International cooperation, institutions, Iraq and the issue of Sanctions

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No doubt due to Iraq’s agreement to allow weapons inspections, the anti-war camp feels that it has outdone Washington’s neo-conservative armchair warriors. If they have, they are to be congratulated. Once back patting has ended, serious questions remain to be asked and answered by the international community before complete victory can be claimed, victory in this case being a diplomatic solution to the overall problem of Iraq, which includes sanctions. One such question is whether or not Iraq’s agreement to weapons inspections eliminates the need for a UN resolution calling for Iraqi compliance to all agreed upon resolutions, and allowing military enforcement should Iraq fail to meet its obligations. There are for the obvious reasons, those that will say, like Russia, that no resolution is needed. Such people perhaps believe that the previous resolutions and the UN charter already address this issue, and that what is lacking is not resolutions, but the will of the international community to demand and carry out enforcement of agreements, and this is no doubt the truth.

Yet, it might be important to note that once an institution has given up certain practices overtime, tradition can become almost like a rule, or law. If we stop washing the dishes immediately following a meal, even though this is the rule, it will be impossible for us to fairly punish anyone in the house who does not clean the kitchen after meals, since none of us any longer clean behind ourselves. Left as it is, kitchen cleaning in such an instance, almost certainly will become a matter of emotion or individual sentiment (done only when one feels like it) rather than a matter of integrity, (done because one agreed to do it and regardless of how one feels). Mutual cooperation and obedience to the rule of law are the glue that holds civilization together, and that should make justice available to all people equally. Once erosion takes place, and a culture of disregard for rules and laws has prevailed, it might be necessary to refresh the rules, and renegotiate terms, hoping that by so doing, a complete understanding, and commitment to the rule of law will be reinstated. It might also be necessary to include within any new rules, a clause that allows for immediate action against nations that refuse to abide by the rules. No nation should be allowed to subject the world to what we have experienced since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which is wars, rumors of war, and sanctions. The men, women and children, of both East and West who have given their lives thus far to this drama, deserve for this crisis to be resolved diplomatically, and in such a way that the international community is equipped with the necessary tools to address future problems. There is no escaping the fact that the argument of those who sought war over peace, and a unilateral U.S. attack, were helped by the fact that the United Nations has become an almost impotent institution. A new resolution that authorizes military enforcement of resolutions might be needed for this reason alone.

There is also every reason to believe that the UN and its member nations will benefit from the time, thought and debate given to drafting such a resolution, as will the American people as our Congress debates the language of an U.S. resolution. Having entered a new century, confronted by new realities, new resolutions might need to be drafted that address these new realities and to tug everyone’s coattails, informing everyone that the world has a new resolve against violence and war, and towards peace and progress. So strong might be this new resolve, that we might not any longer feel that we should wait in every instance, to act only after an actual crime takes place. There may be times when it is in the world’s interest to act to prevent wars and violence, as well as to prevent, or head off prolonged periods of breach that lead to situations where a considerable amount of doubt, and distrust tarnish diplomacy. This might be a better solution than unilateral attacks by individual nations that feel particularly threatened and foreign occupations, which were, until a week ago, being promoted as the only answer to threats presented by situations that have grown worse over years of negligence. If diplomacy should always be the first option, strong resolutions worded in a way that makes it quite clear that not only must member nations abide by the specific UN rules, and resolutions, but also that they must operate within the spirit of these laws, aiming for the law’s objective, which is peace, might be drafted. The result of noncompliance must be to suffer serious consequences, since the stakes are too high to leave the world’s future to personality cults and ideologues. The bottom line being that the United Nations must be able to act, or call for action, not only in respect to Iraq, but also against other nations that refuse to respect the rights of a small world, with long range missiles, to be at peace. Will the United States reserve the right or assumed duty to move unilaterally in every instance of material and unacceptable breach of UN resolutions? Or have we accepted the idea that only multilateral international coalitions can legitimately assert the will of the international community to enforce resolutions and that the world’s interests are interdependent?

The hands of war stayed for the time being, it might be time for Arab and Muslim leaders to decide if a UN resolution would serve their long term interests more so than relying upon old and routinely disregarded UN resolutions to maintain order and guide international relations. Their answer to this question will determine whether or not we are celebrating too soon. There might still be work to be done, depending of course upon our objectives. We may have saved the day, but what of the future?

The Bush administration has submitted a draft for an U.S. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq if weapons inspections are refused, or other breaches of UN resolutions continue. The issue of regime change is central to the U.S. proposal. Even though the United States has no legal right to demand that Saddam Hussein be removed from power, there may be a moral obligation to push for such a change. This suggests that their be discussion, and perhaps new rules that provide alternatives to collective punishments such as sanctions, to encourage or punish for non-compliance, when it is clearly governments, and not necessarily their people who pose a threat to international peace and security. Any UN resolution relevant to the current situation can hardly avoid addressing this issue, particularly if compliance will result, as it should, in the lifting of sanctions. Lifting sanctions in the present environment might, by the logic of common sense, be conditioned upon regime change. There would be very little that anyone could say that would cause most people to believe that the present regime, as it stands, should be allowed to oversee the huge amount of anticipated aid, and commerce that will likely be directed towards Iraq in a bid to restore that nation, and provide relief to its people. According to some reports, sanctions have caused triple digit inflation in Iraq since the Gulf War. 3 and 1/2 million people are said to be threatened by a shortage of drugs, medicines, and food. In hospitals, one syringe is used for several people, which raises the risk of HIV infections and the spread of other infectious diseases including hepatitis. One report says that the Iraqi economy declined by 40% following the Gulf War, and that living standards are half pre-war levels. One report states that prior to the Gulf War, 2,278 people died due to lack of medicine. Since sanctions began, more than 70,274 people have died in Iraq from no medicine, and approximately 26, 236 were children under 5 years old. 4,500 children now die each month compared with 600 per month before sanctions. 80% of Iraqi children are malnourished and 22% are born prematurely. The Iraqi people, having been trapped between either death by sanctions or death by military attack, have no hope for escape. Their only hope is that the United Nations passes a resolution that calls for enforcement, as well as an end to sanctions once compliance is achieved, considering of course that issues related to regime change, if they are linked to sanctions lifting, have also been addressed.

It is very interesting that the U.S. resolution draft submitted to the Congress does not mention sanctions. This would have been a perfect opportunity for the United States to demonstrate goodwill and our sincerity in attempting to work in the interest of the Iraqi people. The UN resolutions subject to Iraqi compliance do not stand alone, but are tied to the lifting of sanctions once compliance is achieved. It would have been appropriate if the administration had reinforced its commitment to resolving the Iraq crisis in its entirety by not only demanding compliance to resolutions, but also by recommitting to its own compliance. U.S. compliance is arguably realized by agreeing to the lifting of sanctions once Iraqi compliance is attained. Whereas we may agree that Saddam Hussein has lost any claim to rights associated with a legitimate government, the Iraqi people have inalienable human rights that are being violated and not only by Iraq but also by the United States and the international community. Why isn’t our resolve to lift sanctions as strong as our resolve for war? Are we suggesting that the lifting of sanctions will, or can only be achieved through war or occupation?

The administration rejected Iraqi Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s request that weapons inspections be linked to sanctions lifting and rightly so, since the administration says weapons inspections are only one aspect of the total disarmament picture. Yet, we cannot ignore that lifting sanctions is linked to compliance, since the resolutions themselves say this, and the President acknowledged this in his speech before the United Nations, where he said that sanctions had been imposed to encourage compliance. A diplomatic solution would be debatably a solution that is achieved not only through the real threat of force, but that includes willingness and desire to reward conformity. In this case, the reward is ordered. Without mentioning the lifting of sanctions, or reaffirming its commitment to honoring its side of the resolution bargain, the U.S. can hardly meet the requirements of the “Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq Resolution.” The resolution calls for the President to assure the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate that the United States has used all “appropriate diplomatic and other peaceful means to obtain compliance by Iraq with the resolutions mentioned in sub-section (a).” Agreeing to lift sanctions in return for the return of weapons inspectors, disarmament if weapons are found, and conformity to other resolutions might be an important diplomatic tool, and one that is unfortunately missing. Overall, the approach taken to sanctions lifting is somewhat anarchic. Only God, an absolute power, has the right to enter into covenants that says one side agrees to obey in return for not being punished by the other side. A more reasonable approach might be for all parties to keep agreements, even if in the future the terms of the relationships might be changed. Without doubt new resolutions must honestly portray the intensity of the international resolve to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to check state behaviors or teachings that encourage and results in serious human rights abuses and cultures of hate and brutality, and racism.

There are many so-called “leaders” of countries who refuse to abide by an overarching and moral concept of government that recognizes that it is essential to peace, progress and prosperity, that people enjoy rights, or that the primary duty of governments is to protect the inalienable rights of their people. Gone should be the days when governments can use the excuse of sovereignty, or national security to carry out crimes against humanity and peace. Whereas the United States has not been enthusiastic about the establishment of an international court, the United State’s position on Iraq clearly indicates that the United States recognizes that a spirit of practical international cooperation must prevail if any nation is to succeed in the 21st century. This means that the idea of “unique” sovereignty might no longer protect nations from international scrutiny, commentary, condemnation and now, force.

UN member nations, through the Security Council, might, in the future, recommend regime changes in some instances, and allow international coalitions, after all diplomatic efforts have failed, to take steps to accomplish needed changes. How else will the international community save itself from brutal dictators who kill and torture and intimidate their citizens, or peoples who are by treaty supposedly under their protection? To date, regime changes cannot be brought about except through revolutions or coup d’état which threaten the stability of entire regions and neighboring nations. Those who criticize and condemn revolutions and movements aimed at regime change, have to date offered no solution to peoples seeking relief, or offered a legal remedy for peoples suffering under oppressive governments. The UN should debate regime change as a legal remedy for crimes against humanity and/or peace, and issues related to sovereignty and independence should guide the discussion.

Governments that routinely turn their heads to such things as honor killings, female infanticide, forced genital mutilations, forced prostitution, non-voluntary abortions, slavery, racism, torture and other human rights abuses should be called to account by the international community of nations, and brought to task for refusing to recognize, and protect the human rights of people. This is especially true when it comes to women and children, the elderly, disabled, and poor, and also people whose freedoms and liberties have been limited by incarceration, and illegal occupations. Government corruption that leads to the gross impoverishment of people through nepotism and cronyism, habitual misappropriation of international aid, denying education to certain groups of people while providing public education to others might also be addressed. Governments that adopt legal systems and laws that are inhumane, and that encourage the development of cultures of cruelty and brutality, should also be among those listed as possible targets for regime change. It is perhaps arrogance that suggests that someone might know better what is best for some people. Yet, experience has taught us that there are people who find their way into power, who do not know what to do with power. How do we address such a problem? Everyone cannot flee from oppression, or migrate. There are governments that must be taught, or given time to learn how to serve their people, or be abolished. Thousands, if not millions of people need not continue to suffer and die because we are ashamed of being “arrogant” enough to say that something is wrong, and take steps to change whatever it is. Justice, which is not merely punishment, dictates this. It is justice that seems to be demanding a UN resolution on Iraq. Since for eleven years we have argued the rights of the Iraqi government, Saddam Hussein, the United Nations, the United States, and even Israel in respect to an attack on Iraq. Where is the argument and debate on the condition and future of the Iraqi people? Without a UN resolution on Iraq, the status quo will remain, even though in our heart of hearts, we know that if there is to be sustainable peace in the region, the status quo must change, or be changed. This question, whether or not a UN resolution is needed to address the current situation regarding Iraq is answered by political theorist Robert O. Keohone who said, ” Without cooperation we will be lost. Without institutions there will be little cooperation. And without knowledge of how institutions work, and what makes them work well, there are likely to be fewer, and worse, institutions than if such knowledge is widespread.” We have learned from the Iraq situation, that institutions should not perform, or refuse to perform with disregard for the will of its members which is demonstrated by their conformity to the rules, and willingness, and ability to enforce the rules, and to fulfill obligations. If this is true, its quite clear that the United Nations is not useful unless it enjoys the commitment and resolve of member nations, to the extent that they recognize that without enforcement and the ability to enforce its resolutions, it is meaningless. In the case of Iraq this would mean that we must have a new resolution on Iraq that addresses breaches, compliance, enforcement, and equally, if not more important than these three things, there must be an emphasis on the lifting of sanctions.

The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.

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