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UN: Security Council Signals U.S. Action Justified

  • Robert McMahon

The United Nations Security Council has accepted the United States' justification for launching military strikes against Taliban and alleged terrorist positions in Afghanistan. Council members stressed their unity in the growing antiterrorism campaign, while at the same time the United States said it reserved the right to strike organizations or states beyond Afghanistan that are also linked to terrorism.

United Nations, 9 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have both signaled that the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan is justified by the right to self-defense. Council representatives were briefed by the U.S. and British ambassadors late yesterday about the air strikes launched two days ago. Council President Richard Ryan of Ireland read a statement afterward saying the Council accepted the reports by the two ambassadors:

"The permanent representatives made it clear that the military actions of 7 October were taken in self-defense and directed at terrorists and those who harbored them. They stressed that every effort was being made to avoid civilian casualties and that they were in no way a strike at the people of Afghanistan, Islam, or the Muslim world."

Ryan told reporters the unanimity of the council is "absolutely maintained" following the U.S. reprisals. He said Council members remain determined to carry out the resolutions issued since the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Its strongest resolution, adopted late last month, requires the UN's 189 member-states to take steps to pursue terrorists and cut off any financial support for them.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also released a statement yesterday noting that the military attacks on Taliban and alleged terrorist positions are in conformance with the United Nations Charter. The Charter permits states to act in self-defense when attacked, prior to any ultimate action by the Security Council.

Annan in his statement stressed the need for a broad strategy uniting all nations and not restricted to only military methods:

"The cause must be pursued by all the states of the world, working together and using many different means -- including political, legal, diplomatic, and financial means."

In launching the strikes on Taliban-ruled areas, the U.S. sent a letter to the Security Council formally announcing it was exercising its right to self-defense.

But the letter, from U.S. ambassador to the UN John Negroponte, also said Washington reserved the right to take further military action against organizations or states linked to terrorist attacks.

Negroponte's letter said Washington had clear evidence that the Al-Qaeda network, supported by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, had a central role in the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

Negroponte told reporters the United States was committed to a multifaceted international approach to combat terrorism. But he said Washington does not want to limit its ability to act militarily:

"That statement is made in the context of the events of September 11, but when you're talking about the inherent right of self-defense, I don't think that one would want to limit oneself in any particular way. I think one exercises [military might] when one thinks that it is justified."

Negroponte said yesterday's Council briefing showed "strong understanding" that the United States is acting on its inherent right of self-defense.

In a separate development yesterday, the UN Security Council approved five new non-permanent members -- including Syria, which the United States says is among a group of countries sponsoring terrorism. (The remaining four are Bulgaria, Cameroon, Guinea, and Mexico. They replace Bangladesh, Jamaica, Mali, Tunisia, and Ukraine.)

The United States did not contest Syria's candidacy as it did last year when Sudan, also on the U.S. list of countries promoting terrorism, was a candidate.

The United States is seeking Syria's cooperation in its campaign against those responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington. But it had not planned to block Syria's bid for a non-permanent Council seat even before the 11 September attacks. The five new members will take their seats in January.

Israeli officials and some U.S. members of Congress have expressed outrage at Syria's election, pointing to its support for Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon. As a two-year member, Syria will not have the veto power of permanent members but will have a voice in Council deliberations on a range of peace and security issues. That includes having a representative on the new Council committee set up to enforce counterterrorism measures.

One expert on Security Council affairs, former Canadian diplomat David Malone, says Syria should not be prejudged about its behavior on the Council. Malone, who is president of the International Peace Academy, a New York-based think-tank, says Syria appeared to play a useful role in the U.S.-led effort to oust Iraqi forces from Kuwait 10 years ago:

"It may well prove highly pragmatic, as it did of the time of the Gulf War in 1991 when it actually in many ways seemed to be tacitly cooperating with the United States and its allies to weaken its traditional Baath [movement] rival, Iraq."

Malone says the United States has so far worked skillfully to put together an international antiterrorism coalition. But he says for the United States to sustain the sense of cooperation on terrorism over the long term, it will need to cooperate more with member-states on issues such as disarmament and the International Criminal Court.