gentle Norwegians who decide on the Nobel peace prize have been accused of
many things in the past — poor judgment, political correctness and
regional bias — but no one ever suspected that behind their Nordic
inscrutability lies an exquisite sense of irony.
To bestow their
award on the UN and its secretary-general at a time when the world body’s
most powerful member is attacking its weakest is to either mock the
impotency of Kofi Annan and his colleagues or spur them into seeking an
end to this senseless and cowardly war.
Unequal adversaries have
often fought wars but never has such a formidable superpower attacked a
people so miserable and defenceless as the Afghans.
matter how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the US drops along with
less edible humanitarian material like cluster bombs, this is a war in
which civilians are go! ing to be killed in large numbers. Already, more
than 300 innocents have perished. No one is arguing that the US has
deliberately set out to kill civilians like the monsters who attacked the
World Trade Center did. But it is bombing Afghanistan with lethal ordnance
in the knowledge that noncombatants will die even without missiles going
In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for making refugees out
of the Kosovars. Today, forcing Afghans to become refugees under the
threat of bombardment is considered the apogee of
It is difficult to sustain the claim made by US
ambassador to the UN John Negroponte that the attack on Afghanistan is in
conformity with Article 51 of the UN Charter allowing the use of force in
self-defence. Apologists for Washington have gone further, arguing
dishonestly that the attack has been authorised by UN Security Council
resolution 1368, passed unanimously on September 12.
This when 10 days
before the bom! bing began, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice
herself declared the US did not need UN permission.
is a text whose clever imprecision was presumably crafted by the US to
allow the Security Council to avoid taking a stand on its desire to avenge
the September 11 attacks. It correctly calls terrorism a threat to
international peace and security but does not invoke Chapter VII of the UN
Charter under which punitive measures are envisaged. It makes no reference
to Afghanistan or to earlier UN resolutions (1267 and 1333) asking the
Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. Far from authorising the use of
force, it states the Security Council’s ‘‘readiness to take all necessary
steps to respond to the terrorist attacks in accordance with its
responsibilities under the UN Charter’’.
The language makes it
clear that Security Council members consider the UN (acting through its
highest organ) to be the appropriate body to a! ct against terrorism. The
right of self-defence is affirmed but in accordance with the Charter. To
contend — as the European Council did at its meeting on September 21 —
that ‘‘SC Resolution 1368 (means) a riposte by the US is legitimate’’
against any country is to argue that the right of self-defence is not
subject to the legal constraints envisaged by the Charter.
that the US says it reserves the right to take military action in
‘self-defence’ against other countries as well, some European states are
finally getting cold feet at the thought that Iraq, Syria, Libya or Iran
might be the targets of a ‘‘riposte’’.
Though the US has the right
to defend itself against an armed attack from another country or an armed
group, the International Court of Justice ruled in the landmark Nicaragua
case of 1986 that this does not confer on an aggrieved state a blank
cheque to use force against anothe! r. The US would have to prove that the
terrorists who struck on September 11 were sent ‘‘by or on behalf of’’
Afghanistan in order to fulfil the ICJ’s criterion for exercising the
right of self-defence against that country. So far, the US has provided no
Moreover, self-defence must respect the principles of
necessity and propor- tionality: Washington has to demonstrate that the
bombing is needed to stop an imminent attack from Afghanistan and not
merely from terrorists who may already be in the US.
on the ICJ’s ruling, Prof Louis Henkin wrote: The right of self-defence is
‘‘limited to cases of armed attack that are generally beyond doubt; a
state’s responsibility for acts of terrorism is rarely beyond doubt and
difficult to prove... Article 51 gives a right...to defend against an
armed attack. This right does not allow for retaliation for armed
attacks...or (force) to deter future atta! cks’’. That is why the
international community has repeatedly condemned Israeli attacks on
Lebanon and would surely criticise India for any strikes on militant bases
across the Line of Control in Pakistan.
Even if the US can prove
the complicity of the Taliban in the September 11 atrocities,
international law stresses force should be resorted to after all avenues
for a peaceful solution are exhausted. As it seeks to bring the
conspirators to justice, the US could have sought a tightening of UN
sanctions against the Taliban pending further action. The speedy
implementation of UN Conventions against terrorism could also have been
made a priority. Instead, the US has rushed headlong into a unilateral war
that will not reduce the threat of terrorism by one iota.
the UN has been paralysed, India, China and Russia have appeased the US
violation of international law on the assumption that terrorism is being
fought. When Washington speaks of widening t! he war against terrorism, it
does not mean Pakistan, Xinjiang or Chechnya but Iraq, Iran and other
opponents of US power. The US aim is to maintain its domination over the
oil resources of the Gulf region and extend its military influence into
the heart of Central Asia.
The only countries to take an
honourable stand on the US attack are Iran and Cuba, both victims of
international terrorism and critics of the Taliban and the September 11
atrocities. Iran and Cuba are proof of the Manichean absurdity of
President Bush’s fatwa that ‘‘you are either with us or with the
terrorists’’. More countries must join their ranks. Nobel winner Kofi
Annan should issue an immediate call for the US to stop its war and return
to the UN for discussions on how the scourge of terrorism can be fought.
This month’s General Assembly debate saw many countries make proposals —
legal, political and economic. These should be seriously examined.
An! ill-defined and unilateral war that undermines international
law and the UN Charter can only lead to the perpetuation of terrorism, not