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The Role of the United Nations in the Gulf War

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If we take into consideration how John Gerard Ruggie’s concept of multilateralism, we can begin to understand the role of the United Nations as a multilateral institution.  To start, the widely know description of multilateralism refers to multiple countries working together in some form of an institution, or organization, for the common welfare of the international community.

Ruggie states that multilateralism is “a generic institutional form of modern institutional life.” Under Ruggie’s concept of multilateralism, an institution, such as the United Nations, is obligated to “respond to threatened or actual aggression first by diplomatic means, then through economic sanctions, and finally by collective use of force, if necessary.” (Ruggie, 1983)

Ruggie’s concept states that the distinction of multilateralism is not just in the coordination of national policies, but also that it uses certain principles of relations among groups of three or more states.

Robert Hutchings (2003) stated “The character or peacekeeping had grown much harder: whereas before the United Nations had been called in to keep peace between two parties who wanted it preserved, the UN was now brought in to make peace between warring factions that were not yet committed to reconciliation.” Using the United Nations as the main form of multilateralism we can infer that the United Nation’s peacekeeping, including disarmament, mediation and monitoring, allows countries to help the United States and its responsibilities for keeping peace world-wide.

During the time of Bush, Sr., a review of the United States’ role in multilateral peace operations took place largely due to the fast expansion of United Nations operations.  Before the Gulf War, the United States and the United Nations would frequently disagree on numerous issues.  After the beginning of the Gulf War, however, the United States and the United Nations joined forces to rid the Middle East of Saddam Hussein.  This convergence caused the United Nations to be viewed as “an instrument of American foreign policy.” (Pubantz & Moore, Jr., 2003)  The United Nations did have one unpleasant side.  The United Nations has frequently served as a flexible excuse for the failures of its member states.

The success of the United Nations’ authorization regarding Iraq in 1991 renewed optimism toward the United Nations.  “The five permanent members now cooperated in efforts to address an ever wider array of threats to international peace and security.” (Durch, 1996)

When Hussein invaded, the United Nations passed resolution after resolution, demanding Iraq’s troops to withdraw.  When it was clear of Hussein’s intentions, the United Nations authorized the attacks that were necessary.

Unlike the current war in Iraq, the first Persian Gulf War was fought with the unwavering support of the United Nations.  Bush, Sr., did not engage in war without informing the international community as a whole.  Saddam Hussein was given ample opportunity to withdraw before any attacks were initiated.

After Iraq had been driven out of Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council passed resolutions that allowed for the presence of arms inspectors and “no fly” zones in Iraq.

“During the 1990s, the use of force, even multilateral force, became increasingly unpopular in the international community.” (Harris, 2003)

The first Persian Gulf War was considered a ‘Justifiable War’ by all.  All of the conditions necessary for use of force were met before any other action had been taken.

While the United States and the United Nations have had their difficulties with each other, the war in Iraq proved a success for both parties.  The United Nations succeeded in using their principles to try to gain a peaceful solution, without violence.  The United States succeeded in forcing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, largely in part to support from the United Nations.  The United Nations and its resources that were pooled from the international community proved to be a valuable asset and aid, providing, among the many things, extra troops and supplies.

Over 30 countries participated in helping the effort to remove Saddam Hussein.  The masses of military support that the international community provided were a main reason why the Gulf War had such triumphant results.

When the Bush administration won the approval of the United Nations for Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf, it supported twelve United Nations peace operations.  “The robust multilateralism was significant not only because of manpower, but because it did not look like it was the United States against an Arab country…it was the international community against Iraq.” (Tapper, 2003)

“Using the most powerful provisons of the United Nations Charter’s Chapter VII enforcement measures (Articles 39 and 40) the superpowers demanded a ceasefire in the seven year old Iran-Iraq war, and threatened unspecified action against either combatant if it did not accept the provisions of the resolutions.” (Pubantz & Moore, Jr., 2003)  With the efforts of the United Nations and allies combined after the war, the United Nations took control of the establishment and defense of the minorities in Iraq.  When Iraq’s military efforts to deter revolts by Hussein’s armies produced hundreds of thousands of refugees, the United States pushed the United Nations to take over the refugee camps.

If the purpose of the United Nations was to be completely hegemonic in nature, then it stands to reason that maybe the best interests of the international community may be of peaceful accord.  First and foremost, the United Nations seeks to keep peace and make peace among warring groups.  Only after all other options have been exhausted is there a glimpse of using force to achieve this goal.

The United Nations is a vital part of pursuit of its member states’ own prosperity.  Large parts of the world’s people require (or will require) the United Nations’ assistance to help with any problems they encounter that cannot be taken care of on their own.  “Thus the United States’ policy today has become as much a matter of managing global issues as managing bilateral ones.” (Tharoor, 2003)

“The United Nations’ relevance does not stand or fall on its conduct on any one issue.  When the crisis had passed, the world will still be left with innumerable problems-threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the degradation of our common environment, contagious disease and chronic starvation, human rights and human wrongs, mass illiteracy and massive displacement.  The United Nations exists to find these solutions through the common endeavor of all states.  It is the indispensable global organization for a globalizing world.” (Tharoor, 2003)


Dhanapala, Jayantha (2006) “The Future of Multilateralism” Daily News-Sri lanka  www.dailynews.lk

Durch, William J. (1996) UN Peacekeeping, American Politics, and the Uncivil Wars of the 1990s.  Palgrave Macmillian (ISBN 0312129300)

Harris, Tobias (2003) “The Future of American Power” Gulliver Unbound   http://people.brandeis.edu/~cbmag/…/2003 May/GulliverUnbound-May 2003.doc

Hutchings, Robert L. (2003) “The United Nations and the Crisis of Multilateralism” University of Pennsylvania Keynote Address www.dni.gov/nic/speeches_un_multilateralism.html

Krieger, David (2002) “Peace and Sustainable Development Will Rise or Fall Together” Common Dreams News Center www.commondreams.org

Tharoor, Shashi (2003) “Why America Still Needs the United Nations” Foreign Affairs www.foreignaffairs.org

Torulagha, Prive S. (2003) “The United States and Post-Saddam Iraq: The Emerging Supremacy of United Nations Authority in the World” www.nigerdelatcongress.com/uarticles/united_states_and_post.htm

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