“Coalition Built on Shifting Sands?”

The US-led worldwide coalition against terrorism– effectively coordinated by the Bush Administration, especially by Secretary of State Colin Powell– is dangerously close to being washed out to sea by the rising tide of doggedly pursuing unilateral policies that damage the US and many other countries. Daily, US allies offer a chorus of criticism that the US is reverting to its perceived arrogant pre-September 11 unilateralist policies; is arbitrarily and heavy-handedly dictating its wishes to the world; and is ignoring major international problems and concerns of both allies and foes.

On the positive side, several actions have strengthened the coalition and enhanced the US’s influence. For example, President Bush received well-deserved praise when he attended the UN Conference on Financing and Development held in Monterey, Mexico, and he announced the US would increase its foreign assistance by 50% a year. The US also regained its seat on the 54 member UN Human Rights Commission. The recent Moscow Treaty between the US and Russia to reduce (not destroy) warheads from about 6,000 to around 2,000 has been widely regarded as a first step in the right direction to reduce the threat of nuclear exchange.

Undoubtedly, the UN and Great Britain are the US’s major partners in the war on terrorism. Yet, this rock-solid support is weakening. Why? The following five counterproductive actions implemented by the US help explain this dilemma:

First, the Bush Administration, which is totally opposed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), took the unprecedented step to  “unsign” or nullify the treaty–which would be the first time any country took that action. European Union countries, which have all ratified the ICC,  have indicated  that it would be disastrous for the US to try to derail the treaty.

The UN International Court of Justice, which is called the World Court and is located in the Hague, deals with civil cases between countries. The ICC is a permanent international  criminal court that would fill a tremendous legal void and would try the worst criminals, such as Pol Pot or Adolph Hitler, who commit crimes against humanity, genocide, aggression or war crimes.

The ICC is not a supranational body that can arbitrarily drag Americans before it to be tried. If someone were charged with a crime, the defendant’s country of origin would have the option to use the Principle of Complementarity, which allows the national judicial system to take first action against the individual (s), thus preserving a country’s sovereignty, due process, and the integrity of its domestic court system. Safeguards are quite sufficient to address all of the US’s concerns, especially in the fair selection of judges.

If the ICC had existed before the 9-11 tragedy, it could have played a critical role in bringing Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorists to justice. Rather than launch an antagonistic international campaign against the ICC, the US should actively help to establish it and  the Senate should ratify the treaty, rather than be completely isolated from the process. The reality is the ICC comes on-line July 1 and it does affect Americans, regardless of what the US says.

The second action involves the recent 3-day UN Summit on Children which was a review of the successes of the 27 goals set by the 1990 Children’s Summit (attended by former President George H. Bush). Heated conflict developed between the US, the Vatican, and some Arab states on one side and the rest of the world on the other. The US vigorously opposed moderate proposals regarding family planning, children’s rights, and reproductive health (which is often-yet incorrectly-perceived as abortion rights) issues. A vast majority of the conference participants viewed the US policy as ideologically-motivated, incorrect, and short-sighted.

Rather than being an obstructionist, the US Senate should ratify the 1990 Convention on the Rights of the Child and adequately fund the UN family planning agency. It is ironic that as some Congressional pro-life advocates, who oppose UN family planning efforts and irresponsibly withhold $34 million in legal funds from the UN population agency, are encouraging more abortions, rather than  fewer. When women and their partners want their children and feel they have the means to care for them, then abortions decline. Abstinence, as emphasized by the US, may  be one birth control method, but it should be combined with other family planning techniques.

Fortunately, the summit did not end in failure and an action-oriented plan was developed to help children. The UN initiatives have achieved many successes over the past 12 years. For example,  one billion people now have access to clean water; polio and some childhood diseases (thanks primarily to the UN, Rotary International, and the US Centers for Disease Control) are on the verge of being eliminated; children’s enrollment (especially girls) in school increased from 80 to 82% in 9 years; and diarrhea deaths have been cut 50% to 1.5 million per year.

Problems still abound as the UN reports: one in four children live in poverty; 13 million children have lost one or both parents to the scourge of AIDs; 250 million children under age 15 are subjected to child labor; 150 million children are malnourished and 300,000 are fighting wars.

–Third, the Administration has begun an assault on UN personnel whom they view as unfriendly to their policies. The most prominent person ousted from her position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was Mary Robinson, a former Irish President and an extremely qualified and effective advocate for human rights worldwide. Apparently, the US could not forgive her for supporting the UN’s Racism Conference in Durban last year and for voicing  concerns about the US’s treatment of Taliban/Al-Qaeda prisoners and human rights conditions in Afghanistan.

The Bush Administration and US oil interests fought to oust Robert Watson, another very respected UN leader  who chaired the UN’s Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change, an independent scientific body designed to review the feasibility of climate change and the role of fossil fuels in affecting it. Watson was replaced by Rajendra Pachauri, an Indian economist, who is considered more friendly to US interests. This deal may backfire since Pachauri is committed to diminishing global warming and reducing fossil fuels consumption.

Shortly thereafter, the US led the charge to depose Jose Mauricio Bustani, head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), ostensibly because of financial mismanagement and for encouraging Iraq to sign the OPCW Convention, which the US claims would undermine the UN Security Council’s efforts to get UN inspectors back into Iraq. These board room coup d’etats have not been lost on the other 188 UN member states.

–Fourth, few international leaders, and most people worldwide, would not regret the demise of Saddam Hussein; however, there is virtually zero support by US allies to launch a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.  Some of the reasons cited for this lack of support are:

a) there is no concrete link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam;

b) the US Joint Chiefs of Staff are reluctant to get involved in another military campaign, especially while bogged down in Afghanistan;

c) many fear that thousands of Iraqi civilians and American military would be killed; and

d) without allied support, the US would have to go-it-alone and may be an occupying force in Baghdad for years to come.

–Finally, the US and its allies disagree on several other important issues, such as the Kyoto Global Warming Treaty; US withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty with the Russians; and US insistence on building a missile defense shield that could fuel a nuclear arms race and de-stabilize the world, weaken the US military by draining funds from other programs, cost  a staggering $500 billion, and not work when it is finished. Many credible foreign policy/nuclear experts believe that the principal threat will come from a chemical, biological, or low level nuclear device that will not be launched, but floated into a US harbor or brought in by truck.

Although some positive action was taken to alleviate these fears, there is still a strong undercurrent of concern, distrust, and animosity by US allies toward the US foreign policies, which are viewed as being dominated by hawkish hard-liners. The war on terrorism will not succeed if the US perpetuates an image of an arrogant bully that ignores the rest of the world. It would be disastrous to return to the pre-September 11 period where, on average, a measly 25% of US allies and their people supported major US foreign policies. Will the sand castle of anti-terrorist coalition building be swept out to sea? Although the US will not always agree with other countries on every thorny issue, the fracturing of the coalition can be avoided through reversing some US policies, engaging in meaningful dialogue and involvement in discussing various treaties, stressing effective diplomacy, and pursuing consensus building. This battle must be won.

Bill Miller is Former Chair of the United Nations Association of USA’s Council of Chapters and Divisions.