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The Rediff Interview/Chinmaya Gharekhan

May 01, 2003

Chinmaya Gharekhan was the longest serving Indian permanent representative to the United Nations, from 1986 to 1992.

An under secretary general for nearly seven years thereafter, the highest position after secretary general, he was the secretary general's special representative in the Security Council for four years.

From 1997 till the end of 1999, Gharekhan was UN special representative in the Palestinian occupied territories with his headquarter in Gaza City. Presently, he is a member of the UN's expert committee on its budget.

In an interview to Chief Correspondent Josy Joseph in New Delhi, Gharekhan said America will not be able to use Iraqi oil money for reconstruction or for awarding projects to US companies without the UN Security Council's permission.

Has the UN become redundant post-Iraq operations?

The UN has not become redundant at all. If anything, it might have become even more relevant than before. For the United States, which treated the UN with some degree of indifference and even contempt, I think the UN will prove its relevance very soon.

In what sense?

The Americans will have to go to the UN for several things. Firstly, as the occupying power they would want to use the resources of the country, primarily oil as they say for the benefit of the people of Iraq. That means oil will have to be drilled and sold in markets abroad.

But they still require United Nations permission because as you know Iraq is under a severe sanctions regime. That sanctions regime continues to remain in place. This war has not changed anything as far as sanctions are concerned. It would need a Security Council resolution to rescind those sanctions.

Americans will not be able to use the oil money for reconstruction or for awarding projects to their companies etc, except with the permission of a UN Security Council resolution.

The second very important point is that the new administration in Iraq -- transition administration or the puppet regime they would want to set up -- would need legitimacy to do business with the rest of the world. The UN alone is in a position to grant this legitimacy. And, of course, for humanitarian purposes, the UN's role will be very vital because the IMF, World Bank as well as the international community, the donor community will not be willing to contribute to the humanitarian effort except by a UN resolution. So for various reasons, Americans will need the United Nations.

Thus, the UN becomes a post-war humanitarian intervention agency?

It could well be that. Though I would not minimise that role, because the humanitarian role is also very vital. Certainly in this situation I think the UN's post-conflict humanitarian role is being emphasised by everyone. But as I mentioned there are various other roles that the UN will be called upon to perform.

Let's not forget one thing. I think the UN has performed reasonably well, in fact quite creditably on one of the Iraq issues, by refusing to give the second resolution to the Americans and the British.

As we all know, these two countries were desperate for a second resolution. If the UN had given a second resolution the whole war would have become legal. While it would have become legal, it would still not have become legitimate or acceptable or justifiable. By not giving a final resolution the UN preserved its credibility.

If it had given the authority the whole world would have said the UN has become an instrument of American foreign policy.

Hans Blix has been summoned by the UN Security Council. They probably want him to go to Iraq and certify whether or not WMD exist. A certification that WMD do not exist may help to do away with UN sanctions against Iraq. Will the Americans accept Blix's team again? Will the UN help remove sanctions or would it be left to the Americans?

Sanctions will have to be removed for any oil to be sold or any reconstruction to be done in Iraq. To remove sanctions you need the Security Council's approval in the form of a resolution -- whether these sanctions are removed as a result of a report from Hans Blix that there are no more weapons of mass destruction, or by any other means.

The Security Council is a sovereign body in a manner of speaking, it can say we are satisfied that Iraq has no WMDs, and therefore the sanctions can be removed. But, of course, the most sensible course would be for Hans Blix to go to Iraq and come back and say they could not find any weapons of mass destruction.

What if America finds some weapons of mass destruction?

That will make it easier because if America finds some, then all Blix and company have to do is to destroy them. Then they can say the Americans found them, or they found them, and these are the only weapons of mass destruction in all of Iraq and we have destroyed them.

Drawing a corollary to the Iraq attack there have been arguments from the Indian government that Pakistan is a fit case for pre-emptive strike. Do you endorse that view?

No, I am not very enthusiastic about this approach. There is no need or no point in making statements like this. It doesn't lead you anywhere, doesn't prove anything. Maybe they are making these statements for electoral purposes, I am not so sure. As far as the international community is concerned, as far as our case against Pakistan is concerned it doesn't add anything.

We have a strong case against Pakistan's support to cross-border terrorism. Pakistan's support is acknowledged by everyone including the United States, Britain. We don't need to make these kind of statements to strengthen our case against Pakistan. If you are going to do something like that, then it is a different matter. But if you announce that we have a case, then we are only giving America an opportunity to intervene. In fact, you are giving an opportunity to outside powers to come in between your dispute with Pakistan.

And damage the credibility of your case against Pakistan?

You are right. Yes.

What about expansion of the Security Council? The veto power of the five permanent members?

Definitely there is a need to take a re-look at the constitution of the Security Council, at its membership. This was decided at the end of the Second World War. The five permanent members of the Security Council appointed themselves permanent members. Nobody elected them. When the charter was presented to other members around the world, including India, it was already a charter with permanent membership for these five members. So nobody had any say in the appointment of this five. There was a lot of debate, discussion, controversy at the time this charter was finalised.

Then very strong objections were raised to the veto power, but the five, especially the Americans and the Soviet Union, were adamant about the veto power. They said take it or leave it, this is the way the charter is, if you want to join the United Nations, it is on these terms and none else. So we all accepted to join the UN on the basis of veto power for the five.

There is a provision in the charter to amend the charter. Theoretically, we can either abolish, dilute or modify the veto power of these countries. That is only theoretical. In practical terms this is never going to happen because all the five veto powers have to agree to change even one word in the charter. Any one of them can veto change. So it is a foolproof system for the five.

Could the Security Council have avoided the war?

No. If a State is determined to go to war there is nothing the Security Council can do. If India was determined to go to war against Pakistan in 1971 on the Bangladesh crisis, there was nothing that the world could do. The United Nations did try when the war started, or just before the war began, to enforce an immediate cease-fire but India would not agree. We had our own problems, our own concerns. So the UN does not have the capacity or capability to stop war as far as any country of significance is concerned. In some small countries, maybe the five permanent countries can get together and do [so].

Hasn't the UN thought about an arm for critical intervention to prevent a war?

It is a good question. There is a provision that the United Nations should have a standby force of its own other than peacekeeping forces that are provided by countries voluntarily. There is a provision in the charter for standby forces.

India, for example, has pledged a brigade for standby forces, and several other countries have also done that. Again, this is theoretical. Suppose there is a crisis in some part of the world, and the UN secretary general speaks to the Indian prime minister saying, "I want that brigade. Send it to me, or to x country in one month." India can still say, "No, I am sorry. I don't want to get into that war."

Some people would like the secretary general to be more [of a] secretary than a general. Boutros Boutros Ghali, who was UN secretary general during my time, was accused of being more a general than a secretary. But the big powers, the five, they don't want a strong United Nations. India is an aspiring big power, India also does not want a strong United Nations. It is only the smaller powers that are willing to have a strong United Nations.

Do you support the suggestion that the UN should be shifted out of New York?

That again is a theoretical question. That would mean the United States would not be a member of the United Nations. That would be the end of the United Nations. Like the League of Nations, the US kept out of the League of Nations and hence the League never functioned effectively.

Should India step up its activities in the UN?

I would like India to try a little more strenuously to become a member of the Security Council, I don't mean permanent member though it would be ideal but it is long way away, if ever. But at least a non-permanent member, like Pakistan is now. India has not been there for more than 12 years because in 1996, India contested membership (of the Security Council) when we were thrashed by Japan. We were really humiliated, we got 40 votes and Japan got 140 votes.

Since those days no government in India is willing to take the risk of contesting the Security Council election. I think they give too much importance to the election process. Most probably India will win, should win. Even if it loses, it is not a national election where a party is losing. It is just an election at the UN.


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Number of User Comments: 5




Sub: Americans will need UN

The UN has to stay – stay as an independent strong world body, not as an ‘instrument’ of super power/s. It is very necessary for ...


Posted by Raphael Sebastian





Sub: UN has lost all its power

It seems Mr. Garekhan is very optimistic and he is overestimating the power of UN. US will hardly seek UN's permission because US does not ...


Posted by Prabir





Sub: What the UN will do

Mr.Garekhan What will UN do if US does not take permission from UN for using oil for reconstruction of Iraq? The only legitimacy now is ...


Posted by Hari Goyal





Sub: amendment of the charter

so the 5 permanent members can amend the charter to their benefit and the other countries cant do anything about it??


Posted by rajiv





Sub: US vs. UN

The other countries will have to tame United States, as the UN is a place where representatives of all countries meet. The best option to ...


Posted by ABC




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