would otherwise be reviewed not later than this coming June. It may seem far-fetched to believe that the nonpermanent members of the council, and the permanent members other than Great Britain and the United States, would seriously examine the present effectiveness of the multinational force in carrying out its mandate. It is also possible that the “surge,” as well as constructive diplomatic assistance from the states of the region, may bring about the necessary peace, stability, and national reconciliation. However, the likelihood is of continued violence and disorder. Moreover, there is growing pressure within the United States for the President to create a meaningful exit strategy. Under such circumstances, the Security Council may have a genuine opportunity to assert its residual authority.

The major issue that the council would have to address would be the vacuum created if we withdrew our forces before the underlying conflict was resolved.

During the first year of the war, the United States asked India to contribute to the military effort. Delhi refused, but said it would send troops if it had a direct mandate from the Security Council. It is not unreasonable to imagine the development of a force drawn from India and other member states, which would be empowered by the council to gradually replace the American troops as they are withdrawn or redeployed. Such a transition process would also have to be accompanied by a greater diplomatic involvement by the United Nations. All of this would be very difficult to implement since the United States has tried to keep the council at a distance while seeking its legitimization. But if the council is to maintain its own integrity, it must at some point become more assertive. We should start thinking about how this all might come to pass.

Cornelius F. Murphy Jr.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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