"Uniting for Peace": UN General Assembly Provides Crucial Opportunity for Global Peace Movement
Submitted to Portside By Jeremy Brecher*
The United Nations General Assembly is hovering on the
edge of calling an emergency session to challenge the
US attack on Iraq. But US opposition has been fierce.
The world’s "other superpower" -- global public opinion
as expressed in the global peace movement -- can tip
the balance if it concentrates on demanding a UN
General Assembly meeting to halt the war on Iraq now.
Background When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in
1956, Britain, France, and Israel invaded Egypt and
began advancing on the Suez Canal. U.S. President
Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded that the invasion stop.
Resolutions in the UN Security Council called for a
cease-fire -- but Britain and France vetoed them. Then
the United States appealed to the General Assembly and
proposed a resolution calling for a cease-fire and a
withdrawal of forces. The General Assembly held an
emergency session and passed the resolution. Britain
and France withdrew from Egypt within a week.
The appeal to the General Assembly was made under a
procedure called "Uniting for Peace" (UfP). This
procedure was adopted by the Security Council so that
the UN can act even if the Security Council is
stalemated by vetoes. Resolution 377 provides that, if
there is a "threat to peace, breach of the peace, or
act of aggression" and the permanent members of the
Security Council do not agree on action, the General
Assembly can meet immediately and recommend collective
measures to U.N. members to "maintain or restore
international peace and security." The "Uniting for
Peace" mechanism has been used ten times, most
frequently on the initiative of the United States.
The current situation At a meeting March 24, 2003, Arab
foreign ministers condemned the invasion of Iraq and
called on the US and Britain to immediately withdraw
their forces without condition. The League’s UN
ambassador said, "We will ask that the invasion stop,
that the invading forces will be withdrawn, and that
Iraq’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and
independence will be preserved." It instructed its UN
delegates to go first to the Security Council and then,
if unsuccessful, to the General Assembly.
The League requested and received a debate in the
Security Council. But the decision was made not to
submit a resolution against the war since a veto by the
US and Britain was nearly certain and the failure to
pass such a resolution might be used to defend the
After considerable hesitation, a coalition of Arab,
other Islamic, and developing countries decided to ask
for a special session on Iraq at the UN General
Assembly. The Organization of the Islamic Conference
Group (OIC) declared on Monday, March 31, that it is
ready to take the Iraq war to the General Assembly.
The OIC, which includes 57 UN member countries,
indicated it would initiate such a meeting before April
9. The plan is for a General Assembly special session
to be formally requested by Malaysian Ambassador Rastam
Mohd Isa, who heads the 115-member Non-Aligned Movement
(NAM) of developing countries at the United Nations.
The Malaysian Ambassador "plans to request the special
session, in a letter to . . . the assembly’s acting
US Opposition Meanwhile, the US has been "aggressively
lobbying governments around the world for the past two
weeks to help head off an emergency assembly session on
Iraq." "We don’t think a General Assembly meeting is
necessary," a U.S. official said. "This type of
session is only going to divide U.N. members."
Greenpeace has released the text of a communication
from the United States to UN representatives around the
world leaked by an "incensed" UN delegate. It stated,
"Given the highly charged atmosphere, the United States
would regard a General Assembly session on Iraq as
unhelpful and as directed against the United States.
Please know that this question as well as your position
on it is important to the US." It warned/threatened
that "the staging of such a divisive session could do
additional harm to the UN."
Hanging in the balance While the overwhelming majority
of the world’s people and nations oppose the Bush
Administration’s attack on Iraq, fear of US retribution
has repeatedly forced UN members to draw back from
actually implementing a "Uniting for Peace" appeal to
the General Assembly. According to UPI, "An informal
tally shows that there are not enough nations aligned
with the Arab states to bring the topic before the
Currently various blocs in the UN are discussing
wording on which they might agree. An OIC statement
called for an immediate cease-fire, withdrawal of
foreign forces from Iraq, and respect for the
sovereignty and political independence of Iraq and its
neighbors. However, the OIC is considering proposing
a milder resolution in the General Assembly, expressing
regret for the use of force against Iraq, in an effort
to get support from more nations, notably European
nations. This process may drag on for an undetermined
Why a UfP resolution matters A General Assembly
resolution will not in itself stop the war. General
Assembly actions may not be legally binding. Besides,
the Bush Administration has already shown it is willing
to defy the UN and international law. Nonetheless,
such a resolution would be a major blow to the Bush
Administration -- as its campaign to prevent a General
Assembly session indicates.
First, a UfP resolution will intensify the fear of
global isolation among the US public and elite. Such
fears will play a significant role in turning them not
only against the Iraq war but more generally against
the Bush Administration policy of preventive war and
Second, a UfP resolution will provide a heightened
legitimacy to all the actions of the global peace
movement. All its actions in every country will become
not merely the expression of an opinion but efforts to
implement the decision of the world’s highest
Third, a UfP resolution will lay the basis for future
UN action, both regarding Iraq and more broadly, that
can circumvent the US veto. It can thus provide the
starting point for reconstituting the UN as the voice
of the world.
Why a UfP campaign matters A worldwide campaign for UfP
provides the global peace movement -- the world’ s
"other superpower -- a unique opportunity.
- It provides a great focus for struggle in the
streets and in the political arena.
- It will allow the movement to show its global clout.
In every country where the majority of the people
oppose the war (probably every country in the world
except the US and Israel), the peace movement can
demand that the government reject US dictation and
On the streets, UfP can become a central demand of the
next rounds of global anti-war demonstrations. While
it has been endorsed by many campaigning organizations,
such as CND in Britain and Greenpeace, it has yet to
appear extensively on the programs and picket signs of
the big peace demonstrations around the world. The way
to go: A recent demonstration in Santiago, Chile urged
Chile’s President to back a call for the United Nations
General Assembly to hold a special session to "adopt
moral sanctions against Bush."
In the political process, parliaments can demand that
their governments support UfP. The Russian Duma, for
example, recently passed a resolution calling for
General Assembly intervention in Iraq; so did the
Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs of
Thailand. Political parties provide another arena: the
Czech Republic’s governing Social Democratic party,
whose government has waffled on the war, just voted
nearly unanimously to condemn it. (The motion was
sponsored by Czech UN Ambassador Jan Kavan, who happens
also to be current President of the UN General
In the US, the peace movement can expose and attack
Bush Administration’s sabotage of the UN and its
illegitimate, deeply resented, and counter-productive
efforts to interfere in the political decisions of
other countries all over the world.
This is also an opportunity for religious, labor, and
other groups in civil society to make their voices
heard. For example, a group of Italian Catholic
associations petitioned the Italian government
demanding that "the UN General Assembly be called to
block, based on resolution 337 [Uniting for Peace], any
action which does not comply with the UN Charter so as
to bring peace." They appealed for "a ceasefire which
will put an end to the useless massacre in Iraq." And
a group of international women’s organizations called
for an emergency General Assembly meeting, noting that
"the resolve of many UN member states to stand firm
against the US, reinforced by the call to enact Uniting
for Peace, offer hope for a revitalized international
[Jeremy Brecher is a historian and the author of twelve
books on labor and social movements, including Strike!
and Globalization from Below. jbrecherigc.org.
For information, visit the website of the Center Constitutional Rights (www.ccr-ny.org) and www.un377.net. A Greenpeace web petition at www.greenpeace.org calling for a General Assembly session has received 60,000 signatures worldwide.
There is also a European-initiated petition at www.ufp.ht.st.