All Writings
October 20, 2002

The Guardian Of International Security

With the revelation that North Korea is actively involved in developing nuclear weapons, the United States must take a much harder look at the whole issue of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and adopt a long-term and comprehensive strategy to deal with them.

It is a given that the proliferation of WMD will extend beyond North Korea. Indeed, as long as rogue nations such as Iran and Lybia continue to exist, and as the technology to produce WMD becomes increasingly and inevitably more accessible, it is only a matter of time before another state admits to or is found to be pursuing WMD. For this reason alone, international security is under threat. Regardless of the US government's misgivings about the United Nations, only the Security Council (SC) can deal effectively with the current and future threat of WMD proliferation.

The United States has had many good reasons not to pay much credence to the United Nations, including the Security Council. When the General Assembly was polarized throughout the Cold War and therefore rendered itself useless, the Security Council did not fair much better. During this period, it served as an arena for polemics and recrimination while neglecting crucial international security concerns. In the post-Cold War world, the SC has become more functional and showed some resolve; for example, it helped to end the Iran-Iraq war, resolve the hostage crisis in Lebanon and was effective in dealing with Iraqi aggression against Kuwait. Since 1998, however, the SC has literally abdicated its responsibility to address effectively the proliferation of WMD and Saddam's defiance of many UN resolutions. Motivated by self- interest, the SC has served more as a forum to obstruct rather than to construct resolutions consistent with its responsibility to maintain international security. For example, that the SC has done nothing about Iraq's development and acquisition of WMD since 1998 is but one glaring example of its gross negligence. Iraq's stockpiling of WMD, and now the revelation of North Korea's program to develop nuclear weapons can, and I believe, must become a catalyst for restoring the dignity and functionality to the SC. In pursuing a strategy to disarm Iraq with or without the support of a coalition of nations, the Bush administration has painfully realized that going it alone without an international consensus is not only unacceptable to other nations but would erode the moral standing of the United States and that for any war to be justified all other avenues of solving the conflict over weapons inspection have to be exhausted. This may well explain why the administration, at least initially, is seeking the support of other powers such as China and Russia to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and is not threatening the use of force, at least not at this juncture.

As the only superpower, the US can exert tremendous pressure on just about any nation, large or small. But with extraordinary power comes extraordinary responsibility and so we must wield our power with extreme care and caution. Potentially, the SC is the only international body with the authority to effectively deal with nations that threaten international security. The US must now build on the past few weeks' experience and seek to strengthen rather than circumvent the SC. The only way to restore the SC's stature, credibility, and effectiveness is for the United States to validate and reinforce its authority and work to transform it into a body whose resolutions will no longer be defied by any state with impunity.

To achieve this end, the administration must first make it abundantly clear that it views the SC the way the UN Charter intended it to be–as the ultimate body in charge of international security. All members of the SC, both permanent and rotating, must be expected to discharge their responsibility accordingly. The SC must be viewed as the first resort (and in most cases as last resort as well) for resolving crises involving WMD. In this context, it is the SC that should authorize the use of force if it becomes necessary. This power of the SC does not usurp the right of any state to use self-defense in accordance with the UN Charter.

Second, the United States must use its veto power only after it has exhausted every conceivable avenue to reach a consensus with the rest of the SC members. Only if the US takes the lead in this regard, will other states with veto power (Russia and China in particular, along with Britain and France) then probably exercise considerable restraint in using their veto power. In other words, the U.S. should spearhead changing the SC culture in terms of how it operates.

Third, as long as we are engaged in a war against global terrorism, the support of our allies, friends, and even the many indifferent or neutral states remains critical to any success. The SC must become the most forceful vehicle in support of such a war, but it can do so only if America works hand-in-hand with all member states. Such a means of operating should, by no means, preclude any unilateral American military action when it is deemed necessary to foil terrorist attacks or to pursue would-be terrorists wherever they may be hiding. In virtually every possible scenario, working closely with the SC will provide the cover many states need to cooperate with us on the interdiction of terrorists and the prosecution of the war on terrorism or against any rogue state, including Iraq.

Fourth, to further augment the SC's effectiveness, we must consult early with Council members (especially representatives of permanent states) and not do so under pressure, as in the case of Iraq, or because we are stuck, as in the case of Kosovo, when we were forced to turn to Russia for help with Milosevic. There is no power today that needs to be reminded of America's supremacy. That said, there is no power that likes to be bullied by us or taken by us for granted.

Given time and patience, we will find that we are strong enough and resolute enough to persuade many nations to follow our lead. Again, Iraq is a case in point. Slowly and gradually we have been able to convince members of the SC of the need for a new resolution that will send a much clearer signal to Saddam Hussein about the necessity of unfettered inspections and the dire consequences if he does not cooperate. We may not get exactly what we want, but in the end, a new and strong resolution should pass that will, at a minimum, implicitly authorize us to take whatever military action is necessary to enforce compliance and destroy Iraq's WMD.

The war on terrorism and on the proliferation of WMD are wars that may take years and consume vast financial and human resources. Above all, however, they will demand the constant and consistent support of the international community without which our success will at best be marginal. The SC is the only organization around which the community of nations can coalesce and act responsibly, but the United States holds the key to making the SC the body that was meant to be– the real guardian of international security.