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UN Security Council at a Crossroad - 2003-03-11

The debate over Iraq has deeply split the United Nations Security Council. Some analysts and diplomats question to what degree the United Nations' authority, in particular that of the Security Council, is being undermined by the current crisis.

With the world's sole remaining superpower prepared to wage war with or without U.N. approval, the Security Council finds itself at what many analysts say is a crossroads.

Old alliances are splintering over the issue and new ones emerging. Countries like France and Germany, stalwart U.S. allies during the Cold War, are staunchly opposing U.S. military action. On the other hand, Bulgaria, once a Communist bastion, has lined up behind the United States.

Robert Grey, a retired diplomat who served as political counselor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, says the relevance of the U.N. structure is on the line in the current debate. "What's at stake here is not an outcome in Iraq," he says. "What's at stake here is the system that we so patiently built up over the past 60 years."

Jean Krasno, co-author of a recent book on the United Nations and Iraq, says the debate is not just over Iraq, but about the shape of the post-Cold-War world. "Well, I do think that it is a crisis for the U.N. And I would say that because right now, we are sorting out exactly the structure of the world," she says. "What is the power balance in the world as it's reflected in the United Nations? And there is a lot of concern about the single remaining superpower acting as a hegemon. And I think that is what we are seeing played out right now. And it is a sincere debate."

Ms. Krasno, the executive director of Yale University's Academic Council on U.N. Systems describes it as a no-win situation for the Security Council. "The U.N. Security Council right now is in a position of damned-if-you-do, and damned-if-you don't. Either you're going to be sidelined or you're going to be looked at as rubber-stamping the U.S. viewpoint." As many analysts and ex-diplomats point out, many of the foreign policy architects of the Bush administration are longtime skeptics of United Nations' relevancy.

James Leonard, a former deputy U.S. representative to the United Nations, says the current crisis will undoubtedly damage the United Nations. But, he adds, the damage will not be irreparable because U.N. help will be needed in rebuilding a postwar Iraq. "It will be a grave damage to it, but it will be a damage that over time is repaired," he says. "There are too many major problems that the U.N. is our only hope, for the solution of."

As it has done elsewhere, the United Nations is expected to be called upon to ease the humanitarian crisis that any war in Iraq can be expected to create.