Requiem for International Justice

Systematically, the US government is eliminating every possible alternative to war with Iraq.

Until this week, Brazilian diplomat Jose Bustani was the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a UN-based body dedicated to enforcing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which has as its mandate the complete elimination of all chemical weapons. Under Bustani's leadership, the group has destroyed 2 million chemical weapons and two thirds of the world's chemical weapon facilities, and increased its membership from 87 countries to 145 in the past 5 years. In May 2000, Bustani was unanimously re-elected by the member states for a second five-year term.

Then, in January, the US State Department abruptly asked the Brazilian government to recall Bustani, ostensibly because of his "mismanagement" of the OPCW. This directly contravenes the mandate of the CWC, which calls for members to "respect the exclusively international character of the responsibilities of the Director-General, the inspectors and the other members of the staff and not seek to influence them in the discharge of their responsibilities." Brazil refused to recall Bustani, so America tried again in March, throwing unfounded accusations at Bustani and calling on him to resign.

The Campaign

On March 19, the American delegation attempted to solicit a vote of no confidence from the OPCW Executive Council Members. When this failed, the delegation called a "special session" for April 22 to vote on ousting Bustani. America has been withholding its dues as leverage against the other members, though it has refused to provide evidence for the charges. Indeed, a recent audit discredited the charge of financial mismanagement by giving the OPCW a clean review. The OPCW is starved for cash right now, but that is solely because America has not paid its dues. Bustani agreed to an investigation into his professional conduct, but America was not interested in pursuing this course.

On Sunday, April 21, the American delegation promised to bring a document to the special session that explained and defended the allegations of "mismanagement" and "ill conceived initiatives." Then, on the next day, the American delegation failed to produce the document. The other delegations responded with boos, but in the end, enough countries voted with the American proposal or abstained that the motion carried and Bustani's position was revoked. Only seven countries, Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, Iran, Mexico and Russia, voted against the proposal. France abstained, along with 42 other countries, and 48 countries voted to oust Bustani.

So why did America suddenly want Bustani out of the way, even while it refuses to provide evidence of his "mismanagement?"

The Threat of Diplomacy

Put simply, Bustani has become a victim of his own success. He has been trying to persuade Iraq to sign the OPCW, and while Saddam Hussein has refused up to this point, Bustani feels he is making progress. Bustani has an excellent record of accomplishment for bringing reluctant states into the fold and then securing their full compliance. This begins to explain America's attempts to oust him. If Hussein joins the OPCW, then America will lose its already shaky pretext to bring its "war on terror" to Iraq. This is Bustani's "ill conceived initiative." As Bustani explained after being ousted, "I clearly made some people in Washington very uncomfortable because I was too independent. They want somebody more obedient."

Bustani's address to a UN General Assembly on January 28 illustrates the difference of opinion between the OPCW's mandate and America's agenda. Bustani explained the mandate of the UN by applauding "the uniting of nations in the quest to address and resolve international problems which individual governments are simply not equipped to resolve. Only the United Nations can focus attention effectively on the resources and the expertise needed to deal with" the multitude of problems facing countries, and to do it "in an integrated manner."

This flies right in the face of America's stance towards Iraq. The US government has labelled Hussein an enemy and has embarked on the path to war. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has argued that Iraq "hides" its weapons as "dual purpose equipment" and has questioned whether an inspection team could ever be intrusive enough to find all of Iraq's weapons. US Secretary of State Colin Powell has announced that America will attack Iraq even if Hussein allows weapons inspectors into the country. Powell explained by saying that "the United States believes the Iraqi people would still be better off with a new kind of leadership that ... is not of the despotic nature that the Saddam Hussein regime is."

How convenient: at a single stroke, Rumsfeld and Powell have diplomacy-proofed their war campaign. They explicitly reject the evidence of inspectors and will not back down even if Iraq follows international law. This all but guarantees that Hussein will not accept weapons inspectors. Why should he? He has nothing to gain by co-operating. Nevertheless, Bustani's attempts to bring Iraq into the fold of the international community directly undermine America's efforts to characterize Hussein as an irredeemable terrorist.

Indeed, one of Bustani's obstacles has been his attempt to convince the UN Security Council to support his offer to Iraq. The guarantee of a peaceful resolution may appeal to Hussein such that he would agree to the terms of the OPCW. Of course, this is precisely what the Bush administration does not want.

The US government's success in its bid to oust Bustani is almost without precedent. America has already withheld its dues, which is starving the OPCW for funds, and in light of the Bush administration's strong unilateralist impulse, other nations feared that America would simply withdraw from the OPCW. Without America's support, the OPCW would essentially lose its power of enforcement. As one European diplomat explained, "I think a lot of people swallowed this because they thought it was better for Bustani to be removed than have the U.S. pull out and see the organization collapse." With one country as disproportionately powerful as America, multilateral treaties simply do not have any enforcement power unless America is an active signatory. This gives America enormous powers of influence over those treaties. In the Non-Proliferation Treaty, for example, America insisted on two sets of rules: one set that stops non-nuclear countries from acquiring weapons, and another set that allows nuclear powers to keep theirs. The integrity of the OPCW rested on there being a single set of rules that applied to all members. Unfortunately, America's successful ouster bid will send a clear message to subsequent Directors-General concerning what they may and may not do. The integrity of the OPCW has been seriously - perhaps fatally - compromised.

Unilateralism Unhindered

Yet another principled, effective multilateral institution has been sacrificed to cynical American unilateralism. America refuses to ratify the Non-Proliferation Treaty, refuses to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, refuses to sign the land mine treaty, refuses to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, walked out on a conference on how to enforce the biological weapons treaty, refuses to grant full access to international weapons inspectors, refuses to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (only one other country - Somalia - also refused to sign), refuses to ratify the International Criminal Court - an institution it ostensibly championed for many years. Recently America twisted enough arms to depose Robert Watson, the head of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and now America's done the same thing with the OPCW.

Already, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, half children, have died as a result of military attacks that destroyed Iraq's civilian infrastructure, and crippling economic sanctions that prevented civilians from gaining access to basic necessities like clean water and medication. Three high ranking UN officials have resigned in disgust over the ongoing sanctions. Now, in the light of America's latest ploy to reject diplomacy, how many more thousands of Iraqi civilians will have to pay the ultimate price?

Please allow me to close this essay with excerpts from Bustani's speech to the special session before he was ousted.

No one can disregard the fact that the OPCW works, and works well. And it has the respect and support of the vast majority of its 145 States Parties. The OPCW has become too strong to be destroyed from the outside. This may explain the current attempt to implode it from within, together with its underlying principles of fairness and on-discrimination. The culture of non-discrimination and equal treatment that I have fought hard to establish in the Secretariat is now under attack. That culture is being challenged by one of silent and unquestioning obedience to one or a few "major contributors". If this new culture is to prevail, then those members of staff who act with integrity and are committed to fairness will have to be the first to go – starting with the Director-General...

I am blamed for seeking Iraq's membership of the CWC, even though this effort is in full accordance with the decisions of the UN Security Council, and with the mandate issued to me by all of you, to ensure the Convention's universality WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Does dissatisfaction with my actions mean that the universality of the Convention should include some countries, but not others, not Iraq, for example? ...

Now let me say a few words to those who are concerned about the OPCW's survival, should one very important Member State not pay its budgetary contribution to the Organisation. I fundamentally disagree with those who may think that it is better to surrender the OPCW to that Member State, than to maintain a truly multilateral OPCW at minimal additional cost. I will never agree that the façade of multilateralism is more important than its substance. This would not be a compromise – it would be capitulation...

Yes, there is too much at stake here – for the OPCW, for other international organisations, and for the international community. It is time to rise to the challenge. It is time to set priorities as they are perceived by all of you, and not just by a few so-called "major players". This is why I refused to resign under pressure from a small handful of Member States. I did so in order to give you all the opportunity to make your choice – to determine what future, if any, multilateral organisations have in this increasingly dangerous, complex, and unstable world....

Although this unprecedented, ruthless and arbitrary procedure is taking place away from the public limelight, beneath the low skies of the subdued city of The Hague, the decisions to be taken here over the next few days will leave an indelible mark on the history of international relations. I hope that all of you, the Member States, will confront this historic challenge in full awareness of the implications of your decision. The choices that you make during this session of the Conference will determine whether genuine multilateralism will survive, or whether it will be replaced by unilateralism in a multilateral disguise.

Alas, the members capitulated, the choice came down, and the integrity of the OPCW has been demolished to make room for American unilateral aggression. It is a sad day for all who believe in globalism, international justice, and peace through diplomacy.

Ryan McGreal
April 24, 2002

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