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Dangerous precedent being set for war

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON: The outcome of the struggle for a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq could influence the way nations go to war for years to come, foreign policy analysts say.

The United States and Britain are working for a new resolution that would essentially authorize war against Iraq for failing to give up its weapons of mass destruction.

But US President George W. Bush has consistently said he reserves the right to go to war even without a resolution.

The debate comes down to a struggle over who decides whether or when force can be used in this or other conflicts. France and others have argued that force is to be used only as a final resort with explicit UN approval.

What worries some analysts most is the prospect that if Washington goes to war without UN authorization, other nations might feel free to follow suit.

The White House, while going along with the UN process on Iraq for tactical reasons, maintains the danger posed by international terrorism justifies the use of pre-emptive or preventive force and that it will act as it sees fit to protect US interests no matter what the Security Council decides.

The administration's National Security Strategy document released last September spelled this out, saying that the only way to fight terrorism and "rogue states" was to hit them first. "We cannot let our enemies strike first," it said.

Some say that approach violates the UN charter, which asserts that the only justification for the use of military force is self-defence, although the United States disputes this interpretation.

"What's happening at the UN is that major countries like France and Russia want to contain Iraq and stop (President) Saddam Hussein from acquiring nuclear weapons, but they also want to contain the United States," said Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago.

"They don't want to see the United States launch a war of conquest in an oil rich region. They fear that if Washington does it once with Iraq, it will do it again," Pape said.

'DANGEROUS PRECEDENT': "It would set an extremely dangerous precedent. Countries like India, which is involved in a dangerous confrontation with Pakistan in which both have nuclear weapons, would pay close attention," said Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Bush himself spoke last week of using the Iraq crisis to teach a lesson to others that might threaten the United States. "By defeating this threat, we will show other dictators that the path of aggression will lead to their own ruin," he said.

From the moment it took office in 2001, the Bush administration signalled clearly its refusal to be hemmed in by a variety of international conventions.

It torpedoed treaties on global warming, an international criminal court and various arms control pacts. But none of these struck at the center of the UN structure the way the present struggle is doing.

One reason the administration has stuck with the Security Council over Iraq is that public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Americans strongly prefer that an attack on Iraq be authorized by the United Nations, analysts say.

"The jury is still out on the implications of this struggle because the Bush administration, despite the reluctance of many of its key players, is still playing by the rules of the UN Charter," said Jeffrey Laurenti, executive director of the United Nations Association of the United States.

Key allies, including Britain and Turkey, where public opinion is overwhelming opposed to a war, have told Washington that UN approval is crucial if they are to take part.

"If Bush decides to launch war without UN approval, he will have essentially torn up the Charter and taken us back a century to the situation before the First World War where each country took care of its own interests and regarded force as a legitimate means of action," said Laurenti.

However, Cirincione said that the French and Russian positions were not dictated solely by deep moral objections to war but by a desire to retain power and influence in a world so dominated by the United States.

"Countries like France and Russia are painfully aware that part of their international standing depends on having a strong and viable United Nations. To the extent that the United States weakens the UN their power is also weakened," he said.

This gives those countries a strong incentive to keep the United States operating within the UN framework rather than acting independently.-Reuters


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