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THE MANTLE OF LEGITIMACY BY STANLEY SFEKAS

Immanuel Kant, the Enlightenment philosopher had argued that there would never be world peace until there was world government. In his treatise, Perpetual Peace (1795), Kant advocated the establishment of a world federation of republican states. Kant believed that such a federation or league of the worlds nations would allow countries to unite and punish any nation that committed an act of aggression. This type of union by nations to protect each other against an aggressor is sometimes referred to as collective security. Kant also felt that the federation would protect the rights of small nations that often become pawns in power struggles between larger countries. Kants idea came to life after World War I (1914-1918). Horrified by the devastation of the war, countries were inspired to come together and work toward peace. They formed a new organization, the League of Nations, to achieve that goal. But the League had two major flaws. First, several of the worlds most powerful countries were not members, most notably, the United States. Second, League members proved unwilling to oppose aggression by Japan, Italy, and Germany in the 1930s. This aggression ultimately led to World War II (1939-1945). In the end, the League failed in its most basic mission, to prevent another world war. Despite this failure, the idea of a league did not die. The new league was called the United Nations. The agreement to create a United Nations was made at the Yalta summit. To reassure the worlds most powerful countries that it would not threaten their sovereignty, the UN gave them veto authority over its most important actions. Had the veto not been granted, the United Nations would not have been created. Although the United Nations had surmounted the structural difficulties of the League of Nations, the veto power possessed by the five permanent members of the Security Council has resulted in considerable paralysis of the institution leading to charges that it has degenerated into a debating society. Nonetheless, the many successful ventures on the historical record of the U.N. have earned for it a degree of prestige among nations such that now the U.N. imprimatur is required on missions of international cooperation if they are to have legitimacy. The recent crisis in the Iraq war demonstrates
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both the strengths and weaknesses of the U.N. Although the U.S. administration was riven between ideologues who wanted to bypass the U.N. and make it irrelevant by using coalitions of the willing and the State Department which argued for a U.N. resolution, the State department prevailed. Resolution 1441 was the result. It is worthy of note that the U.S. had insisted on wording that would justify military action in the event of an Iraqi failure to meet the demands of the resolution. Indeed, the U.S. interpretation of Resolution 1441 was such that no second resolution was needed for military action. Furthermore, the Prime Minister of Australia specifically stated that his legal advisors concluded that 1441 provided sufficient authority for military action, a position taken by the United Kingdom as well. Colin Powell then undertook negotiations for a putative second resolution which would be more specific than 1441 as politically desirable but not legally necessary. When it appeared that such a resolution would not be forthcoming, the negotiations ceased. It never came to a vote. All of this shows considerable effort to acquire a U.N. mantle of legitimacy. The legal position of the coalition nations is that they have acted with U.N. authority. Kofi Annan is on record as recommending a second resolution. This means that his interpretation of the wording of 1441 is at variance with the legal scholars who advised John Howard, for example, who was concerned with legitimacy in asking the people of Australia to send their sons into harms way. Indeed, as is the case with many legal documents of a political nature, it appears that 1441 was characterized by constructive ambiguity, a product of tortuous negotiations. Now at this writing, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has stated that a resolution will be put forward concerning Iraqi reconstruction. The nations that the U.S. has asked to provide troops have said, yes but only under a U.N. umbrella. The same logic characterized those nations that had interpreted 1441 as insufficient and therefore did not contribute forces to the war on Iraq. Had there been such a resolution, then in view of the unambiguous U.N. mandate they would have contributed. France, for example, had repeatedly stated that it was not a pacifist nation, and would have contributed to the war effort if there had been proper authorization. It would seem that the most dangerous threat to the U.N. comes from a neo-conservative ideology that holds that the U.N. must be superseded by coalitions of the willing. This theory groups the U.N. and NATO in the same category and argues for the obsolescence and supersession of both. Needless, to say, critics of this theory see it as a thinly veiled rationale for neo-colonialist tendencies in American political thought. The interesting
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point, however, is the widespread international resistance to this approach and the insistence on the part of U.S. allies that the U.N. be the source of legitimacy. This seems to be in keeping with Kants desideratum that the smaller nations of the world be protected against being the pawns of the larger nations. While these considerations show the persistent power of the U.N. ideal, a critical weakness appears from the same negotiations. It may well be fair comment on the part of critics of the U.N. in the U.S. administration to argue that France used the veto threat to further her own economic interests. Behind the scenes there was a conflict of economic interests between the U.S. and France in Iraq, and Russia, for that matter, who also threatened to veto a U.S. second resolution. Kofi Annan has recently spoken of possible reforms in the structure of the U.N., but it is difficult to imagine the five permanent members ceding power or diluting it by extending the veto power to others. Stalin only agreed to Roosevelts U.N. proposal because of the veto. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin distinguished between two kinds of mentality, the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog knows one big thing, the fox many little things. If Kant was the hedgehog with his grand idea of a world federation of nations in pursuit of lasting peace, then perhaps now it is time for the foxes to prevail and with an emphasis on particulars, on a case by case basis, continue the basically successful record in crisis management that has distinguished it thus far. In this way, hopefully, the prestige of the U.N. and its aura of international authority and legitimacy might crystallize further until no nation will dare to venture on a military course without U.N. approval. This is not an unrealistic goal, and it is reinforced with every debate about the wording of resolutions. The problem is not the debating society but the attempt to circumvent the debate altogether.