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Vladimir Lukin, deputy speaker of the Russian Duma and former Soviet ambassador to the United States, was interviewed in Moscow on March 10 by Global Viewpoint contributing editor Genrikh Borovik.

GLOBAL VIEWPOINT: You have said the United States is acting like a gangster -- threatening to use force outside the law -- instead of a policeman, using force sanctioned by law. Can you explain this position?

VLADIMIR LUKIN: If the United States goes to war against Iraq without U.N. approval, I have used the metaphor that it would be more like a gangster than a policeman. Why?

Back in the early 1990s, the dictator Saddam Hussein drew a map of his world in which Kuwait was a part of Iraq, owing to some historic precedent. He did not care about the fact that the world community had long recognized Kuwait's sovereignty. He had his own self-styled laws that he decided to translate into practice.

A coalition of states with a totally different and respectful view of legitimacy appeared then to tell the dictator: Dear Saddam Hussein, the sovereignty of countries today is recognized by the world community, represented by the United Nations. This kind of order accords Kuwait the status of a sovereign country, and an attack against it is an act of aggression. You have committed it, and you will be punished for it.

This coalition was led by the United States in a very legitimate way. The Americans beat up Saddam and enabled Kuwait to revert to independence. It was done very lawfully.

Another example: The North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung decided in 1949 that the Korean peninsula had been divided into two parts incorrectly, that the country must be united, and that North Korea was the legitimate state. He launched a war against South Korea and seized almost all of its territory.

Our present world order, albeit somewhat imperfect, had already appeared by that time. The U.N. member states spoke up to tell Kim Il Sung that his activity qualified as direct aggression against an independent country.

Joseph Stalin made a serious tactical error then. He called off the Soviet delegation from the United Nations, although the U.S.S.R. was a permanent member of the Security Council.

Without the Soviet Union's vote, the United Nations passed a decision to send international troops. There was a large and legitimate war that restored the status quo. It still exists on the Korean peninsula today. (I cannot but encourage U.S. legitimate actions there now.)

Now, let us see what is happening today. The United Nations developed suspicions that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, and it began inspections in Iraq. Later, the weapons inspectors were unable to perform their duties. The United Nations demanded that Saddam accept observers. He did accept them, and they are working there now. Simultaneously, the United States claims that Saddam should bow out forever.

This claim is based on declarations that the United States is closer to God than the rest of the world or that the U.S. president just feels that way -- he is reported to say he'll do whatever (ital) he (unital) feels is right.

Does this resemble the U.S. position in previous situations? Or is this a position of an extremely different sort?

GV: What does the joint Russian-France-German-Chinese anti-war stance mean for the world balance of power? What does it mean for the United Nations?

LUKIN: This is an ad hoc community, one that arose directly from the crisis over Iraq. It mostly reflects the understanding of how the North Atlantic Alliance and the anti-terrorist coalition as a whole should be acting.

The Russian government does not have anti-American apprehensions, although there are some quarters in Russian society that do. I would even say anti-American sentiment is more widespread now than it was back in the Soviet era. At that time, people would typically have the following kind of approach: We do not trust our government, and if it says that the Americans are bad guys, it actually means they are good guys.

Today's approach goes more or less like this: We still do not believe our government, but even if it praises the Americans, then they are bad guys actually.

Neither of these approaches reflects reality.

I am confident that what is happening now is far from a craving for new coalitions and a new balance of forces. It is not that. The anti-terrorist coalition was formed after 9/11, and it had a good showing in Afghanistan and in some other areas.

Differences have appeared within it now, and they are hinged on the dilemma about whether any single country -- even the United States, which is bustling and organically predestined for leadership -- can aspire to privatizing the global anti-terror coalition. Is a single country entitled to turn the global coalition into an appendage of its home legislation and policy? This is the question.

The countries disapproving of that are partners of the United States at the same time. They simply believe that the coalition must have an appropriate constitution. It must have a leader, of course, but it must also include other countries that can influence the process of decision-making. What is more, all of its decisions must be collegial. This is the essence of current controversies.

If the United States really has a vision for a secure future, a compromise will be found in the end at the United Nations. Russia may have an important role in that vision. Unlike some Europeans, the Russian leaders have not ruined relations with Washington.

A compromise solution to the Iraqi problem will mean serious consolidation of the United Nations and international legitimacy -- something that surely meets the fundamental interests of the United States.

A failure to attain compromise, however, may bring about a collapse of the anti-terrorist coalition. The only option left, then, will be a U.S.-led war against an Arab country. If this is the case, terrorist actions, however brutal, will be looked upon from a different angle.

GV: What does it mean for Russia to ally itself with the "old Europe" of France and Germany while its former satellites from Warsaw to Prague and the Baltics ally with the United States?

LUKIN: Psychologically, the United States is unaccustomed to handling a situation where the major Western European nations are acting out of considerations different from fear of the Soviet Union.

Europe has been squeezed between the United States and the U.S.S.R. in the past. It had a bigger fear of the Soviets than of the Americans, and there were grounds for it. The situation has changed after an irrational expansion of NATO and the European Union, and now the Europeans have found themselves between the United States and ... the United States again. The "new" countries which, plainly speaking, were fostered in a system of strict obedience to the Soviet master after World War II, are now acting obediently toward the United States through the force of inertia.

Europe cannot but crave for its voice to be heard, for its own place in the world. The controversies between the United States and Europe are so conspicuous now because the United States cannot reconcile itself with more or less autonomous -- not even anti-American -- policies of the "old Europe."

For now, the United States can rely on the "new Europeans," but that reliance is not feasible in the longer term. The former Communist bloc countries are looking toward America, as much as toward old Europe, but they are confused about who the master is, as French President Jacques Chirac recently told them bluntly. The new Europeans look forward to attaining the Western European living standards and to getting support from Western Europeans. That is why the uncertainty about who the master is will unlikely last long.

A search for answers to Prince Hamlet's questions will inevitably push the new Europeans into the arms of Western Europe. Not in connection with Iraq, but rather in a connection with their real future.

GV: What is the greatest danger in the world today: Iraq? North Korea? Chechens planning terrorism in Europe?

LUKIN: The biggest threat the world is facing now comes from the flagging pace of practical steps to build a global system of counterterrorism. Guessing about the venues of new terrorist outbursts is out of place. Terrorism has existed since the time of Gerostratus. It is not the changes in terrorism itself that matter. The real problem lies in the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, some of which have become mobile, by terrorist networks.

This calls for most rapid emergence of an effective system of world order.

There is little argument that the United Nations is imperfect, but it can be reformed to make it stronger. It has a mandate to coerce countries in the name of peace as well as the powers to make that coercion legitimate. Unfortunately, it is too feeble now to do that.

A very productive step was made after World War II when the Military Staff Committee was set up at the United Nations. Today it should be given functions parallel to the U.N. Security Council and should have the power to decide on crucial matters.

The situation necessitates setting up a global monitoring system capable of tracking early signs of terrorist activity -- from space or anywhere else. It is essential to have the tools to produce rapid reaction under the U.N. auspices in case the menace of terrorism appears.

The only possible alternative to strengthening the United Nations in this way is total destruction or turning into a jungle society, where everyone is at war with everyone else and conflicts are not limited to the state level.

Russia may have an important role in assisting what we might call "transatlantic reunification." Why not convene a Russia-NATO summit to chart how we can overcome the present split between the United States and France, Russia and Germany.

One side says: Iraq will not disarm if we begin a war against it. The other side responds: We must disarm Iraq at any rate, and the war is inevitable. So let us pool efforts and draft a plan under the U.N. aegis and act in strict compliance with it.

Concerted efforts will be impossible, however, if the United States insists on privatizing international relations and turning its Department of State into a sort of world government.

The United States cannot be a global dictator, but it can be a world leader. For this to happen, the right voices must gain the upper hand in American politics.

There have always been people saying that America is the most powerful and hence the most just country in the world. But there are also those who put priorities in a different order, saying the United States is the most just, most democratic and hence most powerful nation. Let people with the latter conviction prevail over others.

(c) 2003, Global Viewpoint.
Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 3/10/03)