"… the UN game, though nearing its climax, is not quite over yet."
"A new resolution would undoubtedly help both men [Blair and Bush] with public opinion, which in their own countries and around the world is largely hostile to any use of force against Iraq that lacks such UN cover."
"American public opinion remains favourable, but only narrowly." (The Economist, Jan 30, 2003)
"US and British officials at the UN headquarters in New York and in embassies across four continents have embarked on one of the biggest diplomatic arm-twisting exercises in years to win support for a UN resolution giving the go-ahead for war against Iraq… Economic incentives, as well as diplomatic pressure, are on offer." (The Guardian, February 1, 2003)
Opposition to the coming war against Iraq is massive. A huge majority of the peoples of Europe are against the war. In countries like Italy and Belgium a majority is against the war whether there is UN backing or not. And as the day of reckoning draws closer tensions are now growing between the major powers. The purpose of this article is to expose the real nature of the UN. But we should also note that an unprecedented conflict within NATO itself has now erupted. At the heart of this conflict is France. For years there has been a conflict of interests around the world, which has seen France struggling to maintain its spheres of influence. The latest tensions over Iraq highlight the different interests which these imperialist powers have. We will return to this question later in the week.
What we can say is that it would be creating further illusions if anyone thinks that this conflict can stop the war. France, Germany and Russia are not raising opposition because they are against war. What their "opposition" reflects is that they are worried they will lose out once the US goes into Iraq. They are upping the stakes, as the saying goes. If at the end of the day they still oppose war, they will not do anything concrete to stop it. They are not in a position to do so. The US has already stated that if necessary they will do without a second resolution and will go in on the basis of resolution 1441.
As we said, the movement against the war, the real opposition, expressed by millions of ordinary working people around the world (not the false opposition of minor capitalist powers), is growing. Unfortunately, however, many of the antiwar movement leaders are basing their opposition on the UN criteria. They are demanding that there be no war unless the UN backs it. That is a weak point in the movement, which can lead to great confusion at a later stage.
Although Bush has threatened to do without a second a resolution, Tony Blair is in a different position. The antiwar movement in Britain is very strong. On Saturday, February 15, anything from 500,000 to a million people are expected to turn up in London for the antiwar demonstration. Last week Tony Blair was interviewed on BBC television. His appearance on the programme was intended to answer the doubts of millions of British people. He was not there to listen to the public and be convinced that he should call off his war plans. Anyone listening to him can have no doubts about his (or Bush’s) intentions. They are going to war!
However, what did emerge quite clearly were the difficulties he is having in convincing the British people that this war is necessary. That explains why Blair is fretting about a second UN resolution. Apparently, it is the British who are working out the exact wording of such a resolution. One woman in the TV studio pointed out to Blair that everyone she knew was against the war. Blair asked her if a second UN resolution would make a difference. She answered yes. Blair’s face on hearing this showed that he feels he needs a second resolution to swing public opinion behind him.
The second UN resolution
Unfortunately, this question of the second resolution is being used to obscure the real issues at stake here. The UN is presented as some kind of legitimate "world government" (which it is not). The argument is that, if the UN approves, then it is OK! Unfortunately many of those who oppose the war do so on the basis that it would be a unilateral action without the support of the UN.
The popular British Daily Mirror has been waging quite a strong campaign against the war, and so far it has collected over 180,000 signatures. But the wording that people are being asked to put their signature to is the following: "Mr Blair, I hereby register my opposition to any war with Iraq not justified by unequivocal UN evidence."
The whole campaign is thus based on the UN, and not on what the war is really about. So what happens if there is a second UN resolution supporting war? Would that make the war a just war? That is why it is worth taking a closer look at how the UN actually works.
The decision on an eventual second resolution will be taken by the Security Council. This is made up of 15 members, five permanent and ten non-permanent. If we look at the make up of the present council and the position of each country involved we will see quite clearly that this is no independent body. The United States is the richest and most powerful country in the world, and it has ways of "convincing" most of the Security Council members.
A significant number of the present Security Council members depend on US aid or trade with the US. And the US officials are quite blunt about what this means. One of them said: "We would certainly not remind those countries who receive US aid of that assistance in a meeting when we are discussing an issue like Iraq. That would be inappropriate." But he also added: "Those countries that receive aid from the United States themselves recognise the importance of donor dollars, and don't need to be reminded." (reported in The Guardian, February 1, 2003)
In order to be convincing the USA and Britain need to get a sizeable majority on the Security Council. It is generally accepted that they need at least nine to support the war. Britain and the USA are already for war. That means they need to "convince" another seven. How hard or difficult this will be will become evident if we examine briefly the position of each of them.
The 15 UN Security Council members
Bulgaria is supporting US policy to the hilt. Bulgaria’s economy is in a mess. It has a total GDP of US$19 billion (US$2,560 per head). Compare this to the US GDP of US$10,885 billion (US$37,600 per head) and you get a clear picture of the real balance of forces here. Bulgaria’s Simeon II National Movement government is attempting to privatise the old state run system. Some of it has already been sold off, but things are still slow for the likings of the western bourgeois. Part of the policy of privatisation also involves huge cuts in welfare spending and this is leading the government to lose support among the population. Because of all this Bulgaria is not up for immediate acceptance into the EU, but it desperately wants to get in and get "help" from the west. In an attempt to ingratiate itself with the west it has applied for membership of NATO. It has also granted the US Bulgarian bases for its mobilisation against Iraq. Just two months ago the US invited it to join and now the Senate is discussing ratifying its membership. So Bulgaria is not going to do anything that goes against the interests of the US.
The Spanish government of Aznar is also fully supporting US policy. It wants to demonstrate its firmness in the "war on terrorism". It has its own home grown problem of ETA. Bush has allowed Spain access to US intelligence on ETA activities. So, as the saying goes, "they owe one" to the US. But more importantly Spain is a minor power within the EU and sees in the present line up between the US and Britain on the one side and France and Germany on the other an opportunity to redress the balance of forces within the EU. So Aznar is really joining Blair as a poodle of US imperialism. This is similar to the behaviour of some of the weak Central European countries. In order to strengthen their position in their relations with their stronger neighbours such as Germany and France they try and lean on the USA, thus swapping one wolf for another!
Chile is economically tied to the US. It has been through a long process of negotiating free trade with the USA. With the crisis that has hit its neighbours, especially Argentina, it cannot afford to lose outlets for its exports. Therefore, knowing which side its bread is buttered on, it will side with its master, the USA.
Angola depends heavily on US investments. The US is Angola’s biggest importer of oil. And in January the US state department announced "emergency refugee relief" for Angola to the tune of $4.1m. So Angola is in the bag as well.
The Cameroon’s principles are determined by oil, the same as Bush. It has been in an ongoing conflict with Nigeria over who owns the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, which lies on the border between the two countries. In October the International Court of Justice ruled in favour of the Cameroon. And, surprise, surprise, in spite of Nigeria’s complaints, (and its long history of being within the British sphere of influence, while the Cameroon comes within the French) the US and Britain supported the Court’s decision. What would their position have been if Nigeria had been on the Security Council instead?
Then we have Guinea. This is one of poorest countries in Africa. It will vote for a second resolution and support the war. Could this be because this small country has been receiving $50m a year, and military training, although it can in no way be classed as a democracy?
Mexico has recently asked for more time to be given to the inspectors. But 85% of its exports go to the USA. Therefore what its final decision is going to be is not difficult to work out.
Pakistan is also calling for continued weapons inspections. General Pervez Musharraf has plenty of problems at home. There is widespread opposition to the war among the population. He therefore needs to portray himself as being against the war. But Bush has promised sizeable loan arrangements to Pakistan. Therefore Musharraf may find his way to abstaining. But because opposition is so strong inside Pakistan itself, he may be forced to vote against. He may do this on the understanding that there is already a sufficiently large majority on the Council. But he would undoubtedly pay the consequences at a later stage. Already the US are making noises about the Pakistani secret services harbouring al-Qaeda terrorists.
France is playing hard to get. Its present position is that the inspections must continue. It has come up with a proposal, together with Germany and Russia, that would delay any war. It would involve the sending of huge numbers of UN troops. The US have obviously refuse this kind offer on the part of the French.
This latest position does not reflect a principled stand against war. As we have pointed out in other articles even French participation in an eventual force is by no means ruled out. (see The war aims of the Great Powers in the Middle East and the consequences of the coming invasion of Iraq )
As The Economist has recently pointed out: "…even France, though President Jacques Chirac seems to share the populist tendencies of Germany's Gerhard Schröder, has not ruled out joining military action in the right circumstances." (our emphasis) (The Economist, February 1, 2003)
What would these "circumstances" be? France is working out how much it would lose in the Middle East if the US and Britain went in alone and took control of Iraq. What would happen to all those valuable contracts it has signed with Saddam Hussein? These are France’s guiding principles. Thus if it decides that it should side with the USA, in order to salvage something, a declaration from Blix that Iraq is not fully "complying" would be used to do an about-face. (Blix has already indicated that Iraq is not complying fully.) On that basis even France could be "brought to its senses" and vote for a US sponsored resolution on the Security Council.
Russia has come out in support of France’s proposal, and is also calling for more time to be given to the inspectors, but it has also declared that if Baghdad hampers inspections then it may change its position and vote for war. In this sense, it is in a similar position to France.
In an attempt to appease Russia the US has agreed to a request to blacklist three Chechen rebel groups. What this means is quite clear. If the Russians support the US in Iraq then the US will close its eyes to what the Russians are doing to the Chechen people, all in the name of the "war on terrorism" of course.
Russia’s oil companies are also worried about several multibillion dollar contracts they have signed with the present Iraqi regime, but the US have promised that they will honour these contracts.
Again, as The Economist explained: "Russia has huge oil interests to protect in Iraq, under contracts, some of them signed very recently, with Mr Hussein's regime, and wants to recover $8 billion or more in Soviet-era debts. It is therefore less concerned at Iraq's misbehaviour, argue some American and European officials, than it is about receiving American assurances before any council vote that its commercial interests will be taken into account. Yet this week President Vladimir Putin for the first time publicly warned Iraq that Russia's position would toughen if it failed to co-operate with the inspectors. And if Russia were to acquiesce in military action, China probably would too." (The Economist, February 1, 2003). Thus Russia also has a price.
China is also insisting on the inspections. But it does not want to see the UN lose its so-called "legitimacy". Therefore it is likely to oppose the US verbally, but not vote against a second resolution, and will probably follow the same road as Russia.
France, Russia and China are the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council. They have the right to use the veto and thus stop any UN resolution from being approved. It is unlikely they will actually use the veto. They will make a lot of noise, but will not go that far. In any case the US and Britain have made it abundantly clear that they will ignore the veto, if there is a majority on the Security Council. If this happens the irrelevance of the UN will become apparent to all. So France, Russia and Germany have the choice of either applying the veto and then being ignored, or of allowing a resolution to go through and appear to still have weight within the Council and also to maintain the fiction that the UN has a real role in world affairs. And, more importantly it would be in a position to salvage something of its contracts. At the end of the day it is all about profits!
Germany is still opposing any moves towards war. However, the fact that Germany has already sent specialists in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to Kuwait, despite its public opposition to war, shows its opposition is cosmetic and purely for domestic purposes as opposition to the war is strong among the German people.
Also, there is the fact that Germany’s economy is already faltering. It needs to export heavily to try and climb out of the downturn. The US is quite clearly indicating that Germany may well be excluded from any contracts once Iraq is under US military control. So although it may vote against, it still has time to rethink its position, and either vote in favour or abstain.
That leaves Syria. President Assad is desperate for help from the west. In fact it has been passing information on al-Qaida operations to the US in an attempt to ingratiate itself to the imperialists. But because of its proximity to Iraq it may be the only member of the Council to actually vote against. If it does it will not affect the final outcome in any way, and at a later stage may have to deal with US pressure. If the US manages to install its military machine on Iraqi territory it will have a much more convincing way of getting Syria to buckle.
Thus we have the US, UK, Bulgaria and Spain already backing war. As we have seen, Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea and Mexico can easily be "convinced" to change their position. That makes the magic figure of nine that the US needs on the Security Council. Pakistan can be neutralised, and France, China, Russia and Germany may also be pulled around, for the reasons outlined above.
And just in case any of the smaller countries, dependant on aid, have any doubts, there is always the so-called "Yemeni precedent. As The Guardian, (February 1, 2003) pointed out: "The poorest are the most vulnerable to US economic muscle. Phyllis Bennis, author of Calling the Shots, said the "Yemeni precedent" - the US stopped aid to Yemen within days of it voting against a resolution on the last Gulf war - was a sobering example for any developing country contemplating opposition."
These are the real criteria that will determine the vote of the UN Security Council members. The final decision will be based on bribery, bullying, promises of juicy profits and guarantees on spheres of influence and power. Thus, it will be more like a gathering of Al Capone and his cronies - more akin to that of a Mafia gang than to that of some "impartial" Court of Law.
The methods that the US are using to achieve a majority in the UN are clear. However, as we are seeing it is not going to be plain sailing. Although at the end of the day, France may buckle under pressure, there is a huge conflict of interest that is not going to go away. This crisis has led to an open split in NATO itself. The US have requested that NATO set up the mechanism for defending Turkey as it is a NATO member. As it will be involved in the hostilities, presumably it may come under attack from Iraq. NATO has always applied the principle that it would come to the aid to any of its members that comes under attack. In this case this involves the sending of Patriot missiles to defend Turkey. But France, Germany and Belgium are refusing to sanction this measure. This is a clear rebuttal of US pressures - for now. This in itself, as we have explained, will not stop the war, but it does set a precedent and highlights the growing differences between Europe and America. And this will become a key feature of future relations between the two blocs.
In passing, we could add the point that these recent events also expose the falsity of such theories as the ‘Empire’, as developed by Toni Negri. (See our article The Empire does not exist - a critique of Toni Negri's ideas ). Can anyone now seriously maintain that there is some kind of super-imperialism with a collective leadership that jointly exploits the rest of the world? Can anyone seriously suggest that the USA is mobilising hundreds of thousands of troops, hundreds of fighter planes, aircraft carriers, submarines and other military hardware simply to serve the interests of the greater ‘Empire’? A child of five would be able to answer that question.
UN used to confuse the issue
Although it is abundantly clear that UN backing should not be the criteria the antiwar movement should base itself on, many trade union leaders, left Labour and Socialist MPs, Communist Party leaders, and also a part of the antiwar movement leaders base all their opposition on whether the UN supports the war or not.
We have the scenario of well-known figures appearing on television expressing their opposition to war. But when they are asked what they will do if the UN supports the war, their reply is "then my hands would be tied". Recently on British TV we had Shirley Williams (minister in the 1974-79 Labour government, and then renegade who split away to form the Social Democratic Party) expressing this very point of view. Sitting near her we had Billy Bragg, a famous rock artist, with a reputation for having left wing views. He was on the panel as someone who opposes the war. But when posed with the prospect of the UN supporting it he repeated what Shirley Williams had said!
This kind "opposition" to the war amounts to a massive campaign of confusing the real issues. It is also a way of disarming the antiwar movement if the US were to get a "second resolution". If you have built up the whole movement on the basis of the need for such a resolution, then once the US has done its job of bribing, threatening and cajoling enough Security Council members into supporting its stand on the war, you are preparing the ground for weakening the antiwar movement!
The changing views of the inspectors
Here it is worth looking at the behaviour of the UN inspectors. As recently as January 30, they were saying Iraq was complying with UN inspections. They also declared that they had found nothing - not exactly what Bush and Blair wanted to hear.
"Both Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC (which is investigating Iraq's biological, chemical and missile capabilities), and Mohamed El Baradei, of the International Atomic Energy Agency (which is doing the nuclear snooping) had enough nice things to say about Iraq to sustain the peacemongers. Mr Blix reported that Iraq has co-operated "rather well" on the mechanics of inspection: his staff have been admitted to all the places they have visited, almost always promptly. This contrasts with the absurd shenanigans of the 1990s, when inspectors were frequently turned away from suspect sites or kept waiting while sensitive material was removed."
"For his part, Mr El Baradei reported that his team had "to date found no evidence that Iraq has revived its nuclear-weapons programme" since it was dismantled during the 1990s."
"Since they began their work in November, the inspectors have not found anything startling enough to be considered (in the popular parlance) a "smoking gun", at least by Mr Bush's critics." This is quoted from The Economist (January 30, 2003), which is not exactly a member of the peace camp!
But as the day of reckoning has been drawing closer Blix and his friends have been changing the emphasis of their statements. Their statements have become more ambiguous. This weekend Blix and El Baradei returned to Baghdad in a "final effort" to see if Iraq will "cooperate fully". Why a "final" effort? Because the date set by the US military is drawing closer. They are nearly ready to launch their attack. Therefore they need Blix to sing a different song.
For now they are saying that there are positive developments in the behaviour of the Iraqi officials. They seem to have noticed the "beginning of a change of heart". But they also added that Iraq now has until Friday to act. The Guardian (February 11) reported a statement made by El Baradei: "With ‘certain capitals’ showing growing impatience with Iraq, several steps should be evident by Friday." The Guardian report added that, "full and active Iraqi cooperation" would be required if Blix and El Baradei "were to report the sort of progress that could convince the council to prolong inspections - and possibly defuse the crisis."
No doubt in their report on February 14, the inspectors will explain that Iraq has not been "complying" sufficiently. El Baradei has already warned that there will have to be drastic changes in Iraq’s attitude if they are to be convinced that Iraqi officials are cooperating. This behaviour shows quite clearly that Blix, El Baradei and the other inspectors are not objective or independent. They are also in the pockets of the powerful and mighty. Their job is to fabricate the excuses which will be used to strengthen the hand of the USA. Their job is to create the conditions whereby France, Russia and China can also be convinced of the need for war. Or to put it more precisely: their job is to create the conditions whereby France, Russia and China can change their position without losing face. It is with all these manoeuvres that a final UN resolution would be achieved.
We have said it many times over and we will continue to repeat it: the UN cannot be counted on to stop this war. The UN is not an impartial, objective "world government", standing above and apart from the interests of the various capitalist powers. At the UN sit the representatives of the various national governments. The US representatives are there to defend the interests of US capital. The same is true of Berlusconi’s or Putin’s or Chirac’s representatives. The coming together of all these gangsters under the umbrella of the UN does not change their nature. Ten wolves sitting round a table do not suddenly become ten mild and meek, and "democratic" sheep!
The real decisions are taken on the basis of the real balance of forces worldwide, both economic and military. Today’s balance of forces is unprecedented. It is heavily weighted in favour of the USA. It is the most powerful superpower ever known in history, and it is using this power to force the UN to adopt the position it wants. Thus even a UN backed war would not change the essence of it. It will still be a war waged by the USA for control of oil in the Middle East.
That is why all the talk about UN backing is a smokescreen to hide the real situation. To base opposition to the war on whether there is UN support or not is to weaken the antiwar movement. What will the movement do if there is a second UN resolution? Will the war then be declared a just war, and everyone just goes home? Opposition must be based on the real situation and not on some fairly story about the United Nations.
No to war, with or without UN backing!
This is an imperialist war of plunder, full stop! Opposition must be maintained with or without a UN resolution. The interests of the capitalists must be exposed. Bush, Blair and co., are about to unleash a terrible machine of destruction and mayhem on the Iraqi people. Mr Blair and Mr Bush will pontificate from the comfort of their nice houses, thousands of miles from the war zone. In Iraq ordinary working people, men women and children, will be killed, maimed and driven from their homes.
The workers and youth of the US and Europe have no interest in supporting such a war. They will show this quite clearly on February 15. Millions will demonstrate their opposition to this war. But while demonstrations are useful in showing the extent of opposition to the war, they will not be sufficient to stop it outright. Blair and Bush believe they can ride out the storm and live with this opposition. If we want to really stop this war then firmer and stronger measures have to be taken.
This war is about economics. Therefore we need to hit the bosses in their pockets. Strike action is needed. The trade union leaders have a big responsibility in this. What is needed is firstly a campaign of counter-information in the factories, offices and colleges and schools. Meetings should be called where the real situation is explained, where the real reasons for this war are exposed. On this basis a trade union boycott should be organised. The transport unions should refuse to move any material to do with the war effort. We have already had the courageous stand of two British train drivers. (See British Train Drivers take action against war )
This campaign should be linked to the problems at home. While they can spend billions on bombing Iraq they are increasing student fees, cutting back on welfare, attacking pensions, privatising what is left of the public utilities. The transport system is in a mess. Passengers have been killed on British trains for lack of investment in the infrastructure. Thousands of people are infected in British hospitals every year due to lack of hygiene because of the cuts in staff.
This is a quiet, silent war that has been going on for years against the workers of Britain, and of all the other capitalist countries. The number of victims is huge. So far this has been a war of unilateral action on the part of the bosses against the workers. These same bosses have been bombing Iraq regularly over the past 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children have died from their sanctions. Now they are going to kill more.
Responsibility of the trade union leaders
If the trade unions linked the struggle to defend the rights of workers in this country (and in all the main capitalist countries) to the struggle to stop the war then the antiwar movement would become far more effective. Blair would have to think twice if he was threatened with strike action and even the possibility of a general strike as a result of his actions. The same would be true of Bush, Aznar, Berlusconi and also Chirac, Putin and co.
We should raise the idea of no to this war, but yes to the class war. The Iraqi people are not our enemy. Saddam Hussein is the enemy of the Iraqi people and it is their duty to overthrow him. And, in spite of their nice suits and ties and sweet sounding words, Bush, Blair, Berlusconi, Aznar are enemies of the working people in the west. Our duty is to struggle to replace these people with genuine representatives of the working class in all countries. And to put an end to this rotten economic system based on the profit of the few and the suffering of the many. That, in the end, is the only real way of putting an end to the threat of war once and for all.