Iraq War - The need for UN reform
Lessons from Iraq

The UN must be reformed

How the UN was subverted, and its core principles set aside in order to start the Iraq war. What UN principals and international law required the US and its allies to do.

David Roberts 

Text of a discussion paper prepared for Action for UN Renewal, 2003.


The UN has profound problems, but it can and must be reformed


Even the Secretary General of the United Nations acknowledges that the UN body set up to maintain the peace and security of the world, the Security Council, is in deep trouble. In spite of the noble efforts of many of its members its performance is viewed around the world with sadness, or even contempt, anger or hostility.

This discussion paper examines the astonishing failures of the UN Security Council in its dealings with Iraq and proposes practical remedies. It suggests that the United Nations can no longer afford to condone undemocratic and poor management, and major international crimes committed in its name. Rogue members must be brought into line with UN principles.

There are tasks which both the UN itself and ordinary citizens everywhere can carry out in order to return the United Nations to its founding principles and help to ensure the survival and well-being of the human race. 


The Security Council is the body of the UN set up to deal with issues of world peace and security. It consists of representatives of 15 countries. Five of these (America, Russia, China, France and Britain) are permanent members. The other ten are chosen by the General Assembly of the United Nations (which consists of all 191 members). The non-permanent members of the Security Council serve for two years. 

 “America” and “US” in this discussion paper are used to refer only to US governments present and past and the focus is entirely on foreign policy. Such is the weakness of democracy in America that only a minority vote for their political leaders. These stand in contrast to the people of America who are renowned for their warmth and friendship, their energy and their exceptional scientific and cultural achievements.


What is wrong with the United Nations?

Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, speaking in September 2003 referred to the need for the Security Council to regain “the confidence of states and world public opinion.” These words, from a man who is renowned for the measured way he chooses his words and his skill in diplomacy, amount to a devastating criticism of one of the world’s most important institutions. The Security Council is the one body in the world charged with “responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” How can it be effective if states and world public opinion are distrustful of it? And what lies behind this distrust? Tragically, on many occasions it has been seen acting dishonestly and in gross violation of the Charter of the United Nations: the very body charged with maintaining peace and security is itself responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.


The Case for the United Nations

The Second World War was the stimulus for the creation of the United Nations. The unprecedented horror of war in a scientifically advanced world convinced many that civilisation could not continue unless a way was found for nations to work together within a framework of international law and settle their disputes by peaceful means. Principles and procedures were set out in the Charter of the United Nations and signed by representatives of fifty nations in San Francisco in June 1945. 

Today there are 191 nations who have signed to accept the Charter and become members. The United Nations’ commitment to peace, friendship, tolerance, international co-operation, the rule of law, the equality of human beings and the equality of nations, human rights and the improvement of the lives of all people is almost universally accepted. The UN was founded on the noblest of human principles. It aspired to save the human race from human folly. Today the UN offers the only forum where leaders of every sovereign nation can meet and speak on the challenges that confront the world and attempt to realise the aspirations of its founders.  

Many books could be devoted to the successes of the United Nations, its courageous workers and peace keepers, and its many agencies working to bring health, clean water, food, shelter, security and peace to desperate people, or co-coordinating the affairs of mankind through international agreements.

The Case for reform of  the United Nations

But the United Nations organisation has failed significantly in two key areas: the universal improvement in the well-being of mankind, and the avoidance of war.  

In the first instance it is not a matter that things have simply stood still: it is the case that for the poorest people of the world things have got immeasurably worse, and the blame for that must go to some extent to two UN agencies, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This topic is outside the scope of this paper and readers should refer to such organisations as the World Development Movement for more information.

Since 1945 wars have gone on unabated. At least 30 million people have been killed. Vicious wars continue today. It has been beyond the power of the UN Security Council to stop these wars, but as this paper shows, it has been guilty of inaction when it could have acted to try to prevent war and it has been complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

Its failures with regard to the US/UK war against a desperately poor and weak country, Iraq, in 2003 have outraged world opinion and calls for reform are increasingly insistent. Kofi Annan acknowledges the intense criticism of the Security Council. 

At the time of writing (November 2003) an independent United Nations should be the obvious body to help to achieve a quick transition from US to Iraqi control of Iraq. Unfortunately the actions of the Security Council have created widespread hostility and distrust of the United Nations in Iraq. This hostility was caused by the malpractice of the Security Council and was entirely avoidable. 

Hardly a word of the UN Charter has changed in over 50 years. The document has proved remarkably wise in its ideas and rules, but a few of its provisions cry out for remedy. The most serious and most complained about problem concerns the composition and power structure of the Security Council. It is unrepresentative of the world as a whole and, contrary to the principles expressed in the Charter, does not operate on the basis of equality of members.  

This problem is thrown into the spotlight because one of its five permanent members, America, has a foreign policy today which is in direct opposition to many UN principles. It is vociferous in the promotion of its wars and the manipulation of the United Nations. Sometimes it claims that the United Nations and international law are an impediment to its freedom of action. It claims the right to act alone in defiance of the whole world. Its astonishing arms budget, its enormous stocks of weapons of mass destruction, its military bases in 56 countries, its recent history of bombing and subverting many countries, its current threats to attack a long list of countries including Russia and China, and its short term thinking are compelling reasons for us to examine its relationship with the Security Council and the rest of the world. The behaviour of the United States must not go unchallenged and unremedied by a world desperate for peace and justice. It is already challenged by terrorists: Osama bin Laden, for example, has raged against the crimes described in this discussion paper. There can be no doubt that these crimes have been a very significant stimulus to acts of terrorism. 

Again, Kofi Annan recognises the danger, “If nations discount the legitimacy provided by the UN, and feel they can and must use force unilaterally and pre-emptively, the world will become even more dangerous.”  - statement, October 2003. But hostility to United Nations’ principles and the rule of law is very rare. In the unreported debates of an open session of the Security Council, on 16 and 17 October 2002,  numerous national leaders spoke in favour of working within international law and avoiding war. Every country bordering Iraq spoke in support of this approach advocated by the French. None spoke of feeling threatened by Iraq. Further support came from the Arab League (with 22 members) and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (with 57 members). Even the representative for Kuwait, which was so recently invaded by Iraq, spoke of compassion for the long suffering of the Iraqi people and the need to avoid war. There were demonstrations around the world against war on a scale never seen before. World opinion is overwhelmingly on the side of UN principles and international law, and against wars of aggression. So what is the problem? 

The charge is that the Security Council has lost touch with UN principles and purposes and has become a tool of American policy. To regain its credibility the UN must confront American power and carry out major reforms. Only through radical reform can the UN regain the confidence of the world. Only through an effective UN can the worldwide hope of security, peace and human fulfilment be realised.


Iraq and the United Nations 

The United Nations organisation entrusted the core responsibility for “the maintenance of international peace and security” to the Security Council, requiring it to “act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.” But in its dealings with Iraq the Security Council has acted with scandalous indifference to these purposes and principles.


The Security Council has been associated with, or directly responsible for, massacre, wanton destruction, and an horrendous twelve-year sanctions programme which resulted in the deaths of over a million Iraqi citizens. Each of these is a gross violation of the Charter of the United Nations. The Security Council is guilty of failing to monitor action which it has initiated, failing to address the fact that crimes against humanity have been committed in its name, and failing to set up tribunals to try those suspected of responsibility for these crimes. 

When the war against Iraq was looming in 2002/3 it neglected its first duty: to recognise a “threat to the peace” and take appropriate action.  

After the war the Security Council condoned the aggression and the illegal occupation, the theft of a nations’ funds and the offering for sale of its assets. Its duty at the very outset of the war was to condemn the invasion in the clearest terms, and demand the immediate cessation of hostilities. After the US/UK had taken control of Iraq there should have been a stronger demand for the immediate return of Iraq to the Iraqi people, the setting up of a tribunal to try those who initiated a war of aggression, and unambiguous resolutions aimed at protecting the independence and sovereignty of Iraq.

Gulf War 1991 -  Massacre and wanton destruction

The Gulf War of 1991 was authorised by the Security Council with resolution 678 which allowed “member states co-operating with Kuwait” to use “all necessary means” to implement resolution 660 of 2 August 1990. Resolution 660 demanded that “Iraq withdraw its forces to the positions in which they were located at 1 August 1990” and thereby “restore peace and security in the region.” America together with the forces of thirty-one other nations achieved this, but in addition America took advantage of the situation to go on a rampage of killing and destruction  -  far exceeding what was militarily necessary to carry out the authorised task and being the plainest of war crimes.  

First there was the massacre on the Basra road. When Iraqi troops were out of Kuwait and retreating, they were bombed for 48 hours. In all, thirty to forty thousand soldiers were massacred.  

Second, massive attacks against the civilian infrastructure of Iraq were mounted. 227 thousand bombs were dropped on Iraq.  

Dr Eric Hoskins, a UNICEF advisor, reported that “eighteen of Iraq’s 20 power generating plants were rendered inoperable, reducing post-war electricity to just 4% of pre-war levels. Food storage facilities, industrial complexes, oil refineries, sewage pumping stations, telecommunications facilities, roads, railroads, and dozens of bridges were destroyed during the war.”       

The UN Secretary General sent Martti Ahtisaari, later President of Finland, to head a humanitarian assessment mission. He reported that the war had had “near apocalyptic results . . .  on what had been until January 1991, a rather highly urbanised and mechanised society . . .  Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age.” 

Article 52 of the First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions states, “Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack.” Article 54 states, “It is prohibited to attack, destroy, or remove objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population.” Nuremberg Principle VI lists “devastation not justified by military necessity” under the heading War Crimes. American bombers were on a UN mission.


Sanctions became genocide

Normally, a country devastated by such a disaster would be a candidate for concerted action by nations of goodwill to bring the necessary humanitarian relief. Instead, the Security Council confirmed the continuation of the sanctions against Iraq. The new purpose was to bring about the destruction of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The Security Council set up a sanctions committee consisting of representatives of the fifteen Security Council members. The rules of the committee contained no safeguards that the sanctions would be administered in accordance with the principles of the United Nations. The rules gave power to any member of the committee to reject any contract requested by the Iraqi government for the supply of any item needed, with no obligation to give a reason. The Americans have by a very long way been the main blockers of contracts.

People with any concern for fellow human beings might well have worked successfully with this system, but the range and nature of the materials that were withheld from Iraq were astonishing. They included chlorine and aluminium sulphate which were needed to purify water; parts for pumps which were needed to provide irrigation, supply water and deal with sewage; paper, text books, medical journals, and computers; a whole array of machinery and machine parts including those needed to repair power stations; seeds, pesticides, fertilisers, and animal vaccines. By October  2001 humanitarian supplies worth  $5 billion had been put  “on hold” by the UN sanctions committee.  

The effect of sanctions on an already devastated country was catastrophic. Sanctions led to malnutrition and disease on a vast scale and the death of over a million men, women and children. Four to five thousand Iraqi children under five were dying every month. Former US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, infamously asserted that the avoidable deaths of half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying. By the beginning of 2003 sixty per cent of Iraq’s population was totally dependant on food aid.  

For years there were outcries about the effects of the UN sanctions. People devoted their lives to opposing sanctions. There were protests and vigils. Senior UN officials resigned in protest. But the Security Council and politicians in member countries ignored the outcry. 

When terrorists destroyed the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001 politicians were at a loss to explain an apparently purposeless crime. A month after the attack Osama bin Laden made a taped statement on Al Jazeera TV. “What America is tasting now is only a copy of what our Islamic nation has been tasting for eighty years  -  humiliation and disgrace, its sons killed and their blood spilled, its sanctities desecrated . . .” He then spent some time describing the persecution of the Palestinians. He ended, “We do not hear anyone raising his voice or reacting . . .  A million children killed in Iraq, to them this is not a clear issue!” 

When British and American politicians were challenged on the effects of the sanctions they typically blamed the effects on the alleged misrule of Saddam Hussein.  They repeatedly asserted that the distribution of aid was hampered by failures of the Iraqi administration. These claims have equally repeatedly been refuted by UN experts in the field who had a team of observers constantly present to monitor the distribution process.  

Under Saddam Hussein before 1991 Iraq had been a first world country with a first-rate free education system. It also offered a free, quality national health service. As if unaware of the positive achievements of Saddam Hussein and the negative effects of sanctions British politicians claimed that the dire state of Iraq was caused by “Saddam’s appalling mismanagement of the economy.”  

Bearing in mind that the United Nations proclaims “faith in fundamental human rights” and “a determination to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,” it has to be asked how of the United Nations Security Council could torment and destroy so many people in Iraq in contravention of its core principles. Denis Halliday, former Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations, was not alone in describing the actions of the Security Council with regard to sanctions against Iraq as genocide.  (The definition of genocide includes “an attempt to destroy in whole or in part, a national group . . .  by killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”)      

Security Council galvanised into inaction 2002/2004

As already mentioned, the prime task of the Security Council is “the maintenance of international peace and security”.   Under article 39 of the Charter of the United Nations it is the duty of the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace . . .  and make recommendations or decide what measures shall be taken.” During 2002 and the early months of 2003 the whole world knew that America and Britain were threatening to attack Iraq. (American intentions to overthrow Saddam Hussein had been publicly announced much earlier, in the Liberation of Iraq Act 1998.) They were working desperately against UN principles to make a case for war against Iraq. Verbal threats were issued on an almost daily basis. Tens of thousands of troops were moved into Kuwait along the border with Iraq. There has never been a clearer threat to peace. Yet the Security Council never once discussed what should be done with those threatening aggression and no member of the United Nations brought the matter to the attention of either the Security Council or the General Assembly which it was entitled to do under Article 35. The Security Council was completely distracted and hoodwinked by the US/UK frenzy of unjustifiable accusations against their intended victim, Iraq, and the challenges to it put by the US and UK to approve the war. 

In spite of the pressure the Security Council did not approve the war and finally said so on the eve of it, 19 March 2003. The French and German foreign ministers made excellent speeches appealing to the aggressors to abide by UN principles. The Council, in their opposition to the war, were belatedly following world opinion. Had they acted in conformity with their clear duty to oppose a war of aggression from the time that it was first threatened then opinion in America and Britain would not have been so swayed by the war rhetoric. Opposition to a war, already the greatest ever known, would have been truly overwhelming. Even British members of parliament would have realised that wars of aggression are wrong. The result of Security Council inaction was a war which led to the deaths of at least 37,000 civilians, the injuring and maiming of 80,000 civilians, the destruction of vital administrative records in ministry buildings which were specifically targeted, social collapse, and the inevitable destruction which is caused when thirty thousand bombs and missiles, including depleted uranium and cluster munitions, rain down on towns and cities.

Tacit approval of aggression

The day that Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 the Security Council passed resolution 660. This unequivocally condemned the invasion and demanded the immediate withdrawal of Iraqi forces. There should have been an equally unequivocal and swift condemnation by the Security Council of the illegal attack on Iraq by Britain and America and a demand for the attackers to cease hostilities immediately.

Authorising misrule

In contrast to this, Security Council resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 gave mixed signals. It correctly stressed, “the right of the Iraqi people freely to determine their own political future and control their own natural resources” and called upon all concerned to “comply fully with their obligations under international law including in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague Regulations of 1907.” However, the remainder of the resolution did not support these ideas.


In effect it condoned the illegal invasion. The resolution accepted the setting up of a “Development Fund” to be financed with Iraq’s own money starting with one billion US dollars from the UN administered escrow account set up under resolution 986. This money came from the sale of Iraqi oil and was to be used only for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. The Security Council gave away this fund, agreeing that it would be controlled by the occupiers “in consultation with the Iraqi interim administration.” (See Program Review Board below.) Additions to this fund came from the seizure of Iraqi assets held in foreign banks, including the personal fortune of Saddam Hussein, and oil revenues received since the beginning of the American occupation of Iraq. In total this amounted to five billion dollars by mid October 2003  -  expected to amount to nine billion dollars by the end of 2003.


America was thus free to use these Iraqi funds to pay themselves to rebuild Iraq and “for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration, and for other purposes benefiting the people of Iraq.” In other words Paul Bremer, the American governor of Iraq, could use the funds more or less as he wished.


It was not the right of the United Nations to give away this money which it held in trust until such time as it could be used for the humanitarian relief of the Iraqi people, and it was not the right of America to use this money. Of the five billion dollars so far transferred to the American administration only one billion dollars has been accounted for and a senior UN official in New York says he has no idea how funds are being used. Four billion dollars have disappeared!


American foreign policy  -  create business opportunities by waging war

Within weeks of the invasion Iraq’s oil industry was in the control of the United States, being run by Haliburton, and there is no information as to how Haliburton’s services are costed and paid for. On 19 September 2003 Paul Bremer announced with order number 39 that 200 of Iraq’s State Industries and services including banks were to be privatised and available for purchase by any foreign investor. Iraq was to be made attractive for foreign investment by the reduction of corporation tax from 40% to 15%. All profits could be removed from Iraq. Such interference in the running of an occupied country is not allowed under the Charter of the United Nations or international law (Hague Regulations 1907). This is a clear breach of “the right of the Iraqi people freely to determine their own political future and control their own natural resources.”

Opportunities to give power to Iraqis avoided

From the earliest days the American Administration could have given substantial control to the Iraqi Governing Council which it set up, and the Governing Council could have been more representative of the Iraqi people by avoiding loading it with the Iraqi exiles friendly to US ideas and instead including within it representatives of the main power groupings from within Iraq itself.  

The so-called Governing Council could have been given real power, but it seems that it acts only as a consultative and administrative body. It does not govern. It has no power to spend money and it works purely as an advisory group to Paul Bremer.  

Even before the war had begun America was awarding contracts to some of its biggest companies (many friendly to the US administration, some being financial benefactors of the Republican election campaign) to rebuild that which was about to be destroyed, thus suggesting that America’s priority may not have been democracy for Iraq but profit for American companies. Is it likely that the Iraqi people would wish to enrich those who had destroyed their country?   

A commitment to democracy might have been demonstrated in its handling of these reconstruction contracts. Now these companies (mainly American) are working with their own personnel and are thus depriving the Iraqi people of employment and dignity as they watch the invader rebuild Iraq to his own designs. Through the Iraqi Development Fund the Iraqis are paying American big business to repair the damage caused by American bombing and paying for the illegal occupation of their country. 

How is Paul Bremer working “in consultation with the Iraqi interim administration,” as he is required to do under Security Council Resolution 1483? He has set up a Program Review Board, a committee to make recommendations on public spending. This committee has eleven voting members. Of these seven are Americans. There is one Briton, one Australian, and two Iraqis  -  one being the Minister of Finance who was appointed by the Governing Council of Iraq which was itself appointed by Paul Bremer. (He joined the consultation process in September 2003 after a great many decisions had been taken.) This committee’s recommendations are brought to Paul Bremer who then takes a final decision. This, too, demonstrates the American determination to control Iraq’s assets, and its opposition to democracy for Iraq. 

The Security Council is responsible for international peace and security. That is the beginning and end of its remit. It has exceeded its powers by meddling in the economic arrangements of a sovereign country. The arrangements it has authorised are illegal and may be rescinded by a new Iraqi government.  It is not entitled to give away, or sell at bargain basement prices, the assets of an occupied country nor to give its funds to an illegal occupying power to use at it wishes.

The American aim would appear to have been to privatise Iraq, gaining control over key assets, opening it up for exploitation by American and other global corporations. Once the new economic system has been established the Americans will hand over the administration of Iraq to the apparently free control of the Iraqi people. At this point Iraqis may find that their freedom to organise their economy and economic institutions as they may have wished has been wiped out. They will be faced with the disappearance of key personnel, the overwhelming difficulties created by sanctions, the war, the American administration, the privatisation of state industries, the takeover of their oil industry, and aid packages tied to contracts. They may may have no choice but to co-operate with American corporations. This is the likely nature of Iraqi freedom. 



Lessons from the Gulf War

The events and actions described above show the following defects in the behaviour of the United Nations Security Council. The first is to do with how the United States committed gross violations of international law and acted outside the United Nations Charter in the way it conducted the Gulf War. The two problems here were the massacre of the retreating Iraqi forces, and the destruction of Iraqi infrastructure. We can see that the Security Council’s instructions to the forces it employed to get Iraqi soldiers out of Kuwait and the subsequent direction and monitoring of these forces were inadequate. Also, following the committing of momentous crimes there was no investigation, no war crimes tribunal, no holding to account. These major war crimes remain unacknowledged and should be dealt with. Those suspected of guilt should be tried.


The Security Council authorised the United States to run the war. This is not permitted by the Charter. Article 47, paragraph 3, requires that the Military Staff Committee (which should consist of the Chiefs of Staff of the permanent members of the Security Council, or their representatives) “shall be responsible under the Security Council for the strategic direction of any armed forces placed at the disposal of the Security Council.” Whether or not the use of a Military Staff Committee would result in the proper running of the United Nations enforcement action the issue of the proper control of forces must be addressed.  

In authorising the attack on Iraqi forces the Security Council indicated that the forces should use “all necessary means”. These words are traditionally used when force is authorised by the Security Council. It would seem wise, in the future, for the Security Council to indicate more precisely what may and may not be done when applying force to deal with a breakdown of peace. 

The Security Council has never been entitled to unleash unlimited destruction in pursuit of bringing peace. It may only authorise force proportionate to the needs of restoring peace. Article 42 specifies that “ it may take such action . . .  as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security.” In addition, the United Nations is dedicated to the upholding of international law and therefore must treat with the utmost gravity the violation of international laws by forces operating under its direction. 


When the Security Council authorises the use of force it should specify clearly what may and may not be done. The direction of the use of force should be, in accordance with article 47/3, by the Military Staff Committee. It should never put overall control of a mission in the hands of a country with special interests in dominating or exploiting one or more countries in dispute.

The Security Council should monitor the actions taken by forces that it employs. It should investigate wrongdoing and in situations in which the new International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction it should set up an appropriate tribunal to deal with any international crimes. If it should fail to take appropriate action then the General Assembly should set up a suitable tribunal. The General Assembly must take upon itself executive powers to be exercised when it considers another body of the UN is unwilling or unable to take action necessary to carry out the work of the UN, or uphold the reputation of the UN.

A new Scrutiny Committee should be set up (see later) to observe that actions initiated by the Security Council do not begin to act against the principles and purposes of the Charter. This Scrutiny Committee would also act as contact point for nations aggrieved by Security Council actions. The Scrutiny Committee would assess complaints and issue opinions. It would advise the Security Council and draw to the attention of the Security Council or General Assembly any matter which it believed needed their attention.

Lessons from sanctions against Iraq

Sanctions, as envisaged in the charter, were surely intended to be a firm form of persuasion consisting of such things as trade restrictions which might lower standards of living without causing actual suffering; halting trade in luxury goods; and restriction of diplomatic rights, travel, sporting and cultural exchanges.  


The Security Council should set up rules under which sanctions may be applied in order to ensure that the effects do not conflict with UN principles including that of respecting human rights. In future, sanctions must never be applied to a country in such a way that they put at risk education; the development of medical, scientific and other knowledge; the health, nutrition, and survival of a people.

The Security Council should monitor the effects of sanctions (and all other decisions that it takes), and take appropriate action when things go wrong.  

In the case of the sanctions against Iraq the Security Council or General Assembly should establish a tribunal to try those believed to be responsible for the deaths of over a million people. In future the new Scrutiny Committee (see later) should recommend the setting up of tribunals when it considers this appropriate. The tribunals themselves should be monitored to ensure that no country or countries have excused their nationals from prosecution (as has happened with the current Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague).

Lessons from the build-up to the war in Iraq in 2003

Failure to deal with a clear threat

The failure of the Security Council during 2002 and 2003 was that it completely ignored the threats of a war of aggression coming from the United States and Britain. It should have demanded and worked for peaceful ways of dealing with the alleged concerns of Britain and America. The Security Council is guilty of dereliction of duty.  A reform of attitudes, rather than rules, is required. Members of the Security Council must be alert to the hysteria and bluster of the United States, deal with any threats made by this or any other country, and not allow itself to be side-tracked by a country’s diversionary tactics.  

Resolutions as propaganda

Resolution 1441, prior to the 2003 bombing of Iraq, contained factual errors and misleading statements. These were then quoted by politicians as if they were pronouncements of unassailable truth. The resolution began byrecognizing the threat Iraq’s non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles poses to international peace and security.” This seriously misrepresents the facts. Iraq was a weak and virtually defenceless country. It was known at this time that Iraq had no long-range missiles, that all nuclear weapons programmes and facilities had been verifiably eliminated, that at least 95% of the chemical and biological weapons had been destroyed, and that the shelf life of virtually all the remaining 5% had long expired. A possible tiny residue of chemical and biological agents which lacked delivery systems did not amount to a viable threat to even one country (a view shared by all Iraq’s neighbours). 

The suggestion of non-compliance and a later one that  “Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions” is seriously misleading. The remains of the vast chemical weapons factory at Muthanna,  partially destroyed by US bombing during the Gulf War of 1991, had been conclusively destroyed by inspectors. The Al Hakkum chemical and biological factory had been blown up by inspectors. Rather than noncompliance there had been astonishing co-operation by Iraq. Over an eight-year period 276 teams with 3,845 inspectors and weapons experts had scoured Iraq and systematically destroyed weapons, weapons materials, delivery systems, and related industrial facilities. Iraqi statements that “we have no more to declare” were known, even in November 2002, to be true or so close to true that there could be no international danger from any possible residue of weapons materials. 

Another questionable statement in Resolution 1441 is that “Iraq ceased all co-operation with UNSCOM and the IAEA in 1998.” This implies the fault was on the Iraqi side, when in fact it was the United States who withdrew inspectors making it impossible for further co-operation by Iraq at that time. Iraq was indeed reluctant to allow inspectors back, but there were good reasons for this. Shortly following the departure of the inspectors America, with help from the UK, antagonised Saddam Hussein by firing of 415 cruise missiles at Iraq and dropping 600 laser-guided bombs  - a flagrant violation of international law. Saddam claimed (and independent experts support this view) that inspectors had been used to spy and select targets for the bombing. Saddam then stalled on re-admitting inspectors as a bargaining chip to get UN sanctions lifted (thus showing more concern for the people of Iraq than the UN Security Council). He had a case which deserved a sympathetic hearing. It was not a simple matter of non-co-operation. The blame should have been directed primarily at the behaviour of the US.

The reference, in the resolution, to Iraqi terrorism was without justification. There was no evidence to support the idea that Iraq was working with international terrorists.

The threat in the resolution of “serious consequences” if Iraq did not co-operate was unreasonable because the Security Council had already killed over 1,000,000 Iraqis by means of the sanctions had imposed against Iraq. There could be no justification under United Nations Charter for inflicting more suffering on the people of Iraq. War, under the terms of the Charter, can never be an instrument of policy for the United Nations. That would be a negation of its prime purpose. Positive incentives like lifting sanctions, the offering of assistance and trade deals would have been an approach that would have been in keeping with the Charter. The concern of Iraq about the threat to them posed by Israel’s weapons of mass destruction should have been addressed. 

The misinformation contained in the resolution seems to have been intended to mislead world opinion. Resolution 1441 was used by politicians to sell the idea that it was necessary to bomb Iraq in order to get co-operation. Politicians quoted it as if it were an authoritative source of information, which it should have been, but was not. Resolution 1441 was written as an instrument of propaganda for war. Normal standards of civilised conduct require that communications should be fair, reasonable and honest. UN resolutions must be written with scrupulous fairness and integrity.  


The General Assembly should set up a Scrutiny Committee to scrutinise the work of the Security Council as it progresses, and deal with misdeeds and omissions.

It should examine proposed resolutions to ensure that they comply with UN principles, are consistent with international law, do not contain factual errors or misleading suggestions, do not make unreasonable demands, do not exceed the mandate of the Security Council and are fair, honest and conducive to peace and understanding.

When the legality of a proposed action by the Security Council is in question then the Scrutiny Committee should draw on legal expertise within the Committee or consult the senior legal officer of the United Nations. In the unlikely event of his advice not being accepted by the Security Council then the Scrutiny Committee should take the matter to the International Court of Justice in the Hague which should be authorised to adjudicate in such matters. Its terms of operation may need adjusting. All legal advice to the Security Council should be immediately published. If the Scrutiny Committee had the feeling that the Security Council was moving significantly in the wrong direction it should take the matter to the members of the General Assembly.

The Scrutiny Committee should publish all its recommendations to the Security Council and General Assembly and keep the public fully informed about its investigations and discussions on a daily basis.

The Scrutiny Committee would be a unique institution - a sort of synthesis of “conscience of the UN,” advisory body, watchdog, pressure group, political commentator and legal department (separate from but able to draw on the existing UN legal department). It would represent the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and work impartially in support of the ideals of the United Nations. Its method would be to issue considered assessments on the deliberations of the Security Council including even statements made by individual members or sub-groups (and include especially draft resolutions), issues it judges should concern the Security Council, and ongoing projects initiated by the Security Council. Assessments would be issued on a daily basis and some would have to be provisional. The influence and power of the Scrutiny Committee would be considerable because of its integrity, independence, knowledge and wisdom. Its pronouncements would become a focus for the world’s media.

It would be answerable to the General Assembly and world opinion which would undoubtedly be swift to criticise if it felt, for example, that the Charter had been misinterpreted. Hopefully it would work as a friendly partner with the International Security Council but its daily reports would stand as a counter to any propagandist distortions that might be made by a member country which sought to mislead its own people or the decisions of the ISC away from the purposes and principles expressed in the Charter of the United Nations. It might, for example,  have been helpful and influential when President Bush announced that the war against Iraq was in support of the UN if a Scrutiny Committee had pronounced Bush’s statement to be totally contrary to the principles and purposes of the United Nations.

Resolution 1441 (and many more) begin with a series of hanging present participles  - recognising this, and recalling that, and stressing something else. For the purpose of comprehension these should be replaced by succinct summaries of the introductory material and be written in well organised, relatively short and clear sentences and paragraphs. 

Misleading presentation to UN

On 5 February 2003 Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State, presented a dossier of evidence to the the UN Security Council and the world’s media purporting to prove a massive programme of illegal weapons building by Iraq. The checking on the ground of every detail shows that the dossier was without justification in every significant point. The toleration of attempts to mislead the United Nations brings the organisation into general contempt. 


A Standards Committee should be set up to deal with any individual whose word or behaviour brings the General Assembly or the Security Council seriously into disrepute. Speakers at the United Nations who are found guilty of presenting grossly inaccurate information or attempting to mislead should be suspended from access to the United Nations a for substantial period of time.  

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Attempts to obstruct discussion

Any member of the General Assembly was entitled to raise the matter of the threats posed by Britain and America and call for a special session of the General Assembly to discuss the issue. The Security Council was taking no action under article twelve to deal with the American and British threats to peace, thereby opening up this opportunity. 

Under the “ uniting for peace resolution,” resolution 377, of 1950 any member  of the General Assembly was entitled to canvass support for the recall of the General Assembly to deal with a matter of peace and security which the Security Council seems unable to handle. The rules require a majority of members of the General Assembly (96) or just seven members of the Security Council to be in favour of an emergency session for one to be set up. Nations  moved too slowly to gather the required number of votes.  

Egypt started the process, but the United States, in a letter to all national delegations on 18th March, warned them not to support this move. “The United States would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as unhelpful and as directed against the United States.  Please know that this question as well as your position on it is important to the US.” There was no emergency session. 


The use of threats or bribes to influence the working of the United Nations by any nation should be specifically prohibited by Charter. The position of the offending country within the organisation should be at stake. The Scrutiny Committee should draw to the attention of the Standards Committee any knowledge of attempts by countries to use undue influence. The Standards Committee should investigate and judge the matter and take its findings to the General Assembly to consider suspension of the offending country.

In an emergency situation it may be unrealistic to require the consent of so many members before a special meeting of the General Assembly can be arranged to deal with an important concern. Perhaps a petition from thirty member states should be considered sufficient.

The General Assembly should establish a right to overrule the Security Council in exceptional circumstances and debate issues of major concern  -  for example, when there is widespread dissatisfaction with the direction the ISC may be taking. The General Assembly is parent of the Security Council and should set the rules.

Lessons from the aftermath of the war in Iraq in 2003

The Security Council, since the invasion of Iraq, is guilty of exceeding its powers and supporting non-compliance with international law and important United Nations rules. It has left America in control of Iraq, in possession of wealth which rightfully belongs to the Iraqi people, and free to manipulate its economy and resources for the benefit of the United States.  Resolution 1483 appears to condone the breaking of certain articles of the Geneva Conventions, and the Hague Regulations of 1907 even though it reminds the occupying powers of the need to comply with these international laws.  

The Security Council has no business to be enabling the setting up of any kind of government or economic system in Iraq which is not what the Iraqi people would choose of their own free will. In fact its role is to deal with “international peace and security.” It should not be setting rules for the governments of countries. If the Security Council did have the right to organise invaded countries it should be required to act within the Charter and therefore not condone the manipulation by the United States of the provisional Governing Council of Iraq to produce a kind of government which suits the interests of American big business. The Security Council should be mindful of General Assembly resolution 2625 which states, “Each State has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems.”



A new UN “Governance Council” should be set up to deal with states which, in exceptional circumstances, find themselves without a viable government. The International Security Council would continue to deal with relationships between countries.

This is another occasion when a Scrutiny Committee might have done good work exposing the fact that the Security Council was operating outside its mandate and in conflict with UN principles and international law.

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Attitude and commitment

What is most needed in the United Nations, in the General Assembly and in the Security Council but especially from America, Britain (and Israel), is a transformation of attitudes and commitment to the aims and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. If there had been true commitment to these over many years Iraq would not be the ruined country that it now is and the United Nations would be enjoying the honour and respect of the world. It is unlikely that the three most fearful countries in the world would have any fear of terrorists. If an invasion of Iraq had, in spite of everything, taken place then the UN might well have been welcomed into Iraq to advise or even temporarily administer the country at this difficult time. 

Members of the General Assembly must face up to American power. They should appreciate that a combination of all members of the General Assembly would be an irresistible force. World opinion rejects American violence in the service of American and other global corporations. By acting together they need not be intimidated by threats from America or other countries.



Countries which frequently show their antagonism and lack of commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter should be considered for suspension or expulsion. The General Assembly has power to do this under Article 18/2.

Article 6 of the Charter of the United Nations needs amending. This states, “a member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the principles contained in the present charter may be expelled from the organisation by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.” The Security Council requirement should be deleted from this article. The behaviour of the United States, Britain (and Israel -  which has made a mockery of the UN  by flouting UN resolutions over several decades) should be debated. A further reason for amending this article is that it contradicts Article 18/2 which clearly authorises the General Assembly to suspend or expel members. 

The most serious anomaly in the Charter of the United Nations must be corrected. There is no justification for the power of the five permanent members of the Security Council to veto any decision of the Security Council and some decisions of the General Assembly. In theory any one of these members could veto a change of rules which would scrap the veto. No organisation can commit itself to total rigidity. The General Assembly must require the Security Council to abolish the veto. The veto power of the permanent members of the Security Council is in conflict with the principle stated in the preamble to The Charter of the United Nations that all nations have equal rights.

Another necessary change is to the composition of the Security Council. All regions of the world must be permanently represented. Regional Security Councils should be set up (representing, for example, South America, South East Asia, the Middle East, Pacific Islands, Western Europe, and so on) which meet from time to time to discuss major concerns.

The General Assembly should act under articles 10 and 18 of the Charter and abolish the Security Council. It should replace it with a new International Security Council with the same remit as the old SC, but with new rules of membership and a special relationship with the new Regional Security Councils.

Their role should be to explore issues and offer advice to the International Security Council. Each should elect a representative to sit on the International Security Council in New York or alternative venues. In this way even the smaller countries would have a means of influencing the International Security Council.

All member nations are required to pay a levy to the UN. The ten countries which donate the most to UN funds should have permanent seats on the International Security Council so long as they maintain their top ten ranking. Any country with a population of well over a billion people should have a permanent seat if it has not qualified on other grounds (subject to payment of dues). Any country not paying its dues to the UN without good cause should forfeit membership of UN bodies.


Another necessary transformation is that the United Nations must become more accountable. This must take many forms.  

It is essential that the global general public, and the media become familiar with the aims and principles of the United Nations and basic international law. We can be certain that nations promoting war or misbehaving in other ways will produce experts to re-assure the world that black is indisputably white. But, armed with knowledge, we can be vigorous in publicising and questioning the behaviour of the General Assembly and Security Council, and, in Britain, the roles played by British representatives. It is up to all of us to hold the United Nations to account.  

The Security Council is required to report to the General Assembly. It is necessary for the General Assembly to assess far more critically what it is told. When there has been gross abuse of international law and the Charter of the United Nations as described above, those guilty must be held to account. When the International Criminal court cannot act this may require the setting up of tribunals, like the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal, to try the individuals responsible for such crimes as starting a war of aggression, genocide and crimes against humanity.   

As already discussed, a Scrutiny Committee should be set up to constantly monitor the work of the Security Council and to advise and report its findings to the world.  

Perhaps elsewhere in the world, but certainly in Britain we need to ensure that Members of Parliament in particular and the whole of the public are aware of the basic requirements of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. Parliament needs to be active in holding the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, and our Ambassador to the United Nations to account for their actions with regard to the United Nations and in their conduct of Britain’s relationships with other countries. There needs to be a special parliamentary committee to monitor Britain’s relationship with the United Nations and to bring the public spotlight to bear on this. In addition one or more self-appointed civil committees might additionally be set up. 

For a democracy to function effectively citizens must have information. The activities of the UN are too seldom reported. We should expect and demand better of our media.


When a hundred million people around the world marched on 15 February 2003 against the proposed attack on Iraq they were marching in support of the United Nations Charter which speaks of ridding the world of the scourge of war, and resolving international disputes by peaceful means. Those of us who are familiar with the ideals of the Charter the United Nations must work to spread the knowledge of the true United Nations and do what we can to urge people everywhere to support it and reform its workings in order to promote world peace. There is a large receptive audience around the world instinctively in tune with the Charter of the United  Nations.  

This requires all of us to write letters and articles, join phone-ins, hand out literature, and lobby to the best of our abilities. Our targets will include the media, Members of Parliament, peace groups, churches, NGOs, students, and the people of the USA. World peace is not a utopian dream. For many centuries bitter wars ravaged Europe. Europeans, for the most part, have abandoned such primitive behaviour within Europe itself with tremendous benefits for everyone. Some countries wish to drag us back to the Dark Ages of a ruthless lawless world of brute power. It is surely possible that worldwide peace and security could break out.  The Charter of the United Nations offers a clear guide. Whatever else we do, at the very least, we must halt America’s policy of war without end.



The Law of War

Starting a war of aggression is the gravest crime that may be committed.


From the Judgment of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, 1946

“The charges in the indictment that the defendants planned and waged aggressive wars are charges of the utmost gravity. War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent States alone, but affect the whole world.

To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime, it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” 

It was for such crimes that Nazi war criminals were hanged. The laws under which Nazi leaders were tried are embodied in the Nuremberg Principles.

Principles of International Law Recognized in the Charter of the

Nuremberg Tribunal and in the Judgment of the Tribunal

Confirmed unanimously by the General Assembly of the United Nations in Resolution 95, 11 December 1946. Adopted by the International Law Commission of the United Nations, 1950.

These principles established that individuals are personally responsible for crimes they commit in the name of the state and describe the most serious international crimes. 

“Principle I. Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible therefore and liable to punishment.

Principle II. The fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law.

Principle III. The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law.

Principle IV.  The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.

Principle V.  Any person charged with a crime under international law has the right to a fair trial on the facts and law.

Principle VI.  The crimes hereinafter set out are punishable as crimes under international law:

(a) Crimes against peace:

(i) Planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;

(ii) Participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the acts mentioned under (i).

(b) War Crimes:

Violations of the laws or customs of war which include, but are not limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation of slave-labour or for any other purpose of the civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.


(c) Crimes against humanity:

Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds, when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime.

Principle VII.  Complicity in the commission of a crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity as set forth in Principle VI is a crime under international law.” 

Declaration on principles of international law in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Extract from UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 - 24 October 1970.

No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law. 

No State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State. 

The territory of a State shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. The territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.  

Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues. 

A war of aggression constitutes a crime against the peace, for which there is responsibility under international law. In accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, States have the duty to refrain from propaganda for wars of aggression.” 

Proposed bombing of Iraq Illegal

Statement from the International Commission of Jurists,

Australia Section, 20 February 2003

“There is no justification in International Law for the United States of America's proposed attack on Iraq. There is no right for any country to carry out “pre-emptive” strikes.

There is no individual or collective right in international law to attack another State unless it is an act undertaken in direct self-defence. The case for self-defence from an imminent threat by Iraq has not been made out by the USA, Britain, Australia or any other country.

The primary role of the United Nations Organization is to promote international peace and security. We believe the United Nations does not have the legal power under its Charter to authorise an attack on a sovereign state that is not a legitimate exercise of self-defence. The United Nations Security Council has never authorised pre-emptive aggression or invasion. . .  

The Security Council is bound to act in accordance with the United Nations Charter's principles of peaceful settlement of international disputes and to refrain from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of political independence of a state.” 

Proposed bombing of Iraq amounts to a war of aggression. 

Statement from the International Commission of Jurists,

Geneva, 18 March 2003

“The ICJ today expressed its deep dismay that a small number of states are poised to launch an outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression. A war waged without a clear mandate by the Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force. Security Council Resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of force. . .


The competency of the Security Council to authorise the use of force is not unlimited. It may only do so to “maintain or restore international peace and security.” As states resisting the use of force at this moment understand, the determination upon whether there is a present threat to international peace and security must be based on sufficient objective criteria. The evidence presented by states pressing for war is less than convincing.”


Preventing war

From the Charter of the United Nations

1.        The essence of the UN  The prime purpose of the United Nations is to rid the world of “the scourge of war.” UN Charter, Preamble.

2.        War and even the threat of war are not allowed “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." UN Charter, Article, 2-4, and UN Declaration on Principles of International Law. The reference to “political independence” clearly includes the idea of outlawing regime change by forces external to a state.

3.        Disputes must be settled peacefully  “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.” UN Charter, Article 2-3.

Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations

                        [This sets out the core values and aims of the United Nations.]

We the peoples of the United Nations determined

·      to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

·      to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and

·      to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and

·      to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,


And for these ends

·      to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours, and

·      to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security, and

·      to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and

·      to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples,

have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.


San Francisco, 26 June 1945.                         

David Roberts, 1 January 2004. 

At the time of writing this paper David Roberts was a member of the Executive Committee of Action for UN Renewal, but the opinions expressed in this discussion paper are his own and may not have been widely endorsed within Action for UN Renewal.

Also by David Roberts: Nato on Trial, the Bombing of Yugoslavia  -  available on line at; Kosovo War Poetry, published by Saxon Books; Minds at War, the Poetry and Experience of the First World War, (editor) published by Saxon Books; Out in the Dark, Poetry of the First World War, (editor) published by Saxon Books and The European Union and You, published by Saxon Books. Further information on this website including the books page - .


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