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Home > Special Topics > Europe Report Last Updated: 15:16 03/09/2007
Europe Report #78: April 1, 2004

British UN Adviser Says Iraq a One-off Event

J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)

This is the second part of a two-part article

In a relatively frank speech top UN adviser Lord David Hannay told an invited audience at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs that 2003 had been a very tough year for the UN, but held out the prospect of better times in 2004. He also said that the Iraq War was a one-off event and military action in North Korea was highly unlikely.

For Japan, 2003 was also an extremely difficult year at the UN with the country dropping its normal neutral posture and instead throwing its support behind President George W. Bush's controversial pre-emptive Iraq war. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi became one of the US's most vocal supporters on an issue that bitterly divided the international community and serious split the UN. The prospect of calmer waters to come is good news for Koizumi.

In his speech the distinguished British diplomat said, "There is no point in gainsaying the fact that 2003 was a terrible year for the UN. Over Iraq, the organization was paralyzed by disagreement in the Security Council; and exposed by the lengthy, noisy public debates both in New York and in national capitals as being deeply divided over the legality of the subsequent decision to go to war."

Reassuringly, Lord Hannay added, "Iraq now looks a good deal like a one-off event than like a precursor of several others, which both anxious commentators and triumphalist neo-conservatives were ready to proclaim it at the time. Whatever one may think about the legality of the coalition's decision to go to war, it is surely clear that neither the rationale nor the legal justification for the US-UK action can easily be replicated anywhere else. Nor is any attempt being made to do so in the cases of North Korea and Iran where entirely different approaches are being pursued. Moreover, events in Iraq are testing and stretching the resources of the world's only remaining superpower to an extent which had previously not been anticipated and are demonstrating that the gap in effectiveness between a unilateral and a collective approach is not so wide as has been asserted by the UN's critics."

Lord Hannay's assessment seems fairly accurate. If it holds true, it will be good news for Premier Koizumi. His staunch support for the Iraq war was deeply unpopular and opposed by the overwhelming majority of ordinary Japanese. For Japan, one of the war's main consequences was the country's first military deployment of troops to an active battle zone since WWII. It now has about 550 ground troops stationed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, where they are engaged on a humanitarian mission. The prospect of no more pre-emptive wars in the foreseeable future makes selling current government Iraq policy much easier and will help reduce political pressure on Koizumi.

The comments quoted in this article were made in a presentation given at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs on 16 March 2004.

Lord Hannay Profile
Lord David Hannay of Chiswick is a former Permanent Representative to the UN (1990-1995) and current member of the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. He also served as the British Government Special Representative for Cyprus from 1996 to 2003 and was a former British ambassador to the European Union as well as a member of the advisory board of the Centre for European Reform.

UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
The 16-strong High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change is an important committee that was proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last September and appointed in November 2003. It is charged with helping the Secretary-General chart a new course for the UN. Its report is due out in December 2004 and is expected to have a substantial impact on the direction of future UN reforms.

Other members of the 16-strong Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change include Sadako Ogata, president of the Japan International Cooperation Agency; Brent Scowcroft, former US presidential adviser; former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov; and former Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen, inter alios.

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