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6 The Genocide Rescue Brigade That Never Was Resolution: 912 |
In April 1994, as Rwandan extremists unleashed the largest mass killing operation in modern history, the Security Council reached agreement on Resolution 912, which called for the reduction in the size of an already under-equipped U.N. peacekeeping force. In a compromise, the United States allowed the resolution to include a provision that stated the council's willingness to consider any recommendations by then Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali concerning the size and the mandate of the mission. Eight days later, Boutros-Ghali appealed to the council to reverse its decision, saying the U.N. mandate was insufficient to confront mass killings. But the United States blocked any decision by the council to expand the mission.
7 The Bosnian Unsafe Haven Resolution: 819
In 1992, the Bosnian Serb Army ethnically cleansed large swaths of north eastern and central Bosnia, forcing more than 100,000 civilians to flee to enclaves. On April 16, 1993, the U.N. passed Resolution 819, creating a "save haven" in Srebrenica, but then failed to muster enough forces to protect it. It compounded the problem by setting up other safe havens. The site would later become the site of the worst mass murder in Western Europe since World War II. Even at the time of the resolution's passage, Bosnians had little doubt as to the fecklessness of the gesture. Bosnia's U.N. ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammed Sacirbey, immediately denounced it as a cynical and meaningless act.
8 The Iraqi Collateral Damage Resolutions: 661 and 687
These resolutions played a central role in the defeat, containment, and ultimate overthrow of Saddam Hussein, showing that U.N. resolutions can have extremely sharp teeth. But Resolution 661 of 1990, which imposed a comprehensive economic oil embargo, inflicted such extreme hardship on ordinary Iraqis that it has since been politically impossible to rally support for comprehensive embargos. Today, the council mostly imposes targeted sanctions aimed at a country's ruling elites.
Resolution 687 of 1991, known to U.N. diplomats as the Mother of All Resolutions, set the terms of Hussein's military defeat in the first Gulf War and required he destroy the country's weapons of mass destruction. (A decade later, the U.S. and Britain cited Iraq's alleged violation of this resolution as the legal justification for their overthrow of Saddam Hussein, against the objections of other council members.)
9 The "You Say Territories I Say Des Territoires" Resolution: 242
As if the Middle East conflict weren't complicated enough on its own, the Security Council approved Resolution 242 -- which introduced the "land for peace" formula in 1967, right after the Six-Day War -- with an ambiguous translation. In English, the resolution calls for the "withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict," which Israel interpreted to mean it could give back some, but not all, conquered territories in a final settlement. The French version says that Israeli is obliged to withdraw from "des territoires occupés," which the Arabs interpreted as requiring Israel give up all the land it seized in the 1967 Six-Day War. The meaning of the resolution has never been fully resolved, and has tried the patience of linguists, politicians, diplomats and armed militants. It has also provided material for countless university dissertations, books, and papers with ponderous titles like "A Case Study in Diplomatic Ambiguity," and "A Legal Reappraisal of the Right-Wing Interpretation of the Withdrawal Phrase with Reference to the Conflict Between Israel and the Palestinians." The ambiguity reflected an inability of the council to agree on language defining the fate of Arab territories. "This situation could lead to real trouble in the future," then Secretary of State Dean Rusk would later recall.
10 The "What's Bad For the Bolsheviks, Is Bad For the Yanks" Resolution: 82
This 1950 resolution authorized the U.S. intervention into the Korean War and provided an early demonstration of the Security Council's extraordinary power. It also spurred the development of a way to circumvent the council entirely. After the Soviet Union realized the folly of its failure to block Resolution 82 (on account of a decision to boycott the council in protest over its refusal to transfer the Chinese seat from Taiwan to Beijing), Moscow committed to vetoing all further resolutions challenging North Korea.
In response, U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson introduced a new procedure to the General Assembly called the "Uniting for Peace Resolution." Its purpose was to allow a member state to bypass the Security Council and seek approval for action in the General Assembly, including recommendations on the use of force.
But the Uniting For Peace formula would later come back to haunt the United States. The resolution also allows for convening an open-ended emergency special session to address threats to international peace and security ignored by the council. Under the leadership of Arab states seeking a way around the U.S. veto, the 10th emergency session was first convened in 1997 to address the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, and it has never been formally closed.