- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2008

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.

“The U.N. Security Council is only going to be as effective as the great powers will permit it to be,” said Robert Litwak, director of international security studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “When there is consensus among the powers, effective collective action is possible. In its absence, meaningful action will not occur.”

So the council is hamstrung not only by its veto-wielding members - the U.S., Britain, China, France and Russia - but by other powers with military or political influence in the situation at hand.

“The fundamental problem is that there is a huge philosophical divide in the international community concerning when the use of force is appropriate,” said Michael Glennon, a professor of international law at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

“That is why the council is paralyzed in confronting Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Iran. A huge segment of the world’s population in Africa and Asia and South America are adamantly opposed to intervention within internal affairs, even to stop egregious human rights violations,” Mr. Glennon said.

Even NATO, he noted, was divided on U.S. military interventions in Kosovo and Iraq.

The government of Sudan continues to sponsor what the U.S. government has called “genocide” in Darfur, and outrage from Hollywood to The Hague has been powerless to stop it.

Some say it is unrealistic to expect the council’s 15 voices to prevail where those of movie stars George Clooney and Mia Farrow cannot.

The Security Council is the only U.N. body with legally binding authority, meaning all nations are obligated, in theory, to honor its arms and travel embargoes, or comply with direct action demanded under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which authorizes the use of force.

The five permanent, veto-empowered council members were chosen after World War II, which critics in the developing world say do not reflect today’s realities. Some say the council’s lopsided representation has eroded its credibility, especially in the Middle East.

During the Cold War the council was largely deadlocked, and it was only in the early 1990s that people expected the Security Council to play an effective role in what President George H.W. Bush called a “new world order.”

The era of cooperation was short-lived. The council deadlocked again over the Balkan wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. A short-lived cohesiveness after Sept. 11, 2001, shattered with the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Today, the power blocs remain the British, French and United States on one side of many issues, with Russia or China taking the lead on the other.

The United States alone often blocks or even vetoes council criticism of Israel, to the dismay of its Arab neighbors and many council members.

The 10 elected members, which serve overlapping two-year terms, can sway a council vote only if they band together to deny the permanent five a majority.

Stewart Patrick, director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations, warns against nostalgia for the council’s nonexistent golden age.

“The council has been blocked from effective action for most of its history,” he said. “But what we are talking about now is … that even when we get some level of agreement, it has a low level of impact in the outside world.”

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