The UN, Iraq and Beyond: Limits of Empire

The United Nations had been in search of a role. The United States and to a lesser extent Britain believed that it had established what that role should be. And all the while a majority of UN member states appeared dismayed at the organisation’s seeming acquiescence to US imperial tendencies and apparent indifference to the niceties of multilateralism. This was the situation presented by events leading up to the April occupation of Iraq, and which the deaths of sixteen UN staff members in Baghdad this August may now play some role in altering.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 October 2003 4 minute READ

Randolph Kent

Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Defence Studies, King's College London

The tragic events of August 19, when the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad was attacked, may well force a change in the imperium’s indifference and the UN’s recent decline in confidence.

The death of UN staff members will not be the cause for such change, but it might be seen as a catalyst. Nor will the imperial power, the UN and a large proportion of its member states necessarily find easy accommodation in Iraq, but perhaps because of Iraq there may well be differences in the ways that each deals with the other in the future.

For the US, the Iraqi imbroglio has increasingly emphasised four apparent truths which many in this administration are beginning to recognise, albeit with varying degrees of enthusiasm. The first is that, no matter how determined Washington might be to confront its perceived terrorist threat, it cannot do so without an international community willing to be supportive beyond mere rhetoric.

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