U.N. Speech on Iraq: Background
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JIM LEHRER: Now on to the United Nations and Iraq. President Bush and other leaders laid out their visions for Iraq before the U.N. General assembly today. Ray Suarez begins our coverage.
RAY SUAREZ: Today’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly proved to be a canvas illustrating many of the tensions building in the chamber since the United States opted to go to war in Iraq without explicit U.N. Approval. It fell to Secretary-General Kofi Annan to attempt to bridge the gaps that remain among some of the world’s leaders, defending the U.N.’s role, while implicitly criticizing U.S. actions.
KOFI ANNAN: Since this organization was founded, states have generally sought to deal with threats to the peace through containment and deterrence, by a system based on collective security and the United Nations charter. Article 51 of the charter prescribes that all states, if attacked, retain the inherent right of self-defense. But until now, it has been understood that when states go beyond that and decide to use force to deal with broader threats to international peace and security, they need the unique legitimacy provided by the United Nations. Now, some say this understanding is no longer tenable since an armed attack with weapons of mass destruction could be launched at any time without warning or by a clandestine group. Rather than wait for that to happen, they argue states have the right and obligation to use force preemptively, even on the territory of other states and even while the weapon systems that might be used to attack them are still being developed. According to this argument, states are not obliged to wait until there is agreement in the Security Council. Instead they reserve the right to act unilaterally or in ad hoc coalitions.
This logic represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years. My concern is that if it were to be adopted, it would set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force with or without justification. But it is not enough to denounce unilateralism unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some states feel uniquely vulnerable, since it is those concerns that drive them to take unilateral action. We must show that those concerns can and will be addressed effectively through collective action.
RAY SUAREZ: Without responding directly to the secretary- general’s criticism, President Bush defended U.S. actions in Iraq as part of a necessary war against terror.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: All governments that support terror are complicit in a war against civilization. No government should ignore the threat of terror, because to look the other way gives terrorists the chance to regroup, and recruit, and prepare. And all nations that fight terror as if the lives of their own people depend on it will earn the favorable judgment of history. The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world.
The Security Council was right to be alarmed. The Security Council was right to demand that Iraq destroy its illegal weapons and prove that it had done so. The Security Council was right to vow serious consequences if Iraq refused to comply. And because there were consequences, because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace and the credibility of the United Nations, Iraq is free, and today we are joined by representatives of a liberated country. Across Iraq, life is being improved by liberty. Across the Middle East, people are safer because an unstable aggressor has been removed from power. Across the world, nations are more secure because an ally of terror has fallen. Our actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were supported by many governments, and America is grateful to each one. I also recognize that some of the sovereign nations of this assembly disagreed with our actions. Yet there was, and there remains, unity among us on the fundamental principles and objectives of the United Nations.
RAY SUAREZ: But French President Jacques Chirac chose tough language to make his case that the U.S.-Led war in Iraq did irreparable damage to the world body.
PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC ( Translated ): The United Nations has just weathered one of its most serious trials in its history. Respect for the charter, the use of force, were at the heart of the debate. The war, which was started without the authorization of the Security Council, has shaken the multilateral system. Having taken stock of this crisis, our organization is now resuming its onward march, for it is primarily within this forum, the crucible of international law, that we must exercise our responsibilities to the world and to future generations.
In an open world, no one can live in isolation; no one can act in the name of everyone; no one can accept the anarchy of a society without rules. There is no alternative to the United Nations. But in order to meet today’s challenges, this fundamental choice, expressed by the charter, requires a far-reaching reform of our organization. Multilateralism is crucial because it ensures the participation by all in managing the affairs of the world. It guarantees the legitimacy and democracy, in particular, when it is a question of deciding on the use of force or of laying down universal norms.
RAY SUAREZ: The French president also said a reconstruction will only succeed if power is transferred to the Iraqi people quickly.
PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC ( Translated ): In Iraq, the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis, who must have sole responsibility for their destiny, is essential for stability and reconstruction. It is up to the United Nations to lend its legitimacy to that process. It is also up to the United Nations to assist with the gradual transfer of administrative and economic responsibilities to the Iraqi institutions according to a realistic timetable, and to help the Iraqis draft a constitution and to hold general elections.
RAY SUAREZ: President Bush left the chamber before President Chirac spoke, but the two met later privately. The French president told reporters afterwards there were many areas of French-U.S. agreement, and he did not want to see differences over the post war Iraq political transition blown up.