At the Crossroads
Demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people are taking place across the globe, which cannot be ignored. Nor can the UN as the repository of mankind's trust be sidelined. It helps to strengthen public opinion in favor of peace to have countries like France and Germany differing with America on issues of war and peace. The new world order has to be built on the basis of these forces of sanity.
The world is at the crossroads. That it would be so, became inevitable after the end of the cold war. Then, one world order ended without ushering in another. The vacuum created was not an international order but the absence of one. Like any other void it had dark foreboding of disaster. If not chronic disorder, intermittent instability loomed large in the post cold war world. Terror attacks in America, followed by Afghan war and now the war clouds over Iraq have brought the possibility closer to reality.
In the war against terrorism America had the rest of the world, including the UN, behind her. America's shock, loss and anger were shared by almost every nation in the world. Her determination to stamp out terrorism, through overt and covert means, was bolstered by bilateral and multilateral support. In spite of George Bush Jr.'s uncouth and crude utterances, America's war against terrorism became a global agenda. Moral and material support for the war came spontaneously and is still continuing. This unprecedented unity across the world received a jolt when the American President all on a sudden spoke of an "axis of evil", mentioning Iraq, Iran and North Korea. There was no link between these countries and the network of terrorists who had been identified as being culpable for September 11. The 'axis of evil speech' was a jarring note in an otherwise harmonious piece presented by the international ensemble.
The rest of the world was rudely awakened to the fact that in the post-cold war era, America was willing and ready to pursue its own geo-political interests, ignoring the sentiments and reactions of others. The world had already been intimidated by the "with us or against us" rhetoric. The 'axis of evil' speech served notice on countries to take sides. But the problem with the rest of the world, including UN, was that there did not seem to be two sides, no good or evil seen in stark contrast. None of the three countries were involved in the terrorist attack in America nor were any connection found between them and any of the known terrorist organizations. It was utterly baffling as to what America was driving at. Though Iraq had earlier committed aggression against Iran and Kuwait, it was no longer in an aggressive mood. Having been thoroughly defeated in the Gulf war and with oil revenue drastically dwindled under UN sanction, its war machine was hardly any threat. It had expelled the UN arms inspectors more in exasperation with the interminable process of inspection than with any intent to rearm.
No doubt, the repressive regime under Saddam continues, but that is a matter for its people to decide. Repressive regimes elsewhere in the past did not become the target of full-scale war with a view to terminating them. Why should Iraq be an exception?
In Iran a theocratic regime might have imposed certain codes of conduct on its people but it too, was an internal matter. Iran has had no record of destabilizing peace and order in the world. On the contrary, it was a victim of aggression when Iraq invaded, with the rest of the world preferring to remain as silent spectators. In that war America even abetted Iraq with intelligence reports and arms supply. Iran's development of a nuclear power plant is for peaceful purposes and its acquisition of missiles is for defense. A country that has suffered aggression without intervention by any of the big power on its behalf has every right to arm itself against future attacks.
As for North Korea, it has felt insecure ever since the Korean war when the Americans fought on South Korea's side and are still militarily present there. Its development of nuclear weapon should be seen in the backdrop of this standoff. It showed signs of normalization of relation when the nuclear program was put on hold after an agreement for aid was reached with America. It is only after America reneged on the agreement that North Korea has threatened to restart the nuclear program. From none of these three countries there was any immediate provocation made or tangible reason given to justify the epithet 'evil'. The speech was wanton, unexpected and provocative to the extreme.
Even when America tried to make a case against Iraq for its alleged development of weapons of mass destruction it did not wash with many countries, including its close allies in Europe. True, Iraq had thrown out the UN inspectors in 1998 but the intervening years did not see her rearming dangerously either through arms purchase or local development. In these days of satellite surveillance nothing of significant size moves without notice. If Iraq was engaged in nuclear weapons development, purchases of various equipment and raw materials would have left a trail. In the event, nothing was available to substantiate the American allegation. But this did not deter America from going ahead with war preparation unilaterally. The only ally who joined was the UK. For a while it looked as if the two would start war against Iraq 'unilaterally', without any UN resolution. But in the face of growing public opinion against war in their own countries and disagreement with allies, they balked.
Then, the UN was pressurized by America to pass a single resolution with built-in provision for military action. This, too, was thwarted, again by unwilling members of the security council. Iraq was given chance to re-open inspection and to declare about disarmament failing which, she was told, a second resolution would be passed for taking military action. This was not what America had wanted but it accepted it, perhaps, to save face. There is another explanation. It might have gone to the UN just for appearances sake and to take a chance if its wish would be fulfilled by the world body. Subsequent approval by the US Senate for war against Iraq, with or without UN resolution, revealed the true intent of America and its attitude to the UN. It has become clear now that in a unipolar world, America as the only superpower feels free to undertake war against any country under any pretext, as long as it promotes her interest. America's "Manifest Destiny" has now become a global writ, it would seem.
The world is now witnessing the curious spectacle of the heaviest arms build up in the Middle East since Second World War with the intent to attack Iraq, even when UN arms inspectors are carrying out their detailed inspection in every nook and corner of that country. They have been given a free run of the country, with no obstacles thrown in their way. Even the humiliation of allowing surprise inspection of presidential palaces has been swallowed by the Iraqis. To allay any suspicion of gagging people they have also agreed their scientists to be interviewed outside Iraq. One wonders what else a country can do to declare its innocence of the guilt as charged by America. Though the inspectors have found no 'smoking gun' Anglo-American forces have practically completed their positioning on land and sea and are having regular practice run for the Iraq war.
There can be two interpretations of this huge mobilization and aggressive posturing. The first is about a bluff. America, and its only ally UK, are merely trying to strike fear in the hearts and minds of Iraq's generals with the hope that they would topple Saddam to save their own skin. The same strategy may be directed at Saddam to precipitate a voluntary exile. So far the bluff has been called as neither Saddam nor his generals have blinked. The second interpretation of the arms build up and army mobilization is that the Americans really mean business and will wage war against Iraq with or without UN approval. In both the interpretations there is a very important common goal: regime change. Disarmament is a pretext, the real purpose is to oust Saddam and install a friendly regime to carry out the victor's bidding.
Regime change by force without UN resolution will strike a death blow to the international order that has prevailed after the Second World War. This 'order' was cold war's single most important positive contribution to world peace and stability. If America, and its only ally-at-arms England, destroy this order now, chaos and instability will follow in its wake. There will be no international law or regulation preventing war and maintaining peace. Only public opinion throughout the world including America and England, can stop the two countries bent on aggression in their tracks. And a rejuvenated UN, as the symbol of world opinion, can bring moderation to bear on impetuous acts of certain members. It is a happy augury that both of these forces are active and playing their part.
Demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people are taking place across the globe, which cannot be ignored. Nor can the UN as the repository of mankind's trust be sidelined. It helps to strengthen public opinion in favor of peace to have countries like France and Germany differing with America on issues of war and peace. The new world order has to be built on the basis of these forces of sanity. A vigilant world citizenry, a confident UN and an assertive Europe represent the hope for the future. The world may be at the crossroads but it seems to know which road to take.
Hasnat Abdul Hye is a former secretary, novelist and economist of Bangladesh.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Foreign Policy, Iran, Iraq, North Korea