March 09, 2005

Golden Oldie Time: Bolton On Clinton's Acquiesence to the "Annan Doctrine"

On a visit to the war zone, Annan said at the time: "Unless the Security Council is restored to its preeminent position as the sole source of legitimacy on the use of force, we are on a dangerous path to anarchy." Subsequently, in the secretary general's annual report to the U.N. membership, Annan returned to this theme, arguing that "enforcement actions without Security Council authorization threaten the very core of the international security system...Only the [U.N.] Charter provides a universally legal basis for the use of force. " These are sweeping -- indeed breathtaking -- assertions, made all the bolder by the fact that the U.N. Charter describes the secretary general as merely a "chief administrative officer."

But not only is the Annan doctrine limitless in its purported reach, it greatly inhibits America's ability (and everyone else's, for that matter) to use force to protect and advance its vital national interests. Such a limitation was never seriously advanced, and certainly not accepted, when the Senate considered the U.N. Charter in 1945. Indeed, during the Cold War, Americans would have greeted such statements by a U.N. secretary general with derision. Why did President Clinton allow Annan's assertions to go unrebuked and even support them, albeit implicitly, during his address to the General Assembly?

...Wishful thinking about the United Nations, as mentioned, ran into a wall of reality in Kosovo. But instead of leaving the dreamers to their dreams, Clinton has felt compelled to justify the NATO intervention. In his speech before the General Assembly last week, he effectively submitted the Yugoslav campaign to the judgment of the Security Council, seeking its post facto blessing. Thus, he argued that NATO acted legitimately in Kosovo because it acted in the interest of the Security Council.

First, Clinton pointed out, the Security Council had condemned the Serbian atrocities, one of the stated reasons for the NATO campaign; hence the cause was just. Second, though NATO acted without Council authority, "we helped to vindicate the principles and purposes of the U.N. Charter"; hence the motives were pure. Third, NATO's action gave "the U.N. the opportunity it now has to play the central role in shaping Kosovo's future"; hence the result was right. While the president's willingness to argue that the end justifies the means should not surprise any careful student of his administration, what is surprising in his speech is that he showed any deference to the Security Council 's supposed authority over NATO action.

The correct American response, for those who supported the NATO campaign, is: "We did not need the Security Council's permission to act. Besides, the Security Council was paralyzed and therefore useless for our purposes." In the Persian Gulf crisis, had President Bush not obtained Council authorization to use force against Iraq, he would have made precisely this case to support the U.S.-led coalition's subsequent assault. President Clinton's failure to make this case is neither accidental nor simply cordial, a case of being polite to the secretary general in the chamber of the General Assembly. He effectively accepted the Annan doctrine's logic. [emphasis added]

John Bolton, writing in the Weekly Standard in 1999.

I suspect Bolton will have mellowed in old age a tad...but his argument that the U.S. or NATO should not be hamstrung by UNSC vetoes is spot on. Bosnia and Kosovo displayed that in spades. Were we not to intervene to help stave off genocidal policies simply because the Russians and Chinese would veto? Annan had said: "enforcement actions without Security Council authorization threaten the very core of the international security system". But what threatens the core of the international system more? Inaction in the face of genocide because the Chinese, Russians or, yes, French have vetoed intervention in some hellish corner of the world? Or sending NATO into action to stave off genocidal aggression without the explicit imprimatur of UNSC approval? I think the former is more perilous--legal niceties aside. That said, Bolton goes too far in poo-pooing Clinton's ex post facto arguments about why, despite lack of U.N. approval, the Kosovo intervention was justified per more general U.N. criteria. By all means, take action when the national interest or humanitarian urgency demands--Beijing's plenipotentiary to Turtle Bay be damned. But you don't have to rub people's noses in it. The U.N. is sui generis--the only talking shop on the planet of such wide berth. Let's at least make a pretense and real go of having cohesive decision-making take place at the UNSC.

P.S. Bolton gets this dynamic better now--and I doubt he'll be penning pieces like this old Standard one anytime soon.

Posted by Gregory at March 9, 2005 03:30 AM | TrackBack (2)
Comments

Somewhat related, but did anybody else read last week's Economist article on UN peacekeeping? Apparently they do a decent job.

Posted by: Guy at March 9, 2005 04:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wasn't it the French who asked for US help in Bosnia?

Posted by: praktike at March 9, 2005 04:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

prak, that's a long and, er, very complex story. in this post, btw, inclusion of france was for illustrative purposes--not meant as a tie-in to Bosnia and/or Kosovo.

Posted by: greg at March 9, 2005 04:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gotcha. Just trying to be pedantic.

Posted by: praktike at March 9, 2005 06:17 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The reason to "rub people's noses in it", rather than just taking action, is to prevent statements like Annan's from becoming accepted as as customary international law. If you don't explicitly denounce these pronouncements, and push back hard against statements like this, then people and institutions start claiming they are accepted and settled issues in international law.

Posted by: Kevin at March 9, 2005 09:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In addition to Kevin's point, I'd say that the domestic angle is another reason to "rub people's noses in it."

In the UK at least, a good deal of the political flak fallout over Iraq has come from people upholding the UN as the sole source of legitimacy in international action, and the moral authority of the sainted Kofi.

It is because this has gone unchallenged rhetorically, even when circumvented practically, that such nonsense has virtually become conventional wisdom.

Posted by: John F at March 9, 2005 09:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike,

Pedantic nitpicker!

Posted by: Lance at March 9, 2005 03:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think it should be obvious that a vital first step of any reform of the UN would be to remove the veto. Any body as large as the UN should never be helpless to act due to the objections of one country.

Kinda doubt it'll happen. We like our veto power.

Posted by: fling93 at March 9, 2005 07:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Security Council veto is there for good reason. The UN is not a world government, cannot be a world government, and should not be expected to act like a world government. We can either be realistic about the things it can do or be continually disappointed when it fails to do things because powerful nations object.

I would argue that a key step in UN reform should be instead the expansion of the Security Council. The existing five members are a legacy of World War II, specifically of Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Policemen" that in his mind would cooperate to ensure peace in the postwar world, plus France.

This arrangement is clearly unsuitable now. It excludes the world's second and third largest economies, the world's second most populous country, every European country except France, and the entire continent of South America. Governments that could conceivably play a useful role in serious discussions of security matters, and that should be encouraged to do so, are denied this forum.

An expansion of the UNSC could leave unchanged the status of the United States, China and Russia. Britain would also keep its seat in recognition of its status as leader of the Commonwealth. Other places on the Council would be filled by India, Brazil, Japan, the European Union and Indonesia. The objective of this expansion would be to enhance the Council's role as a forum in which security issues of global import could be discussed seriously and responsibly. Major powers that wished to abstain from such discussions could certainly still do that, but at this stage there may be some advantages in encouraging countries like Japan and India to think beyond their immediate parochial interests. And the task of moderating discussions in a nine-member UNSC would likely be enough to keep future UN Secretaries General fully occupied.

Posted by: Zathras at March 10, 2005 04:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Zathras: The Security Council veto is there for good reason.

I don't think so. I think it is there because nations like having it, and treated it as part of the spoils of WWII.

Zathras: The UN is not a world government, cannot be a world government, and should not be expected to act like a world government. We can either be realistic about the things it can do or be continually disappointed when it fails to do things because powerful nations object.

What is it, then? A place where countries talk and posture but nothing ever gets done? What use is that? Seems awfully redundant with press conferences.

Zathras: I would argue that a key step in UN reform should be instead the expansion of the Security Council.

I agree as well (although I don't see why Britain should keep its seat), and The Economist made that point years ago, reiterating it from time to time. But although this is also a key step, this is not the reason the UN fails to act.

And if you think it's tough to get anything done with five possible vetoes, what would possibly happen with nine? That's just a recipe for more genocide. Better, I think, to raise the bar for a veto. Instead of allowing any one country from the Permanent Security Council, make it two or three.

Posted by: fling93 at March 10, 2005 08:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The UNSC vetoes are there to ensure UNSC resolutions at least vaguely correspond to poltical reality, and that it is not seen as a threat by those states with the power to undermine it.

A UNSC uncontrained by vetoes would quickly end up passing all sorts of silly resolutions, like the UNGA. These would either go unenforced, thus discrediting the UN, or would lead to agrieved major powers seeking to undermine the UN. Consider the Cold War - since the UN could not compel either the US or USSR to do anything it did not want to do neither superpower felt the need to destroy the UN. Imagine how either poewr would have treated the UN if they did not have the veto - they would not have deferred to the UNSC but instead have sougt to either control or destory it.

The vetoes are mereley a reflections of political reality. To the extent distrubtion of power has changed since 1945 perhaps the veto power should also be reapportioned.

Posted by: Kevin at March 13, 2005 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kevin: the vetoes are a reflection of political reality, but not "merely" a reflection. They are also an asset in themselves to the countries holding them. Unless some comparable recompense can be made to the current holders, they will never willingly give up this power.

Posted by: sammler at March 14, 2005 08:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Kevin: A UNSC uncontrained by vetoes would quickly end up passing all sorts of silly resolutions, like the UNGA.

Which is why I didn't say eliminate it altogether, but suggested raising the bar from one country to, say, two countries. I guess it'd be more like a filibuster than a veto.

sammler: Unless some comparable recompense can be made to the current holders, they will never willingly give up this power.

Well, you could say the same thing about nuclear weapons and trade barriers, but it's possible to negotiate those down. A country might be more willing to raise the bar for the veto knowing that it will be raised for all of the other countries as well.

Kevin: Imagine how either poewr would have treated the UN if they did not have the veto - they would not have deferred to the UNSC but instead have sougt to either control or destory it.

Since the UN has no power to enforce anything, they could just ignore it -- which is pretty much the same thing as vetoing the UN whenever they want to ignore it, which is what happens now.

But with two countries required for a veto, they might find it in their best interest (at least from a PR aspect) to instead try to convince just one other country to go along with them. This will probably involve compromises and concessions, but then again, that's the whole point of a multilateral institution.

Kevin: These would either go unenforced, thus discrediting the UN

That already happens now, so I can't imagine the UN being any more discredited. But this is less an issue of decision-making ability and more an issue on enforcement and power. It obviously wouldn't be fixed by changing the security council makeup.

No, it's not likely to change, but it's what would need to change if you want the UN to be able to do anything. Unless you support strengthening the UN, there's not much sense criticizing it for not being able to do what you don't really want it to be able to do.

Posted by: fling93 at March 15, 2005 02:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fling,

I am all over the map on the UN, but admittedly I am no big fan, however as to this quote:

"Unless you support strengthening the UN, there's not much sense criticizing it for not being able to do what you don't really want it to be able to do."

I think that is a really good point to keep in mind.

Posted by: Lance at March 15, 2005 10:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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