U.N. Resolutions Frequently Violated
UNITED NATIONS -- When President Bush chastises the U.N. for letting Iraq violate 16 Security Council resolutions, what he doesn’t mention is that Iraq is not alone. Nearly 100 U.N. resolutions are being violated by other countries, and in many cases, a recent study notes, enforcement is being blocked by the United States or its allies.
The consistent breaches highlight the essential conundrum of the United Nations: The world body has the power to pass resolutions but not always the power to enforce them -- creating sometimes catastrophic situations and, as Bush has charged, eroding its own relevance.
In a review of five decades of U.N. resolutions, University of San Francisco professor Stephen Zunes identifies at least 91 resolutions that clearly are being violated in addition to the Iraq violations. His analysis suggests that the degree of compliance depends on the influence of each state and its backers.
Israel, by Zunes’ count, is in violation of 31 resolutions. The violations stem from its refusal to accept the U.N.'s land-for-peace formula put forward in 1967 and its defiance of a dozen later resolutions demanding that it cease violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention for Occupying Powers, such as deportations, demolitions of homes and seizure of property.
Resolution 487, passed in 1981, has particular resonance in the debate over Iraq’s disarmament because it calls upon Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the safeguard of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.
The discrepancy is not lost on Iraq. In a speech Wednesday to the Security Council, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. Mohammed Douri pointed out that by Iraq’s reckoning, Israel has refused to implement 28 resolutions, but the U.S. is not talking about invading Israel.
The U.S., one of five veto-holding members of the Security Council -- along with Britain, France, China and Russia -- has used its veto more than 40 times to block additional resolutions on Israel.
In second place is Turkey, with 23 breaches following a resolution in 1974 calling for it to withdraw its troops from Cyprus. When Turkey -- a member of NATO and key U.S. ally -- did not comply, the Security Council reiterated its demand 11 more times over a decade.
In 1996, the Security Council demanded that Turkey at least reduce its troops and military spending in Cyprus, and repeated that demand eight more times through 2001.
Morocco has 18 violations, following demands in 1975 that it withdraw its occupation forces from Western Sahara and in 1991 that it allow a referendum for Western Saharans on self-determination.
While some resolutions create legally binding obligations under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows military enforcement, others function more like formal recommendations that have no teeth but carry political weight.
“Despite the failures to follow them, the Security Council’s decisions do matter,” said Robert Rosenstock, former legal counsel for the U.S. mission at the U.N. “Even if the resolution is not legally binding, there is a political price to be paid for violating it.”
But the fact that, in most cases, all the U.N. can do is repeat itself shows the inherent weakness of the world organization: There is often not enough resolve behind its resolutions.
“This has been the dilemma for the U.N.: It has the legal authority, but not always the means to follow up its decisions,” said Edward Luck, director of the Center on International Organization at Columbia University. “It’s a rare case that they do.”
Although the U.N. Charter authorizes military action for enforcement of Chapter 7 resolutions, there is no formal agreement about how force should be used. Each time the Security Council deems military action necessary, its member states must decide the details among themselves -- an often time-consuming process, with varying degrees of commitment.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a 1995 resolution creating U.N.-protected “safe havens” for Bosnian Muslims turned into a catastrophe. A safe haven at Srebrenica became a death trap when Bosnian Serbs overcame the understaffed Dutch U.N. peacekeepers and massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslims seeking asylum there.
Despite periodic attempts to guarantee strong enforcement with a quick-reaction force made up from member nations’ troops, the U.S. has been quick to squelch such efforts.
“Neither the U.S. nor other countries have been willing to allow international command of their forces,” Luck said. “The last thing the U.S. wants is an independent U.N. throwing its weight around.”
Although Bush has castigated the U.N. for its apparent weakness, historically the United States has not wanted the U.N. to become too powerful.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the 1970s, wrote in his memoirs: “The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with not inconsiderable success.”
In the current debate over passing another resolution on Iraq, the U.S. is asking the U.N. to “prove its relevance” and back a possible military strike to ensure Iraq’s disarmament, an effort Luck calls “a la carte multilateralism.” In other words, he says, the U.S. wants the U.N. to be effective, as long as it is serving the U.S. agenda.
“They aren’t going to allow the organization to dictate things inconsistent with the objectives of U.S. leadership,” Luck said.