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UN as a force for world peace?

By Rob Shilkin - posted Thursday, 12 January 2006

In five months, the UN will hold World Environment Day, focused on "Deserts and Desertification". This is a fitting theme because if, by then, the UN has not acted decisively to stop Iran from going nuclear, the UN as a force for world peace will itself be cactus.

Iran continues to fund Hizbollah and other terrorist groups worldwide. Iran's president denies the Holocaust and threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The mullahs’ police state engages in torture, amputation and public executions. Two weeks ago, it took a leaf from the Taliban’s book and banned all Western music from its airwaves.

And now, this repellent regime seems on the verge of developing a nuclear capability: the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently declared Iran to be in breach of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The mullahs claim simply to be exercising their "inalienable right" to enrich uranium, for energy purposes. However, the same enrichment process has other, more sinister, uses. Iran itself has confirmed that it has received a black-market document on the construction of a nuclear weapon.


The issue has been coming to an inevitable head for a few months now. Iran has been undertaking secretive nuclear research for 18 years and has refused to surrender, or outsource, its enrichment activities. Two days ago, it officially recommenced its nuclear work, in full view of the world.

A nuclear Iran would irrevocably change the regional balance of power in favour of militant Islam and would have perilous implications for global security.

Iran could pursue, with impunity, its nefarious foreign policy of promoting radical Shi'a Islam. This means more Iranian interference in Iraq and support for various global terrorist groups.

The spectre of full-scale Arab-Israeli conflict, prevented since the 1970s by Israel's overwhelming military superiority, would resurface. Regardless of whether the ayatollahs manage to aim a nuclear missile at Jerusalem, or the Israelis pre-emptively scupper Iran's nascent program, the West could be dragged into a prolonged war with enormous human and economic cost.

The well-documented underground trade in nuclear materials and technology - and the attendant risk of a device falling into the hands of terrorists - would become even more perilous if Iran were able to surreptitiously feed that black market.

So what are the UN and the usual suspects in the world community doing about this looming nightmare?


The Europeans, still trying to fashion some role for the EU in world affairs, remain engaged in lengthy and fruitless dialogue of some form; this time about a partnership whereby Europe would enrich uranium and supply it to Iran for pacific purposes. This approach has not produced any results since the start of discussions in 2003. Meanwhile, Iran continues its program unabated. Europe expressed "profound" and "grave" concern about Iran’s resumption of nuclear work two days ago; but the Europe-Iran gabfest is scheduled to continue on January 18.

The Gulf States, which would live in the Iranian nuclear shadow, have expressed muted concern, but have been at pains to not offend their neighbour and fellow oil-cartel member.

Predictably, the UN, entrusted under its charter with "taking effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace" has done little collectively, and nothing effectively. The 60th General Assembly met in December, just as the Iran nuclear issue loomed large. One would have expected the situation in Iran to merit some lengthy discussion, being a grave threat to world peace and all. What did the General Assembly do? It found time to pass 15 - yes, 15 - resolutions condemning Israel, and a single, toothless resolution criticising Iran's human rights record. It was passed with 75 votes in favour, 50 against and 66 abstentions or no-shows. In other words, 116 nations seem to support Iran or couldn’t care less. Hardly a global show of resolve.

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About the Author

Rob Shilkin is a lawyer at Clayton Utz in Sydney. His Op-Ed pieces on international affairs have been published in Australian newspapers and magazines.

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