Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Collective Security - 5th February 2003, 21.45

Most of the media will be concentrating on Colin Powell's "Adlai Stevenson moment" and judging whether it had a greater or a lesser effect on the other sceptical members of the Security Council. Jack Straw, who issued his own prepared statement afterwards, will be ignored although his speech provides insight into the motivations behind the government's foreign policy. Here is the relevant passage, providing the historical justification for the government's actions.

This is a moment of choice for Saddam and for the Iraqi regime. But it is also a moment of choice for this institution, the United Nations. The UN's pre-war predecessor, the League of Nations, had the same fine ideals as the UN. But the League failed because it could not create actions from its words; it could not back diplomacy with the credible threat and where necessary the use of force; so small evils went unchecked, tyrants became emboldened, then greater evils were unleashed. At each stage good men said wait; the evil is not big enough to challenge: then before their eyes, the evil became too big to challenge. We had slipped slowly down a slope, never noticing how far we had gone until it was too late. We owe it to our history as well as to our future not to make the same mistake again.

Straw correctly stated that the League of Nations dissolved since the assembly was unable to support the pledge of collective security that formed the basis of its existence. However, the transfer of such a goal to the United Nations whitewashes the history of that body and erases the Cold War. The UN was unable to act collectively because of the antagonisms between both armed camps. As the Security Council was the cockpit of the Great Powers, the UN became a useful and valued talking shop. Collective security passed to more realistic and manageable bodies such as NATO - probably the true heir to the ideals of the League of Nations.

In a telling comparison with the 1930s, the left wing of the peace movement is now investing the United Nations with the same moral sanctity that their predecessors did with the League of Nations. Their earlier incarnation during the interwar period wished to preserve peace through collective security. In an ironic reversal, the current peace movement is opposed to a war that the government promotes in order to transform the United Nations into a body that supports collective security. Such are the vagaries of politics.


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