20 APRIL 1991, Page 5


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We have to acknowledge that some of those who elevate the United Nations into a summum bonum, an institution to take precedence over all other principles and powers, really do seem to believe what they say. And until the massacre they were able to claim that their belief had been put to the test and found not altogether want- ing. The UN had with partial success countered a particularly gross aggression. Disastrous though the epilogue has been, how can blame be attached to the UN for that? Indeed, surely the moral is that we should strengthen international rules of behaviour, give support to the only body which has emerged with any credit at all. The trouble, as so often, is not with the institution but with its prophets. That is the point which is so difficult to get across. There has been nothing particularly remiss In the conduct of the UN itself — its deliberations and resolutions have doubt- less performed some service, however hard we may find it to applaud all the behaviour of Senor Peres de Cuellar.

No, it is the language that the prophets use, the gospel they preach with such apparently unquestioning faith, which do the damage. For what deserves the greatest possible criticism — rather, total demoli- tion — is not the institution, but those who seek to shelter behind its inadequate skirts; not the high-sounding charter so much as those who seek to make it the word of a terrestrial God; not the earnest efforts of those who seek to put its decisions into effect but those who demand absolute obedience to them.

We should react with dismay and horror to pronouncements that until now it had simply not been possible to take any action to prevent the massacre of the Kurds because it had not be sanctioned by any resolution of the UN. As though such sanction was the final court of appeal for the conduct of international affairs! We would be unlikely to rely on such a court if the time came when are own lives were directly and obviously threatened. Again it may be argued that not very much harm is done provided that appeal to the authority of the UN is little more than a tactical convenience, a diplomatic cloak, a scarcely disguised piece of hypocrisy to secure allies, to gain temporary freedom of man- oeuvre. That may be so. Phrases like `comity of nations', 'the international com- munity', and so on have their uses. Hum- bug often does.

Yet the suspicion lingers, like a bad taste in the mouth, that far too many leaders who glibly invoke the resolutions do be- lieve them to have real force, to contain the seeds of ultimate principle which just may lead to a better world order. And if that suspicion is true, such leaders suffer from an intellectual, moral and spiritual vacuity — one which not only may arouse a condescending pity for them, but spells the greatest of dangers for us, as well (as we have seen) ruin for a million Kurds. Intellectual, because only a fool could genuinely suppose that the deliberations of several hundred assorted envoys sitting in New York are informed with the superior wisdom that will gradually usher in an era of peace and goodwill. Moral, because to neglect the obvious truth that most con- flict, international as well as personal, must always be resolved by the arduous ex- amination of conscience, leading one to select in the end the lesser evils rather than the greater — to appeal, that is, to one single imperative path of duty — is a form of moral blindness or atrophy. Spiritual, because it would appear, if one listens to some recent pronouncements (including some from Downing Street), that there are those who confuse the voice of the United Nations with the voice of God.

We should confound these false prophets with the same vehemence and indignation as they use themselves when peddling their grand delusions. Belief in the supremacy of the UN, appeal to the supremacy of the UN, shelter behind the supremacy of the UN, is perilous, and will lead more quickly to Armageddon than the resolution of strong and civilised countries prepared to use force. It is time that the anti-liberal voice in international politics was expressed with real, sustained passion. It may be tasteless to use the sufferings of the Kurds as a stick with which to beat the pieties of the believers in the United Nations, but that really does seem a lesser evil than allowing a dangerous myth to gain slow, insidious ground.