UNSCOM has Always Done US Bidding
Mother Jones, 7 January 1999.
After we read reports of the US using the UN to spy on Iraq, we called Phyllis Bennis, an expert on US- UN relations to get her thoughts on just how bonedheaded the operation was. She sent us this e-mail in response..
The fact that US officials may have used UN weapons inspectors to spy for them isn't surprising. Whatever Iraqi secrets UNSCOM's on-the-ground inspectors were able to provide to the US were likely matched by the wealth of NSA satellite surveillance that Washington can gather at will.
The real issue is the willingness of the US, once again, to treat the United Nations with the utter disdain of a feudal emperor dissing his vassal king. Certainly that sort of treatment isn't new. Washington's current $1.5 billion in overdue UN bills is only slightly larger than usualthe US stopped paying its full bills a decade and a half ago, during the Reagan administration.
This is the part that matters most: UNSCOM was largely a creature
of the US from its beginnings. It has always been viewed with
a jaundiced eye by observers critical of US domination of the
UN And it has generally lived up to the most cynical expectations.
Although UNSCOM has ended up a disaster, it initially represented
a UN effort, however flawed, to craft an international enforcer
for disarmamentnot such a bad idea in these arms-bloated times,
especially in Iraq's arms-bloated neighborhood.
So what now? The US cannot be allowed to claim the unilateral
right to determine Iraq policy on its own. Iraq policy must be returned
to the United Nations. Not the UN that was the victim of Desert
Storm's false consensus and of Desert Fox's indifferent violations,
but a new UN, working to craft a new kind of multilateral diplomacy.
To begin that effort with policy towards Iraq, the following ideas
might be considered:
- The Security Council's corner on Iraq policy must be broken.
The Council's undemocratic makeup, and its subservience to US
and British vetoes, make it an insufficient venue for serious
consideration of Iraq disarmament policy. Other UN agencies
must be brought into the mix.
- Real disarmament, not pretext disarmament, must be reinstated
as the key aspect of UN policy in Iraq. To start with, UNSCOM
must be allowed to go public with the records found in Iraq and
already in its possession, documenting the source of Iraq's weapons
programs. (Currentlyand since its creationUNSCOM has
been prohibited from such disclosures.) This would facilitate
campaigns to stop the spread of weapons by going to the root of
the problem. Inspectors could identify and shut down supplier
companies, and target supplier countries with diplomatic pressure.
- The UN resolutions now governing Iraqi disarmament efforts
must be applied evenhandedly. Just for starters, those calling
for the establishment of a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and a Weapons
of Mass Destruction Free Zone throughout the Middle Eastnot
just in Iraq. With the US responsible for the vast majority
of arms flooding into the region, that's not a bad place to start.
- The crippling, civilian-slaughtering economic sanctions must
be ended. The example of Denis Halliday, who quit his post as
the UN's humanitarian coordinator in Iraq to protest the impact
of sanctions on civilian Iraqis, should serve as an object lesson
for what a new kind of internationalism and a new kind of international
organization must look like. Efforts to isolate regimes responsible
for their population's suffering must not be rooted in strategies
that make that suffering worse. Answering the Baghdad regime's
long-standing violations of civil and political rights (which
were just as bad during its two decades of close military alliance
with the US) with new and even deadlier violations of economic
and social rights by the US and its allies is not what we can
accept as a "human rights-driven foreign policy".
Copyright 1999 Mother Jones.