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Keynote address: collective security and the United Nations, University of Denver College of Law, February 28, 2004.

Thank you. I'm so pleased to be part of today's important program. I'd like to thank the University of Denver and Ved Nanda for inviting me to join you this morning. I'm especially honored to be delivering the keynote address this morning. I hope my comments will contribute to your broader discussion on the topic of collective security and the United Nations.

The last time I spoke here at the University of Denver on foreign affairs was nearly four years ago--and it feels as though it was another age entirely. So much has happened to change our perceptions of the world. Instead of living in hope--working together with countries around the globe to shape the post-Cold War "new world order"--we are living in fear and are faced with seemingly stark choices--to be multilateral or unilateral, preemptive or reactive, on the side of evil or on the side of good.

I don't mean to imply that the role of the United States in the "new world order" was ever particularly clear. We were not able to reach a consensus on how to define the new threats to security and what constitutes our "national interest." For decades our resistance to Communism had been the organizing principle of American political life and foreign policy. But once the "evil empire" collapsed, with it collapsed the cold war paradigm.

Then came the collapse of the Twin Towers--at a time when this country was debating its role in the post-Cold War world. After 9-11, we were given a new organizing principle--fighting terrorism. The impact of the terrorist attacks on our nation's psyche changed our entire worldview overnight. As President Bush so memorably put it, "you're either with us or you're against us." (1)

The historical connotations of that phrase are alarming. Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out in a recent speech that "he who is not with us is against us" was popularized by Lenin when he attacked the Social Democrats for being anti-Bolshevik. (2)

Unfortunately, it appears that decision makers in the Bush Administration see this as the new basis for our policy. They see the world through the prism of the "war on terrorism," which is understandable after 9-11, but we need to consider how this new organizing principle constricts our foreign policy vision and potentially blinds us to realities on the ground. Bumper sticker slogans are no substitute for careful policy.

In the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, this "blindness" caused the Bush Administration to rush the diplomatic process at the United Nations, and dismiss a strategy of "coercive inspections" (3) that might have improved our intelligence about WMD and served as a foundation for a stronger coalition in the region.

The "blindness" of Pentagon leaders caused them to exaggerate intelligence claims (4) and mangle the planning for the post-war occupation and rebuilding of Iraq--and ignore in-depth analyses compiled by State Department experts that would have assisted them in this task. (5)

After 9-11, President Bush had no choice but to take an aggressive stance against terrorism and to reorganize his thinking and the thinking of his Administration on how to counter its threat. The "democratization of technology" (6) has made tools of terror readily available to people around the world. It is clear that we can no longer focus on states as the main sponsors of terrorism.

And waiting for these increasingly dangerous threats to materialize is much riskier than it used to be. I believe there is a growing awareness on both sides of the aisle in Congress that excessive caution, passivity, and diplomatic paralysis are not viable options to any threat--imminent or otherwise.

Yet it would not have been excessively cautious or passive for the Bush Administration to have waited a few more months in the spring and summer of 2003 to attempt to gain broader international backing for the war against Saddam Hussein's regime. The "broad coalition" (7) President Bush fashioned to carry out our war in Iraq was no substitute for what could have been a United Nations mandate.

And the fact is, by going in without support and without a post-war plan, we made long-term success much more difficult to achieve.

I think we can all agree that winning the war isn't enough unless we can also win the peace. One of the reasons I voted against the resolution to go to war--and even went through the effort of drafting my own resolution (8)--was my concern that the Bush Administration had no plans for managing post-war Iraq. In the debate before the war, many of us argued that while America can go it alone, and should go it alone when we believe an attack is imminent, Iraq presented no such imminent threat. We said that we needed the United Nations with us--not so much to win the war and topple Saddam Hussein, but to secure the peace and take responsibility for the costly and difficult nation-building to follow. We feared that a preemptive, go-it-alone attack could seriously compromise our efforts to combat global terrorism, particularly in the Islamic world.

But these concerns were largely obscured by the "with us or against us" rallying cry. After 9-11 the word "multilateral" came to be associated with weakness, vacillation, lack of conviction, and courage. In the minds of the unilateralists, to defend one's country is to act--not to "seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country," as President Bush pointed out in this year's State of the Union address. (9)

But it shouldn't have to be a choice. Few thoughtful observers of foreign affairs advocate using exclusively multilateral or unilateral approaches. Yet the "new" unilateralists have done just that, arguing that the nature of today's threat is so dire that we need to extricate ourselves from constraining multilateral institutions. (10) Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said that issues should determine the coalition, not vice versa. (11) I couldn't disagree more.

Multilateral institutions like the United Nations provide the framework for enduring alliances and ties based on common values and interests. Working within these institutions, countries can sustain and build on key relationships even as they debate and disagree on specific policies.

Multilateral institutions like the United Nations legitimize our power. Other countries are more likely to help us if we work with them through multilateral organizations. But if they believe we only call on these institutions for help when it suits us, they may be less willing to help--either as part of the institution or in an American-led coalition.

We can't conquer terrorism with military power alone. I agree with Thomas Friedman and others who have said that to get at the root of terrorism, we need to win the war of ideas in the Muslim world. (12) Terrorists everywhere believe that hope is in short supply and that the "haves" are denying them opportunities. And there are fewer opportunities to be found, with the youth population exploding in developing countries--which in turn increases the vulnerability of these countries to instability and civil conflict.

There are other threats that feed into terrorism and whose conquest could take us a long way toward turning the tide. Extreme poverty, income disparity, environmental degradation, and infectious disease--these are all threats that make the ground more fertile for terrorist roots to grow. As U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan noted in an important speech last year: "We now see, with chilling clarity, that a world where many millions of people endure brutal oppression and extreme misery will never be fully secure, even for its most privileged inhabitants." (13)

Whether in peacekeeping, distributing humanitarian aid, monitoring human rights, or designing development assistance strategies, managing transnational problems requires multilateral and multi-dimensional solutions. Precisely because there isn't a military solution to every problem, more than ever we need institutions like the United Nations to help us navigate through these difficult waters.

Of course, the United Nations is not perfect. There is widespread agreement on the need for institutional reform to increase its effectiveness and relevance to our post-9-11 world.

One positive outcome of U.S. action in Iraq was that it hastened an overdue debate on the future role of the United Nations and on the U.S.-UN relationship.

In the run-up to the war, critics disparaged the United Nations' institutional weaknesses, the United Nations' failed role in past crises in Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, and its inability to deal with Saddam Hussein's obstructionism. (14) Bush adviser Richard Perle perhaps put it most bluntly when he stated that "coalitions of the willing ... are, by default, the best hope for a [new world] order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the United Nations." (15)

But multilateralists and U.N. supporters argued in turn that for all its flaws, the United Nations remains an important source of legitimacy in the world. Among its achievements, the U.N. Security Council can boast of numerous peacekeeping operations that helped to end conflict, of nation-building activities that have helped to rebuild countries such as Afghanistan and Cambodia that were devastated by war, of economic sanctions that contributed to Libya's decision to account for the bombing of Pan Am 103, of working with the United States and other U.N. members to liberate Kuwait. (16)

And there are also the successes of the more than two dozen organizations that make up the U.N. system, such as the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Joint U.N. Programme on HIV/AIDS. Amazingly, the United Nations performs its core functions on a budget of $1.25 billion (17)--about what the Pentagon spends every 32 hours. (18)

No matter what its detractors say, it is clear that the United Nations is becoming an indispensable force in post-war Iraq. The Pentagon hawks still chafe at the thought of giving the United Nations too much control, but others concede that we need the United Nations' legitimacy to help extricate us from what some are beginning to call a quagmire. (19)

For those of us who remember the 1970s, the word "quagmire" is a charged term. But I can understand why some are starting to apply it in Iraq.

Those observers point out that the violence against American and other coalition forces, and against Iraqis themselves, continues unabated and threatens stability. (20) Unemployment and disillusionment are growing. Iraq's ethnic and religious groups have become more entrenched in their positions regarding an interim constitution and the transfer of power and more inclined to reject American proposals that they don't believe will adequately protect their groups' political viability. (21) Three critical deadlines in the Bush Administration's November "roadmap" to Iraq's sovereignty have not been or will not be met--including this weekend's deadline for an interim constitution, regional caucuses to choose a transitional assembly, and a formal agreement on maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq. And nothing can move forward unless the security situation improves.

So the Bush mantra that you're with us or you're against us--embodied in his approach to Iraq--has become not an organizing principle, but a disorganizing principle. It is this approach that has contributed to the very troublesome situation in Iraq. So I find it ironic that President Bush is now seeking the United Nations' help in meeting the June 30th deadline for the U.S. transfer of power to an Iraqi caretaker government. (22)

But I am also encouraged that the Administration is finally turning to the United Nations for assistance. In order for the June 30th deadline to have any chance of sticking, the president knows he needs the United Nations' help to forge a consensus on a path forward. The recent U.N. fact-finding report has bought some time for the Bush Administration in its recommendation that elections be pushed back to year's end at the earliest. (23) But how to transfer power on June 30th remains the key issue. Unless Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds can agree on a method for choosing the interim government, internal tensions could rise.

A critical test of the Bush Administration's capacity for multilateral engagement will be in the coming debate on a U.N. Security Council resolution spelling out the United Nations' new role in Iraq. A resolution agreed to by the United States and by governments that opposed the war would be a strong international endorsement of a path forward and could help convince Iraq's various groups to commit to that same course.

If we can work with the United Nations in Iraq, just think of what else is possible in other dangerous parts of the world. The Bush Administration's recent diplomatic engagement (24) on problems of proliferation in Iran, Libya, and North Korea is encouraging. We can hope that the president will work closely with the United Nations and other countries as it continues down these diplomatic roads.

To sum up, I believe we need to return to the fundamentals of American foreign policy, based on moderation and bipartisan cooperation, an appreciation for the importance of our alliances, and an understanding of the complexity of the human condition.

Ultimately the United States alone must decide how to protect America's vital interests. But I am convinced it is in our best interest to preserve and strengthen our decades-old leadership role in core international alliances.

America is strong not only because of our military superiority, but also because of our economic and political leadership, our values of democracy, and our moral strength in the world. Our power is unmatched--but the challenge we face now is whether we use it in ways that divide us from those we would lead or in ways that will advance the greater goal of peace and security--including security against terrorism--for all.

Franklin Roosevelt said in the year of his death that "we must live as men, and not as ostriches, nor as dogs in the manger. We have learned to be citizens of the world, members of the human community." (25) This notion that security cannot be achieved in isolation was embodied in the U.N. Charter. (26) And today, more than ever, we need to realize that the security of one state and its citizens depends on the security of others.

(1.) See Michael J. Jordan, 'With or Against Us' War Irks Many UN Nations, CHRISTIAN SCI. MONITOR, Nov. 14, 2001, at 7.

(2.) See, e.g., Zbigniew Brzezinski, Another American Casualty: Credibility, WASH. POST, Nov. 9, 2003, at B1.

(3.) See, e.g., The Case for Coercive Inspections, Now with Bill Moyers, Mar. 14, 2003, at

(4.) David Johnston, Policy, Politics And Pressure, N.Y. TIMES, July 9, 2004, at A1.

(5.) See Walter Pincus, Spy Agencies Warned of Iraq Resistance, Wash. Post, Sept. 9, 2003, at A1.

(6.) See, e.g., THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, THE LEXUS AND THE OLIVE TREE (Anchor Books 2000).

(7.) See Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, U.K. Defense Minister See Broad Coalition on Iraq, Press Conference (Feb. 12, 2003) (transcript available at

(8.) Preliminary Authorization for the Use of Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, H.R.J. Res. 118, 107th Cong. (2002).

(9.) President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address (Jan. 20, 2004), available at

(10.) Joseph S. Nye, U.S. Power and Strategy After Iraq, FOREIGN AFF. 60 (2003).

(11.) See Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Lonely at the Top: America's Popularity Abroad Continues to Slide. When Will the Bush Administration Realize That It Matters?, BOSTON GLOBE, Mar. 28, 2004, at C1.

(12.) Thomas Friedman, Brave, Young and Muslim, N.Y. TIMES, Mar. 3, 2005, at 31; see also Robert Spencer, Losing the War of Ideas,, Feb. 5, 2004, at

(13.) Secretary General Kofi Annan, Secretary-General's Address to the General Assembly, New York, (Sept. 23, 2003), available at

(14.) See, e.g., Human Rights Watch, Kosovo: Failure of NATO, U.N. to Protect Minorities (July 26, 2004), available at

(15.) Richard Perle, Coalitions of the Willing are Our Best Hope, NAT'L POST (CAN.), Mar. 21, 2003, available at newsID=16666&url=

(16.) E.g., S.C. Res. 686, U.N. SCOR, 2978th mtg., U.N. Doc. S/RES/0686 (1991) (noting the multilateral cooperation in the 1991 Iraq-Kuwait conflict)

(17.) See e.g., William M. Evan, To Help the UN, A Tax on Trade, Global Policy Forum, July 6, 1997, at

(18.) See e.g., News Release, Department of Defense, Fiscal 2005 Department of Defense Budget Release (Feb. 2, 2004) (available at

(19.) See Jim Spencer, U.S. Troops, Delusions Dying in Iraq Quagmire, DENVER POST, Aug. 31, 2003, at A29.

(20.) Id.

(21.) See Juan Cole, Iraq Elections a Disaster in the Making,, Sept. 25, 2004, at (noting the heightened pre-election tension in Iraq).

(22.) Matthew Cooper, Bush Beats His Iraq Handover Deadline, TIME, June 28, 2004, at 64.

(23.) See Susannah Price, UN Cautious Over Iraq Elections, BBC New, Feb. 23, 2004, at

(24.) E.g., Patrick E. Tyler & James Risen, Secret Diplomacy Won Libyan Pledge on Arms, N.Y. TIMES, Dec. 21, 2003, at 1.

(25.) Bonnie Goodman, How Have Wartime Inaugurations Been Handled in the Past?, History News Network, Jan. 17, 2005, at (quoting President Roosevelt).

(26.) See, e.g., U.N. CHARTER, preamble ("to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours") (emphasis added).


* U.S. House of Representatives (D-CO-2); member of the House Armed Services Committee, the House Science Committee, and the House Resources Committee; ranking member on the Committee on Science Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee; co-chair of the House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus; member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.
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Author:Udall, Mark
Publication:Denver Journal of International Law and Policy
Date:Dec 22, 2004
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