Kofi Annan speaks out

The United Nations Secretary General recently said that the U.S.-led war in Iraq was illegal.

“I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal,” Kofi Annan said last week in an interview with the BBC. This is the first time Annan has commented on the legality of the war.

The Secretary General is the only person who can officially speak on behalf of the entire United Nations; his or her comments should ideally carry significant weight. But considering the way in which member states of the United Nations behave—today and traditionally—Annan’s remarks will likely have minimal impact on the course of world events.

That is sad, but hardly surprising.

Historically, the United Nations has been flawed from the beginning. Its charter proclaims that all states are equal before the law, but gives special privilege to five countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. The charter gives each of these states a permanent seat on the Security Council and the ability to veto any proposed resolution. As a result, these five states wield far more power between them than the rest of the world combined.

Unfortunately, there is slim chance this imbalance will ever be adjusted. No serious effort could ever be made to strip these five states of their veto power because each would simply veto any effort toward reform. The major powers act in accordance with their own national interest and not necessarily in accordance with the interests of the international community or the dictates of international law.

The Bush Administration has responded angrily to Annan’s statement and will probably ignore it. It seems disappointingly likely that the United States will maintain its presence in Iraq according to its own terms.

The United Nations is the only organization in the world that provides a forum for international dialogue and cooperation, and has the jurisdiction to make binding international law. If the United States wishes to convince the world that it stands as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law then it must at least practice what it preaches.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.