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By Irwin Abrams

Yellow Springs News, November 1, 2001

This is the one hundredth year of the Nobel Peace Prize, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced on October 12 that it wanted “in its centenary year to proclaim that the only negotiable route to global peace and cooperation goes by way of the United Nations.” Accordingly, the prize of 2001 is to be shared by the United Nations and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan “for their work for a better and more peaceful world.” The committee explained that the end of the cold war had at last made it possible for the United Nations to do what its organizers had planned for it to do, and that Kofi Annan had been “pre-eminent in bringing new life to the organization.”

The final meeting of the committee had taken place after the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, and Committee Chairman Gunnar Berge was asked whether this had had anything to do with the choice of awardees. No, Berge said, this had only made the decision more relevant. The committee did not know just how relevant its decision could be. When it made its decision, the committee knew that the United Nations had provided the legal basis for the immediate military response to the attacks. It is for the non-military response, however, that the United Nations offers a more enduring promise for “global peace and cooperation.”

On September 12, the day after the attacks, both the UN Security Council and General Assembly had condemned them. In its resolution 1368 the Security Council defined them as “a threat to international peace and security.” This authorized the military response of the United States, since Article 51 of the UN Charter declares that any country has the right to defend itself if attacked until the Security Council takes measures to ensure peace and security. In building the international coalition against terrorism, Colin Powell has been closely in touch with Kofi Annan.

As for the non-military response, Kofi Annan pointed out that the UN is not only “uniquely positioned” to ensure legitimacy for legal measures of extradition and prosecution of offenders like Osama bin Laden, but its agencies in their regular activities are dealing daily with the ills of conflict, ignorance, poverty and disease, which are the very roots of violence. UNICEF and the UN Refugee Office have already been at work in Afghanistan, where the World Food Organization has been bringing food and UN mine sweepers have been removing mines.

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain has seen the promise of what the international coalition against terrorism could become. In his recent speech to the Labour Party’s annual conference at Brighton, Blair made a powerful inspirational appeal for using the present developing sense of world community to launch a great humanitarian effort. .”Out of the shadow of evil,” he said, “there should emerge lasting good.” The memorial to the 7,000 dead “should be greater than the punishment of the guilty and the destruction of the machinery of terrorism wherever it is found.”

“Above all, Blair said, the goal should be to create “justice for the poor and dispossessed, so that people everywhere can see the chance of a better future through the hard work and creative power of the free citizen, not the violence and savagery of the fanatic.” “The state of Africa,” he declared, “is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it.”

For Afghanistan Blair said, “We will assemble a humanitarian coalition alongside the military coalition. … The world must show as much its capacity for compassion as for force.” President Bush, who once scoffed at “nation-building,” has now said that it could be the function of the United Nations. Many nations, including China, Russia and naturally Pakistan, have urged that the military campaign be short. There is no international support for extending it to Iraq, as certain American hawks would like to do.

The United Nations represents not only the global legitimacy for the current military campaign of the United States and its closest coalition allies, but it provides the basis for a long lasting humanitarian coalition of the world community. I have been proud of my country, whose idealism and compassion have been so well displayed by the self-sacrificing fire fighters, police units, and so many who gave their lives for others in our national tragedy. It is my hope that the United States might show as much its capacity for compassion as for force and that it would work with the United Nations, led by Kofi Annan, to create a world of peace and justice. What a memorial to our victims of terrorism that would be.