what do socialists say?

Can the UN bring peace?


MANY PEOPLE who are horrified at NATO's war in the Balkans are looking to the United Nations as an alternative. This is completely natural when daily we see more civilians being killed in Yugoslavia and it is clear the US in particular just circumvented the UN so it could wage the war unimpeded.

Any pretence that there is an "international law" agreed by the UN has been flouted by those leading the NATO alliance. Clinton is remodelling NATO as a force through which US imperialism can further its "strategic interests", because he knows that he would have trouble pushing his agenda through at the UN Security Council. China and Russia are on the UN Security Council. For their own strategic reasons they would veto US resolutions and hamstring Clinton's warmongering.

However, it would be a mistake, having seen through the role of NATO, to then pin hopes on the UN. The UN was set up in the interests of the Great Powers, not ordinary people. In the wake of World War Two the "victorious" powers devised the UN as an instrument of their will. They declared that its purpose was to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war". But the reality has been very different. The UN was used to agree the carve up that happened after World War Two, where the victors marked out their ownership of the countries they had "liberated".

The UN's first action was to partition Palestine, create the state of Israel friendly to the West, and disenfranchise the Palestinians. The UN's first military intervention was not a peacekeeping exercise. In 1950, as the Cold War started, a war broke out between regimes backed by the US and the Soviet Union in Korea. The US used the absence of the Soviet Union at the UN to force the smaller UN powers to provide some military assistance, but it was US troops that poured into the region. It led to a bloody war fought out for the interests of the world's two greatest powers.

In reality the UN has not prevented conflicts that have broken out in the past 50 years. Those countries which are permanent members of the UN Security Council have been allowed to get away with brutality on a massive scale.

The UN has a history of failing to act to stop ordinary people being killed. The most stark case is East Timor, which Indonesian forces invaded in 1975 and carried out a genocidal war against the population in defiance of UN resolutions.

At the end of the Cold War some commentators said the UN would be an important peacekeeping element of the "New World Order". Yet the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq was sanctioned by the UN. That war was primarily about US control over oil supplies in the region. The bombing reduced the country to rubble, killing tens of thousands. UN sanctions mean that 6,000 Iraqis are still dying every month from disease and malnutrition.

Even the UN's "peacekeeping" missions have ended in disaster, as the 1992 intervention in Somalia shows-when UN forces, far from protecting the population, ended up massacring them. The way in which the US uses the UN when it can was spelt out by John Bolton of the US State Department. Bolton declared, "There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interests, and when we can get the others to go along."

Even in Bosnia the UN's role has not been to act as a force for peace. The UN implemented Dayton agreement that partitioned Bosnia set in stone the idea that different "ethnic" groups could not live together. There is no democracy for ordinary people. UN officials under Dayton have the power to impose laws, veto election candidates and dismiss elected members of Bosnia's governing body.

We cannot rest our hopes on groupings of the world's imperialist powers, which will continue to be ruthless in pursuit of their own interests. We have to defend people who challenge imperialism and nationalist division and build a movement that can end NATO's bloody war in the Balkans.