Jewish World Review Oct. 11, 2002 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The center-left consensus shaping up as a response to the Iraqi challenge holds that the United States should move against Baghdad alone if it must, but with the United Nations if it can. This implicit endorsement of the superiority of multilateral action flies in the face of the evidence of international peacekeeping missions over the past decade.
When the decisions governing air strikes in Bosnia to protect the Muslim population from Serbian invasion rested with the United Nations, military attacks were rare and largely ineffective. Time and again, the United Nations stayed the hand of American air power using every excuse known to mankind. Fearful of killing innocents, worried that its peacekeepers might be taken as hostages or used as human shields, the United Nations refused to pull the multilateral trigger that rested against its finger.
Frustrated with the U.N. failure to act, President Bill Clinton moved decisively in May and June of 1995 to negotiate with the British and French to take the decisions over Bosnia peacekeeping operations away from the United Nations and vest them in NATO instead. When the three agreed, they stripped the world body of the ability to make decisions and took the power unilaterally.
Within two months, the Bosnian Serbs tested the will of NATO by escalating their attacks. The U.S.-British-French response was swift, strong and immediate, and the Bosnian Serbs were forced from the battlefield into the talks that resolved the conflict and forced their withdrawal.
It was the multilateralists who clamored for deployment of U.S. ground troops in Kosovo and criticized America's bombing-only campaign as weak and unlikely to succeed. Impervious to their criticism, Clinton continued to bomb and the Serbs gave up once again.
When the multilateral approach prevails, as in the Gulf War of 1991, the results are often half-baked and inconclusive. It was multilateral pressure that led the previous President Bush to make the disastrous decision to leave Saddam Hussein alive and in power when a simple march on Baghdad would have toppled his regime.
The entire current crisis could have been avoided if Bush had remained impervious to international pressure and global opinion.
Indeed, the entire thrust of world public opinion during the Cold War counseled the importance of arms control deals and warned of the recklessness of the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Yet history documents that it was precisely the economic challenge of the arms race in general and the SDI threat in particular that brought about the implosion of the communist system in the Soviet Union.
Why are multilateral initiatives less likely to succeed than unilateral action by one or two nations? It all goes back to the idea that a camel is a horse built by a committee. In alliances and international coalitions, it is usually the most timid voices that prevail. Let's remember that the very nations who oppose U.S. action are the ones whose own military investment is so limited that they are incapable of action on their own. If a nation accords so low a priority to military readiness, why should we hand over to its commanders and diplomats the veto over American and British military deployment?
In fact, one could go all the way back to the pre-World War II era to document how
the nations now pushing for multilateralism and condemning the current American
penchant for solitary action were precisely those who were either neutral,
collaborationist or downright enemies during the war period. From the defeatist
French to the Nazi-allied Soviets to Germany itself, the very nations now urging the
United States to restrain its pursuit of self-defense and global security were those
nations who let Adolph Hitler dominate Europe. Their counsel now is no better than
it was then.
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