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World On The Edge Of A Precipice
Dr.Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, February 20, 2003

"We have been forced into a conflict. For we are called with allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world. It is the principle, which permits a state in the selfish pursuit of power to disregard its treaties and its solemn pledges: which sanctions the use of force, or threat of force, against the security and independence of other states. Such a principle stripped of all disguise is surely the mere primitive doctrine that might is right; and if this principle were established throughout the world, the freedom of our country, and of the whole British Commonwealth of nations would be in danger".

[Radio Broadcast on September 3, 1939 by King George VI]

What makes this statement particularly relevant today is that it signifies the essential proposition on which the edifice of peace in the post war period is founded: That no state has the right to attack another state unless attacked first. This is also an essential part of the UN charter. History appears to have come full circle as the principle articulated by King George VI is in danger of being violated by the doctrine of pre-emptive attack that gained currency following the tragic events of 9/11. Once again a fragile world peace is threatened. Once again the imperatives of state power stand in stark contrast with the call of human civilization. What use is civilization if it cannot be brought to bear at such a juncture to enhance human life?

The millions of citizens across the world who last Saturday demonstrated against war, were united by the apprehension that the imminent US led war against Iraq could trigger another global war. This time, given the existence of nuclear weapons, such a war may end in a nuclear Armageddon. The question is not that Saddam Hussain is a brutal dictator. He is. The question is that the way Europe and the US deal with him may determine the future of the United Nations and the framework of world peace which it provides. The stakes as Monsieur Villepin, the brilliant French Foreign Minister, put it, are War and Peace.

Dr. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector reported in the Security Council on 14th February that while they had found no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, yet the Saddam regime had not accounted for the chemical and biological weapons they were supposed to have possessed in 1991. While cooperation had increased, and substantial progress made in the inspections process, yet "full and active" cooperation was not yet forthcoming. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that some of the key permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, Germany, Russia and China) took the view that the UN inspectors must be allowed to continue their job and peaceful methods must first be exhausted before using force against Iraq to achieve compliance of the Security Council Resolution 1441. The position taken by the United States and Britain amongst others was that since Iraq was technically in breach of the resolution, force was already justified. It appears that at the moment the UN Security Council is unlikely to pass a resolution in favour of an immediate war against Iraq. The issue the world faces is that if the US and Britain attack Iraq outside the UN framework, they would irrevocably undermine the UN system as a framework of ensuring orderly relations between states. On the other hand if the Security Council itself is seen to sanction war without first having exhausted all avenues of peaceful disarmament of Iraq, then it will have undermined itself as an institution that maintains international peace. Perhaps this is why the French Foreign Minister in his speech before the Security Council last Friday, sagaciously emphasized both the need to remain within the framework of the UN in dealing with Iraq, and to use force only as a last resort after all peaceful means had been exhausted.

The issue of using force against Iraq to achieve compliance of Security Council Resolution 1441, also has to be seen in the broader political context. If Iraq is attacked for violating this UN resolution without first exhausting peaceful means to ensure compliance, then the question that will be raised (and indeed has been raised), is why should Israel which has also violated UN resolutions be left untouched? The political conclusions that will be drawn from this inconsistency in treating errant states, will create a further polarization between the Muslims on the one hand and the western state system including its multilateral institutions on the other. Such a political reaction could not only destabilize Arab states run by pro US regimes, but also have adverse implications for the war against terrorism. It would be counter productive to fight the war against terrorists, such that the breeding grounds of terrorism are enlarged. It would then become a war without end. The question of even handedness in enforcing international law is essential to its credibility.

The speech by Monsieur Dominique Villepin in the Security Council last Friday got an ovation in the Security Council and found resonance in the mass street demonstrations across the world the following day. It was inspiring because it gave a sense that the world was on the edge of a precipice, confronting either war or peace. It implied that at such a moment when humanity is at stake, the actions of world leaders must be based not on the short-term interests of state power but on the wisdom drawn from human civilization. This is the collective heritage of all states, old and new (Mr. Rumsfield's distinction notwithstanding). It is just that you need leaders of vision to draw upon this common wellspring of wisdom at key moments in history. The US too once had such a leader who could translate the richness of human civilization into the practice of state craft. It was President John F. Kennedy. He was able to pull the world back from the brink of nuclear war during the 1961 Cuban missile crisis. He did this essentially by his awareness of the danger of leaders getting divorced from their humanity and getting locked into the syndrome of power. He it was who said, "I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics but for our contributions to the human spirit".

It is this urge to nurture and enhance human life that must guide the actions of world leaders at a time when we stand between war and peace. The millions of citizens across the world who demonstrated for peace on 15th February showed this consciousness. The question is, can the leaders take guidance from their people?

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