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A UN ALTERNATIVE TO WAR: "UNITING FOR PEACE"
Michael Ratner
Center for Constitutional Rights
Jules Lobel
University of Pittsburgh School of Law
JURIST Guest Columnists

In the last few months the Bush Administration has been unyielding in its march towards war over the objections of some allies and despite the efforts of the United Nations. It now seems inevitable that the United States, with some other countries, may soon engage in armed conflict in Iraq. But for people around the world terrified by the current conflict, there may be hope yet. That hope lies in a little-discussed mechanism of the United Nations which, although it seems marginalized by American power, has the potential to stop the war.

In 1950, the Security Council set up a procedure for insuring that stalemates between countries would not prevent the United Nations from carrying out its mission to 杜aintain international peace and security. With the United States playing an important role in its adoption, the Council adopted Resolution 377, the aptly named 填niting for Peace in an almost unanimous vote.

Uniting for Peace provides that if, because of the lack of unanimity of the permanent members of the Security Council (France, China, Russia, Britain, United States), the Council cannot maintain international peace where there is a 鍍hreat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, the General Assembly 都hall consider the matter immediately. The language of Uniting for Peace would also allow its use even if the Security Council approved the use of force against Iraq, e.g. if one of the permanent members abstained.

The General Assembly can meet within 24 hours to consider such a matter, and can recommend collective measures to U.N. members including the use of armed forces to 杜aintain or restore international peace and security.

The Uniting for Peace resolution procedure has been used ten times since 1950. Its first use was by the United States. After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956 Britain and France attacked and occupied parts of the canal. Cease-fire resolutions in the Security Council were quickly vetoed by Britain and France. The United States went to the General Assembly calling for a cease-fire and a withdrawal of forces. An emergency session was held under the Uniting for Peace resolution; the U.S. resolution and subsequently an even stronger resolution passed the General Assembly. In the face of these resolutions it took less then a week for Britain and France to withdraw.

Uniting for Peace was next used by the United States to pressure the Soviet Union to cease its intervention in Hungary in 1956. The Soviet Union had used its veto to prevent the passage of an anti-intervention resolution in the Security Council. Again, an emergency session of the General Assembly was held and the Soviet Union was ordered to stop its intervention in Hungary.

In the current impasse over Iraq in the Security Council, Uniting for Peace can and should be used. The General Assembly should consider taking action with regard to the threat to the peace posed by U.S. military action against Iraq taken without U.N. authority. (The General Assembly could also act, as stated earlier, if the Security Council, in the absence of 砥nanimity of its permanent members, authorized a war that was a 鍍hreat to international peace and security.) It could require that no military action be taken against Iraq without the explicit authority of the Security Council. It could mandate that the inspection regime be permitted to complete its inspections. It seems unlikely that the United States and Britain would ignore such a measure. A vote by the majority of countries in the world, particularly if it were almost unanimous, would make the unilateral rush to war more difficult.

Uniting for Peace can be invoked either by seven members of the Security Council or by a majority of the members of the General Assembly. This gives those who oppose unilateral war a real opportunity for activism. People everywhere in the world can lobby their governments to bring on such a resolution. This effort can become a worldwide effort to, as the UN Charter so eloquently states, 都ave succeeding generations form the scourge of war.


Michael Ratner is President of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Jules Lobel ia a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where he teaches international law and human rights.

February 10, 2003

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Photo: Chester Higgins Jr/
(c)The New York Times


JURIST Guest Columnist Michael Ratner is President of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He has litigated a dozen cases challenging a President's authority to go to war, without congressional approval. He currently teaches human rights litigation at the Columbia Law School. He is the author and co-author of numerous books and articles.

JURIST Guest Columnist Jules Lobel is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Through the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights, Jules Lobel has litigated important issues regarding the application of international law in the U.S. courts. In the late 1980's, he advised the Nicaraguan government on the development of its first democratic constitution, and has also advised the Burundi government on constitutional law issues.

Professor Lobel is editor of a text on civil rights litigation and of a collection of essays on the U.S. Constitution, A Less Than Perfect Union (Monthly Review Press, 1988). He is author of numerous articles on international law, foreign affairs, and the U.S. Constitution in publications including Yale Law Journal, Harvard International Law Journal, Cornell Law Review, and Virginia Law Review. He is a member of the American Society of International Law.