Uniting For Peace
UN General Assembly Provides
Crucial Opportunity for Global Peace Movement
by Jeremy Brecher
Counterpunch, April 2, 2003
The United Nations General Assembly is
hovering on the edge of calling an emergency session to challenge
the US attack on Iraq. But US opposition has been fierce. The
world's "other superpower" -- global public opinion
as expressed in the global peace movement -- can tip the balance
if it concentrates on demanding a UN General Assembly meeting
to halt the war on Iraq now.
Background When Egypt nationalized the
Suez Canal in 1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt
and began advancing on the Suez Canal. U.S. President Dwight
D. Eisenhower demanded that the invasion stop. Resolutions in
the UN Security Council called for a cease-fire--but Britain
and France vetoed them. Then the United States appealed to the
General Assembly and proposed a resolution calling for a cease-fire
and a withdrawal of forces. The General Assembly held an emergency
session and passed the resolution. Britain and France withdrew
from Egypt within a week.
The appeal to the General Assembly was
made under a procedure called "Uniting for Peace" (UfP).
This procedure was adopted by the Security Council so that the
UN can act even if the Security Council is stalemated by vetoes.
Resolution 377 provides that, if there is a "threat to peace,
breach of the peace, or act of aggression" and the permanent
members of the Security Council do not agree on action, the General
Assembly can meet immediately and recommend collective measures
to U.N. members to "maintain or restore international peace
and security." The "Uniting for Peace" mechanism
has been used ten times, most frequently on the initiative of
the United States.
The current situation At a meeting March
24, 2003, Arab foreign ministers condemned the invasion of Iraq
and called on the US and Britain to immediately withdraw their
forces without condition. The League's UN ambassador said, "We
will ask that the invasion stop, that the invading forces will
be withdrawn, and that Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity
and independence will be preserved." It instructed its UN
delegates to go first to the Security Council and then, if unsuccessful,
to the General Assembly.
The League requested and received a debate
in the Security Council. But the decision was made not to submit
a resolution against the war since a veto by the US and Britain
was nearly certain and the failure to pass such a resolution
might be used to defend the war's legitimacy.
After considerable hesitation, a coalition
of Arab, other Islamic, and developing countries decided to ask
for a special session on Iraq at the UN General Assembly. The
Organization of the Islamic Conference Group (OIC) declared on
Monday, March 31, that it is ready to take the Iraq war to the
General Assembly. The OIC, which includes 57 UN member countries,
indicated it would initiate such a meeting before April 9. The
plan is for a General Assembly special session to be formally
requested by Malaysian Ambassador Rastam Mohd Isa, who heads
the 115-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing countries
at the United Nations. The Malaysian Ambassador "plans to
request the special session, in a letter to . . . the assembly's
US Opposition Meanwhile, the US has been
"aggressively lobbying governments around the world for
the past two weeks to help head off an emergency assembly session
on Iraq." "We don't think a General Assembly meeting
is necessary," a U.S. official said. "This type of
session is only going to divide U.N. members."
Greenpeace has released the text of a
communication from the United States to UN representatives around
the world leaked by an "incensed" UN delegate. It stated,
"Given the highly charged atmosphere, the United States
would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful
and as directed against the United States. Please know that this
question as well as your position on it is important to the US."
It warned/threatened that "the staging of such a divisive
session could do additional harm to the UN."
Hanging in the balance While the overwhelming
majority of the world's people and nations oppose the Bush Administration's
attack on Iraq, fear of US retribution has repeatedly forced
UN members to draw back from actually implementing a "Uniting
for Peace" appeal to the General Assembly. According to
UPI, "An informal tally shows that there are not enough
nations aligned with the Arab states to bring the topic before
Currently various blocs in the UN are
discussing wording on which they might agree. An OIC statement
called for an immediate cease-fire, withdrawal of foreign forces
from Iraq, and respect for the sovereignty and political independence
of Iraq and its neighbors. However, the OIC is considering proposing
a milder resolution in the General Assembly, expressing regret
for the use of force against Iraq, in an effort to get support
from more nations, notably European nations. This process may
drag on for an undetermined time.
Why a UfP resolution matters A General
Assembly resolution will not in itself stop the war. General
Assembly actions may not be legally binding. Besides, the Bush
Administration has already shown it is willing to defy the UN
and international law. Nonetheless, such a resolution would be
a major blow to the Bush Administration--as its campaign to prevent
a General Assembly session indicates.
First, a UfP resolution will intensify
the fear of global isolation among the US public and elite. Such
fears will play a significant role in turning them not only against
the Iraq war but more generally against the Bush Administration
policy of preventive war and global domination.
Second, a UfP resolution will provide
a heightened legitimacy to all the actions of the global peace
movement. All its actions in every country will become not merely
the expression of an opinion but efforts to implement the decision
of the world's highest authority.
Third, a UfP resolution will lay the basis
for future UN action, both regarding Iraq and more broadly, that
can circumvent the US veto. It can thus provide the starting
point for reconstituting the UN as the voice of the world.
Why a UfP campaign matters A worldwide
campaign for UfP provides the global peace movement--the world'
s "other superpower--a unique opportunity.
- It provides a great focus for struggle
in the streets and in the political arena.
- It will allow the movement to show its
In every country where the majority of
the people oppose the war (probably every country in the world
except the US and Israel), the peace movement can demand that
the government reject US dictation and support UfP.
On the streets, UfP can become a central
demand of the next rounds of global anti-war demonstrations.
While it has been endorsed by many campaigning organizations,
such as CND in Britain and Greenpeace, it has yet to appear extensively
on the programs and picket signs of the big peace demonstrations
around the world. The way to go: A recent demonstration in Santiago,
Chile urged Chile's President to back a call for the United Nations
General Assembly to hold a special session to "adopt moral
sanctions against Bush."
In the political process, parliaments
can demand that their governments support UfP. The Russian Duma,
for example, recently passed a resolution calling for General
Assembly intervention in Iraq; so did the Senate Standing Committee
on Foreign Affairs of Thailand. Political parties provide another
arena: the Czech Republic's governing Social Democratic party,
whose government has waffled on the war, just voted nearly unanimously
to condemn it. (The motion was sponsored by Czech UN Ambassador
Jan Kavan, who happens also to be current President of the UN
In the US, the peace movement can expose
and attack Bush Administration's sabotage of the UN and its illegitimate,
deeply resented, and counter-productive efforts to interfere
in the political decisions of other countries all over the world.
This is also an opportunity for religious,
labor, and other groups in civil society to make their voices
heard. For example, a group of Italian Catholic associations
petitioned the Italian government demanding that "the UN
General Assembly be called to block, based on resolution 337
[Uniting for Peace], any action which does not comply with the
UN Charter so as to bring peace." They appealed for "a
ceasefire which will put an end to the useless massacre in Iraq."
And a group of international women's organizations called for
an emergency General Assembly meeting, noting that "the
resolve of many UN member states to stand firm against the US,
reinforced by the call to enact Uniting for Peace, offer hope
for a revitalized international system."
Jeremy Brecher is a historian and the
author of twelve books including STRIKE! and GLOBALIZATION FROM
BELOW. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information on Uniting for Peace based
on "A U.N. Alternative to War: 'Uniting for Peace"
by Michael Ratner, Center for Constitutional Rights http://www.ccr-ny.org/
and Jules Lobel, University of Pittsburgh Law School.
A Greenpeace web petition at www.greenpeace.org
calling for a General Assembly session has received 60,000 signatures
United Nations page