Might is not right
 Nato's bombing is an act of aggression against a sovereign country.
 What price the UN now?
 By Ingvar Carlson and Shridath Ramphal
 Friday April 2, 1999
 The Guardian
 No person, no country can simply recite itself into a field of action
 whose gates are locked against it by a superior law. Not under the
 rule of law, national or international. The United Nations Charter is
 every country's superior law; it prescribes that no country or group
 of countries shall resort to the use of force against another, save in
 self-defence, except under the authority of the United Nations.
 Nato air strikes against Yugoslavia have not been authorised by the
 United Nations. That authority was not even sought. They are therefore
 acts of aggression against a sovereign country; and as such they
 strike at the heart of the rule of international law and the authority
 of the United Nations. Because they are acts undertaken by the world's
 most militarily powerful countries, that damage is incalculable.
 A trend towards unilateral action in defiance of international norms
 became more pronounced once we entered a unipolar world; it is a trend
 that persists and with more boldness. This month the United States has
 imposed trade sanctions against European countries contrary to the
 rules of the World Trade Organisation. Now Europe and North America
 have used massive force against Yugoslavia contrary to the UN Charter.
 Who is there to stop them and turn them back to the path of law - as
 President Eisenhower did to Britain and France at the time of Suez?
 And after this, who will there be to turn back other action in breach
 of the Charter? What if, in virtuous rage, China invades Taiwan, or
 the US bombs Cuba, or Spain annexes Gibraltar? Will there be another
 set of norms that condemns these wrongs? And on what basis do we press
 the claims of disarmament in a world palpably no longer under the rule
 of law founded on the UN Charter?
 Of course, in the Security Council, Russia and China have
 responsibilities that they must discharge in constructive ways; but
 the prospect of this would be immeasurably enhanced if they were
 presented with an opportunity to do so rather than with unilateral
 action in violation of the Charter which offers them no route but
 Nato countries assert their respect for the Charter of the United
 Nations and the norms of international law that arise from it. Europe,
 in particular, claims moral authority as a custodian of
 internationalism. Now the gamekeepers have turned poachers, posing as
 policemen. This temptation to assume police powers on the basis of
 righteousness and military strength is dangerous for world order and
 world peace; what results is a world ordered by vigilante action. We
 would not have that in our national societies. Why should anyone think
 it is less dangerous and more acceptable in our global society?
 Nato countries are understandably frustrated in their efforts for
 peace in Yugoslavia, and are rightly indignant at the humanitarian
 wrongs committed by the Serbian regime. Others are indignant too; and
 of course horrible wrongs are committed elsewhere in our global
 society and by many wrong-doers - as is the case in each of our
 national societies.
 But if in our responses we become violators too, in the end we return
 to a dark time when might alone is right and law comes out of the
 barrel of a gun. That cannot be our signature as we turn the page into
 a new millennium.
 • Ingvar Carlson and Shridath Ramphal are co-chairmen of the
 Commission on Global Governance.
               © Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999
Back to texts' page
Back to index page

This page has been visited times.