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Carlsson / Ramphal Article
Ingvar Carlsson is former Swedish Prime Minister and Shridath Ramphal is former Secretary General of the Commonwealth. They are currently co-chairmen of the Commission on Global Governance.
Guardian, 2 April, 1999
Might is not right Nato's bombing is an act of aggression against a sovereign country. What price the UN now?
By Ingvar Carlson and Shridath Ramphal Friday April 2, 1999
No person, no country can simply recite itself into a field of action whose gates are locked against it by a superior law. Not under the rule of law, national or international. The United Nations Charter is every country's superior law; it prescribes that no country or group of countries shall resort to the use of force against another, save in self-defence, except under the authority of the United Nations. Nato air strikes against Yugoslavia have not been authorised by the United Nations. That authority was not even sought. They are therefore acts of aggression against a sovereign country; and as such they strike at the heart of the rule of international law and the authority of the United Nations. Because they are acts undertaken by the world's most militarily powerful countries, that damage is incalculable.
A trend towards unilateral action in defiance of international norms became more pronounced once we entered a unipolar world; it is a trend that persists and with more boldness. This month the United States has imposed trade sanctions against European countries contrary to the rules of the World Trade Organisation. Now Europe and North America have used massive force against Yugoslavia contrary to the UN Charter.
Who is there to stop them and turn them back to the path of law - as President Eisenhower did to Britain and France at the time of Suez? And after this, who will there be to turn back other action in breach of the Charter? What if, in virtuous rage, China invades Taiwan, or the US bombs Cuba, or Spain annexes Gibraltar? Will there be another set of norms that condemns these wrongs? And on what basis do we press the claims of disarmament in a world palpably no longer under the rule of law founded on the UN Charter?
Of course, in the Security Council, Russia and China have responsibilities that they must discharge in constructive ways; but the prospect of this would be immeasurably enhanced if they were presented with an opportunity to do so rather than with unilateral action in violation of the Charter which offers them no route but condemnation.
Nato countries assert their respect for the Charter of the United Nations and the norms of international law that arise from it. Europe, in particular, claims moral authority as a custodian of internationalism. Now the gamekeepers have turned poachers, posing as policemen. This temptation to assume police powers on the basis of righteousness and military strength is dangerous for world order and world peace; what results is a world ordered by vigilante action. We would not have that in our national societies. Why should anyone think it is less dangerous and more acceptable in our global society?
Nato countries are understandably frustrated in their efforts for peace in Yugoslavia, and are rightly indignant at the humanitarian wrongs committed by the Serbian regime. Others are indignant too; and of course horrible wrongs are committed elsewhere in our global society and by many wrong-doers - as is the case in each of our national societies.
But if in our responses we become violators too, in the end we return to a dark time when might alone is right and law comes out of the barrel of a gun. That cannot be our signature as we turn the page into a new millennium.
Return to the "Stop the NATO Bombing" Alert.