President Bush has begun naval interdiction in the Gulf area in response to Kuwait's request under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which provides for individual or collective self-defense against aggression. While this move is legal, from a long-range strategic view it would be wise for the president to move as expeditiously as possible to transfer naval interdiction or quarantine into the Chapter VII enforcement framework of the charter and further internationalize the conflict. A number of our allies in private discussions around the Security Council on Monday expressed this view.
There are cogent reasons for such an early move, if it is politically feasible. This is more than a matter of legal niceties. Under the best of circumstances, even if Saddam Hussein backs off at some point, it will be essential for there to be a long-term naval presence in the Gulf to ensure access to oil. It would be far better if a number of U.N. members, including the United States and the U.S.S.R., could share the extended burden.
Such an approach would have the added advantage of diffusing the dominant visibility of the United States, insulating us against charges of unilateralism and weakening Hussein's strategy of shifting the focus from naked aggression against a brother Arab state to a U.S.-Iraq struggle. It would help ease Arab sensitivities. It would help lay the groundwork for an international diplomatic effort, which is likely at some point, as the economic stranglehold on Iraq begins to have a telling effect. Above all, this can be done without weakening the strategic position of the United States in the Gulf. We will remain first among equals in naval and economic power and political influence.
The president has orchestrated very well a number of different facets of policy. In many respects what has been achieved thus far at the U.N. under his leadership may well prove to be of fundamental and lasting importance in shaping the world organization's role in the post-Cold War era.
The Security Council's sanctions against Iraq are more far reaching than previous ones voted by the U.N. In June 1950, the Security Council's action was largely an after-the-fact legalization of the U.S. military action against North Korean aggression and not explicitly based on the mandatory enforcement articles of the charter. The sanctions against Southern Rhodesia in 1968 were more limited as are the legally binding measures voted by the council against South Africa in 1978. Moreover, of critical importance, the sanctions voted in this crisis are comprehensive at the outset and allow for less circumvention than incremental approaches of the past.
The fundamental assumption of the U.N. Charter is that the permanent members of the Security Council would, in the words of Article I, "act together to take collective measures for the prevention and removal of the threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression." This was particularly to be the case when aggression was committed by a smaller power.
Forty years of U.S.-U.S.S.R. Cold War brought "collective security" of the charter into disuse rhetorically and in reality. The term "peacekeeping," which is not in the charter, came into being largely in the days of the late Dag Hammarskjold, as the only, more limited, alternative available.
Given the parallelism of interests of the major powers in the current crisis with Iraq, it ought to be feasible to move ahead to a mandatory naval quarantine. The U.S.S.R. is ready to participate, provided such collective naval action is sanctioned by the U.N. This would be based on Article 42 of the charter, which says that if the economic sanctions undertaken (largely under Article 41) are deemed inadequate, the council can undertake to use air, sea or land forces.
There are some touchy issues of command and coordination, because this would break new ground. It is not just a question of who is in charge. It is a question also of how to ensure that different elements communicate properly. This is difficult but manageable. There should be no serious worries, however, about putting U.S. forces under a foreign flag or that of the U.N. The Military Staff Committee, made up of the five permanent members of the council, which has met regularly at the U.N. on a perfunctory basis since 1945, could be limited to information exchange and reporting. Other participating Security Council permanent members would be no less sensitive than the United States about ensuring that each of the units would operate under its own flag.
When President Bush was ambassador to the U.N., he was an exceptional consensus-maker. He has put to good use that practical experience by spearheading the worldwide political, economic and soon-to-be military envelopment of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. We are seeing a new kind of U.S. leadership -- based on the reality of a multipolar, interdependent world in which the United States is no longer the overriding dominant power of the early post-World War II days in a position to impose solutions unilaterally. The president has a fresh opportunity in taking the next step at the U.N.
The writer, a career diplomat, was undersecretary of state for political affairs from 1974 to 1976.