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Boutros Boutros-Ghali is the former secretary-general of the United Nations. He spoke from his home in Paris with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels.

NATHAN GARDELS: At the end of your term as secretary-general of the United Nations you feared that the United States going its own unilateralist way would make the United Nations as irrelevant as the League of Nations.

In his key speech on Iraq, U.S. President George Bush turned your fear into a threat, saying that if the United Nations doesn’t act as the United States wants on Iraq, the United States indeed would go its own way.

Has your fear come to pass?

BOUTROS BOUTROS-GHALI: Well, not yet. But certainly U.S. action outside the United Nations would provoke real damage to the international system as such and to U.N. credibility.

What is important for a leader, whether an individual or a nation, is to think about the long term. In the short term, a unilateral American operation in Iraq might well be a success, but in the long term would be at the expense of international order. There would be more problems without the United Nations, not fewer.

In the past, it has always been the Americans who understood most that an authoritative international body was necessary. The League of Nations was created by an American president, Woodrow Wilson. The United Nations was created by another American president, Franklin Roosevelt.

Today’s unilateralist approach goes against the multilateralist convictions of the United States during the 20th century. In the end, I have no doubt, sooner or later the United States will return to its traditional conviction. Even as the superpower, the United States cannot successfully be policeman of the world. It needs others.

Furthermore, a unilateralist approach now by the United States actually undermines the democracy it seeks to promote around the world. If we don’t promote democratization of globalization, it will demolish democracy at the national level because globalization undermines the legitimacy of governments that can’t cope with problems beyond their scope -- whether as a result of capital flows, illegal migration, pollution or terrorism.

In this age of globalization, you can’t have democracy at a lower level, but be undemocratic at the upper level. The United Nations is one of the chief mechanisms of democratization. So it is a mistake to undermine it.

GARDELS: The strength with which the French, with the Chinese and the Russians behind them, have stood up to the United States in the Security Council on the new Iraq resolution has surprised and annoyed Washington. What do you make of that?

If you accept democracy as one of the basic elements of global governance, then the fact that there is opposition and debate should not be surprising. That is very healthy and a good sign that the vigor of the U.N. system has not dissipated too far. Why accept debate in the U.S. Congress but try to avoid it in the Security Council?

During the Cold War, the United Nations was said to be hampered by a bipolar world. Yet, after the demise of the Soviet Union, it became clear (as Kofi Annan once said to me) that, without the interplay of competing powers and only one superpower, the United Nations was actually less effective.

Perhaps Europe is emerging now, through the French and Russian votes, as the check on the sole superpower that will make the United Nations effective once again?

I don’t believe that, for the time being, there will be any counter-power to the United States. Europe is divided. And on the Security Council, France, Russia and China will not be able to sustain the minimum equilibrium to create a balance. For the next 10 years, there will only be one superpower. The only hope is that the sole superpower will decide that it is in its own interest to have a strong United Nations.

You dealt with the United States on Iraq for many years. Do you fear Saddam Hussein is obtaining mass destruction weapons, or does the United States have another agenda?

Any kind of international decision is not based on one reason for concern. It can be weapons of mass destruction, it can be oil, it can be terrorism -- no doubt many variables are involved.

I hope that there will be a new resolution on Iraq adopted unanimously. Then, any military intervention will have a legal basis. This, in turn, will give a new life to the United Nations.

Did Nelson Mandela go too far recently when he said the ‘‘the United States is a threat to world peace’’?

He is going too far. The United States is interested in peace. History shows this. But certainly the reaction of Nelson Mandela and other leaders proves that the unilateral approach does not have the support of those -- especially those -- who have worked so hard to create a just and fair global order.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 10/31/02)