Are We Ready for This?


Washington -- The most striking and least discussed aspect of U.N. practices in the current era is the increased number and kinds of situations in which the United Nations Security Council authorizes the use of force: Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Liberia, Angola and, most recently, Haiti.

Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait posed a classic problem: a clear case of cross-border aggression in which the armies of one state crossed international borders to invade another state. This is precisely the kind of international aggression the U.N. Charter anticipates and provides for. But Desert Storm was the last instance of international action which clearly fit the charter's prescription. Other decisions authorizing force have required stretching, bending and improvising the rules.

The Bush administration stretched the charter when the Security Council interpreted Iraq's massive human-rights violations against the Kurds as a threat to international peace and security. Traditionally, the brutal treatment of the Kurds would have been viewed as a strictly internal matter -- involving only Iraqis and their own government.

This was the first instance ever in which the Security Council authorized use of force in strictly internal affairs of a member state, but it has been by no means the last. This increasing use of force in the internal affairs of member states is an important departure from theory and precedent that deserves more discussion than it has had. Do we want to do this?

As traditionally interpreted, the U.N. Charter requires all nations to refrain in their international relations from the use and threat of use of force except in self-defense or collective self-defense, understood to include action to remove a direct threat to international security -- as by the Bush administration in Panama. No one has previously viewed the charter as authorizing use of force against a regime because of its internal organization or practices, nor because it denies or violates the rights of citizens, including the rights of self-determination, self-government, civil, political, economic or human rights.

Now, however, those clear principles of avoiding force and intervention have given way to the view that force is legitimate as long as it is authorized by the Security Council -- whether or not the purposes for which it is authorized are stated in the charter.

The result is a dramatic expansion in the circumstances in which force may be invoked by the strong states against weak states. (Military cost and the veto of the Security Council's five permanent members protect strong states against collective action.)

One of the preferred myths of this violent century is that war

poses the greatest threat of all to the life and well-being of people everywhere. But as B.J. Rummel demonstrates in his stunning new book, "Death By Government," many times more people have died at the hands of their own government than have died in war.

"In total," Mr. Rummel writes, "during the first 88 years of this century, almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death, buried alive, drowned, hanged, bombed or killed in any of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners."

His new book, the fourth in a series on mass murder by governments, catalogs the mega-murders -- those who have killed more than a million -- and seeks patterns in mass murder. The patterns are not difficult to discern. Dictatorships murder their subjects. Totalitarian dictatorships are most murderous of all. Democracies do not murder their citizens.

"Power kills; absolute power kills absolutely," "the more power a government has the more it can act arbitrarily according to its whims and desires of the elite; the more it will make war on others and murder its foreign and domestic subjects," and vice versa.

Since massive human-rights violations occur and wars originate inside repressive governments, that is where the international community wants to be to deal with them.

"Loose constructionists" of the U.N. Charter believe the existence of such problems justifies expanding U.N. jurisdictions deal with them. If international force is necessary to stop human-rights abuses in Haiti, then, they say, use it.

But what about human-rights abuses in China? Use of force there is unthinkable. China would block action with its veto and, if necessary, with military force. But current expansion of international force and jurisdiction into the internal affairs of states applies to major powers; to Russia, not to the associated nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States; to the United States, not to Haiti; to the developed states, not the undeveloped.

We are slipping into practices which enhance only the power of the strongest. Is this what we want to do? Someone had better think through this question -- and soon.

SG Jeane Kirkpatrick is a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad