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Editorials
Saturday, May 22, 1999

U.N. Charter’s failure
to maintain order

Bullet The issue: The U.N. Charter does not deal with problems like Serbian genocide in Kosovo.
Bullet Our view: NATO's attacks reflect the need for a new set of rules for intervention in domestic conflicts.

THE NATO attack on Yugoslavia hammers another nail in the coffin of the United Nations Security Council as an instrument of world stability. It is the latest in a long series of actions that have demonstrated the irrelevance of the United Nations Charter rules limiting international intervention in local conflicts.The NATO air strikes, prompted by Slobodan Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing" tactics in Kosovo, were technically illegal and devoid of U.N. approval.

But as Michael J. Glennon writes in the journal Foreign Affairs, the death of the old rules should not be mourned. Glennon, a professor of law at the University of California at Davis, points out that most violent conflicts have been ignored by the U.N. as "domestic matters."

In any case, the U.N. Charter rules have been spectacularly ineffective in curbing interstate violence. They generated no formal international response to Soviet intervention in Hungary, Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan, to U.S. intervention in the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Panama or Nicaragua, to Indian intervention in Goa, Indonesia in East Timor, China in Tibet, Argentina in the Falklands or Vietnam in Cambodia.

Often the Security Council's paralysis has been due to abuse of the veto. This was true during the Cold War and has continued since the Soviet collapse. Today the veto provides a lever for France, Russia and China to enhance their diplomatic positions beyond their economic and military strength -- at the expense of U.N. action against Iraq, for example.

China threatens to veto a U.N. peace plan for Kosovo to retaliate for the bombing of its embassy in Belgrade -- another instance of misuse of the veto.

The new, informal code of intervention recognizes that threats to stability often come from internal violence and that to be effective international law must deal with them. Intervention is deemed appropriate when the humanitarian costs of failure to act are too high, as in Serbian genocide in Kosovo.

It isn't clear whether the new regime will prove workable. There are dangers in implementing a set of "vague, half-formed, ad hoc principles." Glennon argues that "the failings of the old system were so disastrous, however, that little will be lost in the attempt to forge a new one."

The world community should come to terms with this reality. If the United Nations is to play an effective role in curbing violence, the U.N. Charter must be revised -- a formidable task at best. More likely, the U.N. will continue to be irrelevant to the task of maintaining world order. The United States must lead the way in charting ways to deal with this problem, probably outside the U.N. framework.


Sonia Gandhi
withdraws candidacy

Bullet The issue: Sonia Gandhi has withdrawn as a candidate for prime minister of India under criticism of her foreign birth.
Bullet Our view: Perpetuation of the Gandhi dynasty would be unhealthy.

THE Congress Party, which has governed India for most of the years since its independence, is in turmoil over a woman -- a foreign-born woman. She is Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born widow of a former prime minister who aspired to India's leadership herself.

Criticism of Mrs. Gandhi's Italian origins led to her resignation as Congress Party president as the party was preparing to offer her as its candidate for prime minister. That was followed by the expulsion of three politicians who had questioned her candidacy and asked her to withdraw.

When she resigned, Mrs. Gandhi said she was hurt by the suggestion that she did not have the nation's interests at heart. She has resisted repeated appeals by party bosses to retract her resignation. In addition to its loss of her as a candidate, the decision to oust her three opponents could hurt the party's prospects in general elections scheduled for September. The three, all senior leaders, said they would form a new party.

Congress Party workers kept up a siege outside her home, pleading for her return as party chief. Some activists shaved their heads in a sign of mourning. Others chanted "No Sonia, No Congress."

Mrs. Gandhi's husband, Rajiv, was assassinated eight years ago during a campaign appearance. His mother, Indira, also served as prime minister, as did his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mrs. Gandhi met her husband while studying at Cambridge University in England. She became an Indian citizen in 1983. After her husband's assassination she retreated from public life until a year ago, when she re-emerged in politics and became the party's president.

Despite her foreign birth, many had looked to Mrs. Gandhi to lead the Congress Party back to power.

When the government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee collapsed last month, Mrs. Gandhi tried to form a new government -- but failed. That setback rekindled the criticism of her foreign origins.

Supporters of Mrs. Gandhi, who is 52, say her 31 years in the country have made her thoroughly Indian. But others don't think India should be led by a foreign-born person.

Her greatest asset, of course, is her connection to the Gandhi dynasty. But that evidently will not be enough. India may have to find a non-Gandhi to lead it, which has some advantages. Perpetuation of the Gandhi dynasty would not be healthy for Indian democracy.






Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor




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