Whither Multilateralism ?

Last week I linked to an article setting out the main points of the Bush doctrine.

I think one of the defining elements of the new American mindset is exasperation with multilateral bodies like the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency. I say I ‘think’ because I don’t know for sure. It may be that the exasperation already existed but that it became much more operationally important after September 11th 2001. Anyway, in the body of my article I wondered how the UN would have dealt with Afghanistan as a terrorist base after September 11th. It’s a question I didn’t know the answer to at the time.

Rummaging around the internet has provided a partial answer. The UN had declared sanctions on the country in January 2000 in an effort to get the terrorist bases closed down and Osama Bin Laden handed over. Of course the Taliban blithely denied that they hosted terrorist bases and continued their less than enlightened policies of destroying degenerate artworks and forcing members of religious minorities to publicly identify themselves (hmm, I wonder why that sort of thing sounds familiar)

In complete contrast to the UN’s campaign the UK/US air campaign in October 2001 removed the Taliban regime and shut down the terrorist bases within a couple of months of the first strike.

I’m pointing this out because an awful lot of people who are opposed to any type of unilateral military action, or even the more multilateral coalition assembled for Iraq, posit the UN as a body which can come up with an alternative to such military action. It’s almost a reflex for those who don’t like some aspect of US foreign policy – “well, I think the UN should deal with it”. As with so many reflex actions I wonder how much thinking goes on before it is brought out for another outing.

Let’s get this straight before we start the debate – I’m in favour of the idea of international law and I think theoretically multilateral bodies have many things to recommend them but remember this is the new political terrain. We can’t take things for granted. Unless we are able to point out the benefits of bodies like the UN they may well end up like their predessors

It would seem especially important in today’s world, where nuclear proliferation is an urgent issue, to have bodies which can respond sufficiently quickly to events and which have sufficient power to enforce resolutions.

I don’t claim to be able to predict the future but I can see patterns from recent history (Rwanda, Bosnia etc) which seem to point towards a gloomy future for the larger multilateral bodies unless something radical changes.