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
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
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
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