‘Pre-emption’ undermines global security

Over the last several weeks, the George W. Bush administration has argued the need for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq is necessary to ensure the continued safety of the global community. Such a unilateral stance is inconsistent with the peacekeeping mission of the United Nations, undermines its authority and sets a dangerous precedent for other nations to follow.

The United Nations was created to respect the sovereignty of all nations and provide a peaceful forum for the resolution of disputes. Coming into existence Oct. 24, 1945, the United Nations was envisioned as a mechanism to prevent the escalation seen in World Wars I and II. The opening phrase of the U.N. Charter states that it was created “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The organization prefers to maintain peace through removing the causes of war, not by removing the participants.

Through consensus, the U.N. Charter does provide for the framework of pre-emptive action taken under the umbrella of U.N. consensus. The U.N. Security Council, composed of the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States, China, France and 10 nations elected by the U.N. General Assembly to two-year terms, may decide if here is any threat to international peace. If such a threat is determined to exist, the Security Council is authorized to decide what measures need to be taken. However, the United Nations prefers to seek peaceful resolutions to disputes rather than military responses.

President Bush has implied that he is willing to forge ahead with an Iraqi invasion with or without the backing of the United Nations. He has pleaded that if the United Nations fails to act, it will relegate itself to becoming its failed predecessor, the League of Nations. However, if the United States acts pre-emptively, outside of the scope of U.N. authority, it will not be the United Nations that has failed the United States, but rather the reverse.

International treaties and relationships rely, ultimately, on the faithfulness of participants. To a large extent, any international violation is a paper tiger: the condemnation of an act without the mechanisms to enforce. It is only by the communal, continued, recognized validity of the international agreements’ binding nature that sovereign states can expect security in the future. If the United States regards U.N. protocols and acts with neither international authority nor a present, compelling threat to its own national security, the United States erodes the legitimacy of the United Nations.

The Bush administration argues this is necessary because of the U.N.’s unwillingness to act. The administration claims to possess sufficient information to classify Iraq as a compelling threat which must be neutralized. However, this argument is a double-edged sword. If the United States equates a future threat to its security as a current attack, it sets the precedent for other nations to do so themselves.

Once a pre-emptive attack is recognized as a legitimate machination for responding to perceived problems, the international community would be destabilized. No longer would nations be secure in their sovereignty as long as they maintain peaceful relations. Instead they could fall prey to the very aggressive conduct which the Bush administration claims it is attempting to prevent by an invasion of Iraq. The United States, as creator of this doctrine, would be diplomatically prohibited from its condemnation. This fear is more than hypothetical.

Currently several sparks of tension exist across the globe which could burst into flame if this became accepted doctrine. Russia has violated Georgian boundaries repeatedly in the past, most often in the pursuit of Chechen rebels. However, the damage done has not been so discrete and relations between the two nations have become acrimonious. Since 1949, China has had a continuous dispute with Taiwan. China has claimed that Taiwan is properly part of the mainland and acting as a rogue state, while Taiwan has claimed that it is not beholden to China but rather is an autonomous nation. Although military force has never been used, the past U.S. stance has been that it would strongly consider intervening on the side of Taiwan if it was. If pre-emption became an accepted practice, the United States would be unable to act in the cases of Georgia or Taiwan if the disputes escalated into pre-emptive conflicts.

Pre-emption is a dangerous doctrine. It removes the necessity of a first strike as objective proof of dangerous intentions and instead substitutes the subjective measure of an individual nation’s belief. If this is not checked by an independent body such as the United Nations, global instability ensues. Before ravaging the landscape of Iraq, the United States would do well to heed what its ravaging actions would do to overall global peace.