Rebuilding UN during Iraq War

The Hill Times
2003.03.24
By Senator Douglas Roche
roched@sen.parl.gc.ca

PARLIAMENT HILL--Just as the United Nations was constructed during the darkest days of World War II, so too must the rebuilding of the UN be started now during the Iraq war.

There is no time to lose in restoring the UN as humanity's best hope for maintaining peace and security throughout the world.

The Government of Canada must play a leading role in helping to repair the terrible rupture that has split the international community.

Canada may have been rebuffed in trying to bridge the positions of the UN and the U.K. on the one side and France, Russia and Germany on the other as our country sought to avert war. But we will not be rebuffed this time if we put a wholehearted effort into strengthening the UN.

Everybody needs the UN. That is a basic fact of modern life. But it is under heavy attack by those who have never been willing to invest it with the authority it was meant to have to stop wars. U.S. President George W. Bush could not have been more wrong when he said in his 48-hour ultimatum speech last week: "The United Nations Security Council has not lived up to its responsibilities." It is not the UN that failed. War was brought on by those who did not have faith in UN processes.

Now the capacity of the UN to provide humanitarian relief to victims of the war is strained as never before. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is pleading for money for food and medicines for the most vulnerable in Iraq, the elderly, women, children and the disabled. Of the $123-million he has requested, only $45-million has been received. UNICEF's director, Carol Bellamy, says many of the malnourished children in Iraq may not have the strength to survive the war.

The world community cannot take the time for recriminations about whose fault it is that war has broken out, or who is responsible for the cleanup. The human crisis demands that we help the suffering people now.

That is the foremost job of the UN at this moment. The Canadian government, in naming Susan Whelan, Minister of International Development, as the lead minister in Canada's effort to help the reconstruction of Iraq, has taken a step forward.

But the UN's problem is much bigger than mounting the resources to help the afflicted. It is the credibility of the UN as the basis for international law that must also be restored. That is hard to do at this moment when emotions are running so high about the performance of the Security Council. But this task too must be started. It is in Canada's direct interest to stop the erosion of support for the UN's paramount function, which is to end the scourge of war.

The UN must not be reduced to a welfare agency. Important as its humanitarian work is, the UN's primary responsibility is to stop nations from warring on one another. We have not yet reached the level of civilization where national governments will invest the UN with the authority it needs, but we must keep trying to strengthen the body of international law that can preserve a semblance of order in the world.

More international law has been developed through the UN in the past five decades than in the previous history of humanity. Just because it cannot prevent all wars does not invalidate the work of trying to stop all wars. The work of achieving disarmament through peaceful means rather than war must go on. It will be supported by the millions who marched for peace in recent days.

Now -- when the UN badly needs shoring up -- is the moment for Canada to act. By staying out of the Iraq war but not criticizing the countries that went to war, Canada has the right credentials to stimulate the UN's ability to keep the peace. We need to help all sides recover a belief in the UN and not allow it to be marginalized in the building of law and order.

This is a unique opportunity for Canada, which is widely respected throughout the world. Nothing would better signal our willingness to work in such a positive manner than for Prime Minister Chrétien to meet soon with Secretary-General Annan. The photo of such a meeting would send out a powerful message.