It took Kofi Annan quite a while to come to the conclusion that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, didn’t it?
You’ll note that Annan (who took his current office in 1997) didn’t make this assertion when NATO embarked on its bombing campaign on Serbia — without a UN Security Council resolution. In fact, although he gave a half-hearted criticism of the action against Serbia, he ultimately gave the Clinton administration political cover:
…on the one side, the question of the legitimacy of action taken by a regional organization without a U.N. mandate; on the other, the universally recognized imperative of effectively halting gross and systematic violations of human rights with grave humanitarian consequences. The inability of the international community in the case of Kosovo to reconcile these two equally compelling interests was a tragedy.
Take out the word ‘Kosovo’ from the last paragraph and insert ‘Iraq’ and you have to wonder what was different from 1999 to 2003:
* Gross and systematic violations of human rights? Check.
* Grave humanitarian consequences? Check.
Critics of this line of thinking will contend that NATO was a ‘regional’ organization different from the ‘coalition of the willing;’ therefore it was marginally permissible for NATO to act under Article 52, Section 1, of the UN Charter (which discusses to ‘regional arrangements’). But why a regional arrangement includes NATO, which was outside the sphere of the former Yugoslavia, and doesn’t include the ‘coalition of the willing,’ which included states in the surrounding region as well as those which had an interest in the Middle East and South Asia, is clearly a subject for debate but hardly one for static and far-reaching pronouncements such as the one made by Annan to the BBC.
The chief difference between the two situations, of course, was that Bill Clinton was President of the United States when NATO bombed Serbia, and George W. Bush was president when the coalition attacked Iraq.
I’m not one to go for conspiracy theories, but coming — as it does — so close to both the Australian and U.S. elections, this declaration seems suspect at best and reckless at least.
At worst it looks like Kofi Annan is trying to declare himself one of those foreign leaders that John Kerry counted as anonymous supporters.
Marc C. Johnson
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