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The U.N., Last Hope?Or Hurrah?

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June 2003
The U.N., Last Hope?Or Hurrah?

Should we bury the U.N. and its feeble attempts at ensuring civilized responses on contentious issues? Or should we make a desperate attempt to bring back a semblance of sanity by keeping a prehistoric aggressive mindset in check?

Recently, a friend ruefully responded to my concerns about the increasing irrelevance of the United Nations with a comment, which, he felt, characterizes the human condition: "Like most of the wars that have occurred since more than five people on a side could heft a club, people aren't likely to ask permission to have them."

If this is so, it alone would provide ample cause for us to abolish the United Nations, burn the Nuremberg Principles, dismantle all civilized strictures that govern international decorum?and wind back our evolutionary clock a few millennia to when mankind eagerly brandished clubs to settle disputes.

After all, one would think if we were indeed locked into such a prehistoric aggressive mindset, and were fundamentally incapable of change, then what purpose would the U.N. serve other than as a farcical facade to our incurable beastliness?

So is there any hope? Well, while this "frontier" mentality may not be inalterably etched into our beings, clues throughout history nevertheless point to a strong predisposition for?even a morbid fascination with?aggression, one that we continue to proudly play out on the global stage? to this day.

Rather than resolve to overcome this beast once and for all, we coyly dance around it and attempt to tame its ferocity and moderate its future eruptions with ornate rules and conventions of conduct.

Feeble Attempts at Civilized Conventions

Take, for instance, the much-touted Geneva Accords. These "civilized" conventions were drawn up at the end of major global hostilities during a period that was heralded as the new dawn of peace, when humans could finally sit together and settle their differences without clubs.

A sensible person could be forgiven for assuming that the blueprint for such a noble vision might have included a resolution that would outlaw?outright?all future wars of aggression. Not so.

Instead, what emerged amidst much self-congratulatory fanfare was a "civilized" set of rules that would outline the methodology of all future wars.

Yes, methodology! Madness, presumably, can have its methods.

Consider the Convention's prohibition of the infamous "dum-dum" bullet. Does it really matter if the neat little entry a projectile makes at the front of the cranium leads to a cavernous exit at the back? Dead is dead.

Strangely, these very "conventions" freely allow the use of depleted uranium shells, which leave in their radioactive wake carnage of innocent children whose only crime was to have played, years later, in soil contaminated by the residues.

The conventions solemnly prohibit anti-personnel ordnances that contain common hardware such as nails. Does this in any way alter their dosage of death? Oddly, the same conventions permit the use of aerially delivered scatter munitions that vomit their lethal shards on innocent civilians!

Nukes were banned for being particularly savage?but only after we had satisfied ourselves of their devastating efficacy through field-tests that vaporized a good portion of the Japanese civilian population. Curiously, FAPs?Fuel-Air Explosives?are entirely acceptable even though their lethality far exceeds that of most portable tactical nukes. Thousands of Afghans and Iraqis were kind enough to oblige by actively participating in these very convincing tests!

What the "modern rules of war" that we've painstakingly sewn into the Geneva Accords basically tell us is this: Since we clearly can't heal ourselves of this nasty habit of butchering our fellow humans, when we do choose to go off on our rampages we should do so with a sense of "decency" and minimal mess.

Our knuckle-dragging ancestors may have been too uncivilized to scrape their opponents' brains off the ground once their clubs had done their work, but we are deemed far too civilized to leave behind such a ghastly mess.

If we truly believe that killing can be legitimized and sanitized through "conventions", then we, as a species, succeed only in demonstrating our utter disregard for?or ignorance of?the sanctity of life.

Cruise missiles don't make us "evolved" or "advanced" or "intelligent." They drag us down to the level of Neanderthals, albeit ones in tailored suits.

Are we, then, doomed to a future of rampant bloodshed?

If we are, should we even bother with institutional facades in an attempt to give this odious business of death the false perfume of decency? And if there is still hope, can our madness be "managed" through civilized legislative organs such as the U.N.?

The choice before us

In the final analysis, it would appear that we have available to us only two options. (i) We embrace the U.N. (OR) (ii) We bury it.

Option 1, The only salvation!: As our last hope, wisdom would urge us to accept the laws of the U.N.?in their entirety? without prejudice? uniformly across all nations? regardless of individual stature or power.

Prudence would move us to play by its rules with zero exceptions. Sound reasoning would suggest that the U.N. be unconditionally empowered to enforce every resolution passed by its Security Council.

The U.N. should pronounce all wars of aggression?irrespective of the initiator?to be illegal. When faced with maniacal despots and their flagrant acts of aggression (such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait), and remedial action is deemed?by a majority?to be absolutely necessary and unavoidable, the U.N. must act through consensus as it did in Gulf War I, when virtually the whole world (including the Arab nations) joined in.

And not unilaterally as did the U.S. in Gulf War II, when virtually the whole world stood opposed.

Yes, if deemed absolutely unavoidable, wars can be waged in the cause of the greater good through democratic processes that bear the stamp of approval of a majority. But the installation by force of a "democratic" government in a sovereign foreign state (especially by a minority) by no means constitutes a justifiable reason for a unilateral invasion.

Such pretexts for aggression are exposed for what they are when one considers a glaring fact: Repressive regimes and oppressive monarchies in many parts of the world are currently being openly supported by the very superpower that trumpets to the world the glories of "freedom and democracy".

Is this the brand of "democracy" we wish to ram down the throats of countries we arbitrarily elect to invade?

As a planet, the U.N. is the only institution we have available to us that can bring a semblance of sanity to the incessant growl of human irritability. It is our responsibility to preserve and strengthen this (potentially) civilized institution so that we may bequeath it to future generations of inhabitants of this planet?if only as the one sane act of our times.

Option 2, Playing with fire: We dump our higher evolutional aspirations along with the U.N. and its entire litany of "conventions" and jump right in to the serious business of war?dum-dum shells, mustard gas, nukes?the works. Let's stop deluding ourselves with all this "civilized" puffery, accept the fact that we're incorrigible barbarians and pummel ourselves to extinction.

And the latter alternative offers some delicious prospects for a truly fiendish battlefield. If it comes to a free-for-all in today's nuclear-equipped global theater, the potency and invulnerability implicit in the term "superpower" vanishes in an instant.

The U.S. may lay dubious claim to possessing the wickedest nuclear arsenal in the world. But at last count, a dozen or so other nations (including the ex-Soviet fragments) were amply stocked with these weapons that, in aggregate, could comfortably blow the planet up several times over.

And no one is immune from attack?not even the world's preeminent superpower, which has yet to deploy a foolproof ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) umbrella that could shield its citizens from attack.

In such a damn-the-torpedoes assault by a first-strike (preemptive?) aggressor, all the advantages of stealthy airpower, precision munitions, and naval might that go to create the aura of invincibility of a "superpower" would suddenly be rendered toothless. Nukes, alas, can't tell superpowers from tin can dictators when they belch their deadly megaton yields. And martyrdom to some of the zealots who'll likely be tossing these things is a sacred celebration. Fall-out in the international community? Payback from a mighty superpower? Who cares? when suicide is your salvation.

If we do not wake up and resuscitate the U.N. and play by its rules?all of its rules; if we do not accept as inviolate its authority, the next "Iraq" (North Korea?) will not be a conventional cakewalk.

The U.S. may now strut about swelled-headed that its fearsome technical superiority gives it the right to dismiss the U.N.'s Charter with impunity. But such imperiousness can succeed in intimidating weaker nations only in the context of a conventional war. When the nukes begin to fly, chest-thumping claims of military clout would amount to naught. Of course, the U.S. would easily obliterate any nation that dared launch a first strike against it.

But at what cost to itself? The nuke is the great modern equalizer, the ultimate implementer of the level battlefield. Why else would this diabolical weapon be coveted by weaker nations?especially the reckless ones who could care less about the silly "deterrent" value implicit in their possession?

If we are to avoid a holocaust, all nations must agree to fully commit to the U.N. and play by its rules?the only rules we have?or expect to see this planet divided as never before, and witness global anarchy on a scale that will surely spell our doom.

Haughtily playing the world's self-righteous policeman and imposing its "democratic" values through global "crusades" may gain the U.S. the short-term fruits of victory?but at a long-term cost that is incalculable.

It's a terrible shame that today's preeminent superpower does not possess the wisdom to foresee this looming, very real, possibility.

And the common attitude that we humans are little more than club-wielding Neanderthals incapable of consciously altering our behavior does not only insult our intelligence?

? it accelerates our demise.

[Nila Sagadevan is a former commercial pilot who works as a communications consultant. Comments on this article can be sent to letters@khabar.com]


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