DURHAM -- The United Nations has often been criticized, but events after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11 show how essential it is to international peace and security. The U.N. Security Council, in particular, has proved its value in the present crisis.
To combat terrorism, and specifically Osama bin Laden's network and the Taliban government of Afghanistan, a broad and diverse coalition is necessary. President Bush quickly realized that the active cooperation of other countries, including Muslim countries, was essential to the intelligence and policy work needed to find terrorists and destroy their networks. The support of these countries was also important to avoid a severe political backlash against the use of military force in Afghanistan.
To secure such cooperation and support, country-by-country negotiations were necessary, but they were not sufficient. The campaign against terrorism needed to be rendered legitimate in the eyes of the world -- particularly in countries whose governments and people are suspicious of the United States. Unilateral American action could have too easily been portrayed as lashing-out by the powerful "hegemon" at the expense of the poor and the weak.
To be legitimate, action had to be authorized collectively, in a public forum representing the whole world. No such forum exists except the Security Council of the United Nations. Its 15 members currently include three Muslim countries -- Bangladesh, Mali and Tunisia. Unanimous resolutions by the Security Council belie the claim that efforts against terrorism are "anti-Muslim."
The Security Council has passed two unanimous resolutions on terrorism since Sept. 11. Meeting in New York the very next day, it adopted Resolution 1368, which unequivocally condemned the terrorist attacks on the United States, and called on the international community to redouble its "efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts." Resolution 1368 also referred to the "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense," in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. In effect, it declared that military action by the United States against those responsible for the attacks would be lawful.
On Sept. 28, the Security Council passed a more specific and equally far-reaching Resolution 1373. In this resolution it acted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which gives the Security Council authority to order states to carry out "the measures decided upon by the Security Council." In other words, the measures enumerated in Resolution 1373 are mandatory.
Resolution 1373 uses strong language. It calls upon all states to "deny safe haven to those who finance, plan, support or commit terrorist acts, or provide safe havens." It also calls upon all states to cooperate "to prevent and suppress terrorist attacks and take action against perpetrators of such attacks."
In other words, a unanimous Security Council, including three Muslim states, has not only recognized the right of the United States and its allies to self-defense, but has ordered all other states to cooperate in rooting out terrorism. Resolution 1373 constitutes extraordinary evidence of a global resolve to defeat terrorism. After its passage, no one can seriously declare that the fight against terrorism is merely an American struggle.
Resolutions 1368 and 1373 build on two years of U.N. resolutions against terrorism. In 1999 the Security Council called upon all states to fight terrorism and demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden to authorities in a country where he had been indicted. In December 2000 it specifically condemned the Taliban's sheltering and training of terrorists, and demanded, under the mandatory provisions of Chapter VII, that it "cease the provision of sanctuary and training for international terrorists."
These resolutions, defied by the Taliban, established a record that justified focusing responses to the Sept. 11 attack on that regime and on bin Laden.
If the United Nations did not exist, obtaining such a collective endorsement of the struggle against terrorism would be impossible. Bin Laden and his supporters could more easily claim that attacks against them are "crusades" by the hegemonic United States and its clients.
We should draw a long-term lesson from these events. Global international organizations are potentially valuable resources in crises. It is fair of us to criticize their shortcomings, but myopic to withhold our financial and political support from these institutions because we are irritated at criticism of U.S. policy.
On the contrary, during peaceful and prosperous periods we should seek to expand the capacity of international organizations such as the United Nations, so that in difficult times we can call upon them for support, such as the Security Council has shown during the past three weeks.
If the U.N. Security Council did not exist, it would have to be invented. But it could not be invented at a moment's notice. Without its continuing presence, our struggle against terrorism would be more difficult, and less likely to succeed.
Robert O. Keohane is the James B. Duke professor of political science at Duke University
© Copyright 2001, The News & Observer