SHOWDOWN AT TURTLE BAY
"The tents have been struck," declared South Africa's prime minister, Jan Christian Smuts,
about the League of Nations' founding. "The great caravan of humanity is again on the
march." A generation later, this mass movement toward the international rule of law still
seemed very much in progress. In 1945, the League was replaced with a more robust
United Nations, and no less a personage than U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull hailed it
as the key to "the fulfillment of humanity's highest aspirations." The world was once more
on the move.
Earlier this year, however, the
finally ground to a halt. With the dramatic rupture of
the UN Security Council, it became clear that the grand attempt to subject the use of force
to the rule of law had failed.
In truth, there had been no progress for years. The UN's rules governing the use of force,
laid out in the charter and managed by the Security Council, had fallen victim to
geopolitical forces too strong for a legalist institution to withstand. By 2003, the main
question facing countries considering whether to use force was not whether it was lawful.
Instead, as in the nineteenth century, they simply questioned whether it was wise.
The beginning of the end of the international security system had actually come slightly
earlier, on September 12, 2002, when President George W. Bush, to the surprise of many,
brought his case against Iraq to the General Assembly and challenged the UN to take action
against Baghdad for failing to disarm. "We will work with the UN Security Council for the
necessary resolutions," Bush said. But he warned that he would act alone if the UN failed to
Washington's threat was reaffirmed a month later by Congress, when it gave Bush the
authority to use force against Iraq without getting approval from the UN first. The
American message seemed clear: as a senior administration official put it at the time, "we
don't need the Security Council."
Two weeks later, on October 25, the United States formally proposed a resolution that
would have implicitly authorized war against Iraq. But Bush again warned that he would
not be deterred if the Security Council rejected the measure. "If the United Nations doesn't
have the will or the courage to disarm Saddam Hussein and if Saddam Hussein will not
disarm," he said, "the United States will lead a coalition to disarm [him]." After intensive,
behind-the-scenes haggling, the council responded to Bush's challenge on November 7 by
unanimously adopting Resolution 1441, which found Iraq in "material breach" of prior
resolutions, set up a new inspections regime, and warned once again of "serious
consequences" if Iraq again failed to disarm. The resolution did not explicitly authorize
force, however, and Washington pledged to return to the council for another discussion
before resorting to arms.
The vote for Resolution 1441 was a huge personal victory for Secretary of State Colin