U.N. ambiguity adds to image as paper tiger

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UNITED NATIONS | At an Egyptian resort this week, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe preened with the other African leaders, seemingly oblivious to Security Council calls echoed by his peers that he negotiate with the opposition after a flawed election.

In Sudan’s western Darfur region, a few thousand African peacekeepers continue to wait in parched misery for the 31,000 U.N.-backed reinforcements that the Sudanese government agreed to accept and were slated to begin arriving in December.

In Iran, physicists continue to enrich uranium deep beneath the earth in Natanz, despite three U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to halt the process for fear it would permit Iran to make nuclear weapons.

The inevitable question is: Why do some world leaders and their governments so flagrantly reject supposedly binding U.N. resolutions?

“A Security Council resolution carries a certain weight,” said Brett Schaefer of the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“But the message is often weak or unclear,” Mr. Schaefer said. “When [Saddam Hussein] wouldn’t cooperate, the council would retaliate by passing yet another resolution.

“The council has been devalued.”

On Thursday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad circulated a draft resolution in the Security Council to impose travel and financial restrictions on Mr. Mugabe and his senior associates.

“We have to respond, not only because Zimbabwe is important, and not only because what happens there affects the region, but also the credibility of the council is at stake,” Mr. Khalilzad said Monday.

“We spoke loudly and clearly and made demands that were ignored. If we do nothing, if there is no response, what does that say about the council? What does it say about how others should take the council in terms of the seriousness of what we say?” he said.

Plenty of theories suggest why the council’s collective voice does not carry very far.

For example, most everyone can agree that crimes against humanity are wrong, but not every incident meets the council’s mandate to maintain international peace and security.

China, Russia and other council members consider Zimbabwe’s political repression and social destruction to be internal matters.

The same is true of the Burmese junta’s repression of monks and its rejection of international assistance after Cyclone Nargis.

This devout respect for sovereignty can produce watered-down resolutions that telegraph concern without demanding concrete and timely actions, analysts say.

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