- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In its 2005 White Paper “China’s Peaceful Development Road,” Beijing proclaims: “The international community should oppose unilateralism, advocate and promote multilateralism, and make the U.N. and its Security Council play a more active role in international affairs.”

The reader might be inclined to dismiss this statement as just another bit of rhetorical fluff in a document full of it, but Beijing’s United Nations strategy has been very effective in frustrating U.S. initiatives.

That both China and Russia voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1695 condemning and expressing grave concern about North Korea’s launch of ballistic missiles and development of nuclear weapons has been hailed as an endorsement of the strong stand taken by the U.S. and Japan.

But the resolution was watered down by Beijing and Moscow. As its ambassador to the U.N. Wang Guangya said just after the vote, China “firmly opposed forcing through a vote on a draft resolution that is not conducive to unity and will further complicate and aggravate the situation, cause grave consequences for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and create enormous obstacles for the Six-Party Talks and other important diplomatic endeavors.”

Beijing worked to drop from the earlier draft any reference to Pyongyang’s actions being a threat to international peace and security under Article VII of the U.N. Charter. Such a reference would have opened the door for economic sanctions, and possible military action. Instead, North Korea is to go back to the Six-Party Talks, which China hosts. These talks started in 2003, with the fifth round ending last November. There has been no progress. Beijing knows as long as only Pyongyang is acting, while everyone else just talks, its North Korean buffer state is secure.

It should be remembered that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted in November 2002 regarding Iraq, was also unanimous but not definitive. The consensus was an additional resolution would be needed to authorize action against the Baghdad regime. But when Washington tried to get such a resolution, it failed to even muster a majority of the Security Council, with three veto-yielding members (China, Russia and France) opposed.

On July 13, China, Russia and eight other Security Council members voted for a draft resolution calling for an end to the “disproportionate” Israeli military actions in Gaza. There was no attempt to find compromise language or drag on discussions. Beijing wanted to force a U.S. veto, so if China has to cast one to protect North Korea or Iran, it can cite the U.S. vote to protect Israel.

The initial U.S. reaction to Iran restarting nuclear enrichment in January was to press for a Security Council resolution declaring Tehran an Article VII threat. Neither China nor Russia would accept such a finding. The day before Tehran escalated the nuclear crisis by reopening its Natanz facility, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari met with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui in Beijing. The official Chinese statement was that “Zhang reiterated the principled position of the Chinese side on properly settling the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiation.” More talks, no action. And after months of talks, the result was not a strong Security Council resolution, but an offer of “incentives” to Tehran.

The offer sounded similar to the infamous 1994 Framework Agreement with North Korea which had offered Pyongyang economic bribes to stop its nuclear program. Then in 1998, after firing a long-rang missile, Pyongyang had sanctions lifted on the promise not to fire more.

Can anyone really think Tehran would not simply take what is offered and continue its weapons programs as Pyongyang did? Neither Iran’s theocratic leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor militant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are primarily motivated by trade deals. They have a much larger, more compelling ambition: Shi’ite Persian dominance of the region. This vision includes not only a nuclear arsenal, but a strong political position in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq enforced by local militia groups. And as long as it has oil to export, it can get economic benefits without political concessions.

Tehran has dragged its feet in response to the incentives offer. Iran’s leaders believe the United States is bogged down in Iraq, without the military strength or domestic support to confront other aggressors. The Bush administration failure to rebuild the military from the inadequate force levels inherited from the delusional 1990s has exposed U.S. lack of depth when dealing with the perpetual war tactics favored by both Muslim and communist foes. This has given Iran and North Korea the confidence to seize the initiative.

Tehran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah was meant to show it is the real champion of the Muslim world. And by turning to the United Nations, the Bush administration had adopted the key tenet of Chinese strategy, no longer practicing “unilateralism” by forming coalitions outside the U.N.

Israel’s actions in Lebanon have changed the dynamic, giving the U.S. new diplomatic space to rap Iran across the knuckles and mobilize Arab pressure against Syria. President Bush must now remember Teddy Roosevelt’s wisdom, “Diplomacy is utterly useless where there is no force behind it.”

William Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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