TOPICS: UN can end the two wars

Helena Cobban

After long and costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, how can the US plan to win in either country? What would an achievable victory look like? This question has new urgency, given the recent upswing in violence in Afghanistan and the sense emerging among many US leaders — from both parties — that military resources need to be speedily diverted there from Iraq.

In each country, our victory will depend on defeating or defanging antigovernment insurgencies and helping midwife a governing system that enjoys domestic political

“legitimacy,” that is, it has the support of the vast majority of the country’s citizens, is sustainably able to deliver public security and other basic services to citizens throughout the whole country, and has the tools to resolve in nonviolent ways the still-unresolved and yet-to-emerge conflicts among its citizens.

What we don’t want is a replay of what happened in Vietnam, where the US eclared “victory” but then withdrew humiliatingly, under fire, leaving the victors free to enact brutal retribution against our former allies. Only one body can provide the leadership that’s needed to defeat the insurgencies in both Iraq and — over a longer time frame — Afghanistan. That is the United Nations. Though it’s far from a perfect institution, only the UN has the vital quality of worldwide legitimacy.

Other non-NATO governments need to be brought into the decision-making. Remember, too, that NATO — unlike the UN — has always been, and remains, a military alliance. Only the UN can amass the broad range of tools needed to carry out the tasks of long-term peace-building in Afghanistan, as it has successfully done in Mozambique, Cambodia, and elsewhere. But many nonmilitary tools will be required as well.

The goal is to have Afghanistan become a functioning, independent country whose people have no incentive to provide safe harbour to terrorists or drug lords. The UN has the worldwide legitimacy and the technical and cultural capacities needed to spearhead this effort. These tasks will require, certainly, a strong new compact between our country and the UN, whose capacities have been badly hobbled by Washington’s deep estrangement from it in recent years. We should recall that the UN was created by an earlier, much wiser generation of American leaders, and it still stands as one of our country’s finest achievements.So yes, there is a way for everyone, including our country, to win in Iraq and Afghanistan. It means stepping back from the urge to have Washington “control” all the big decisions in both countries.

It also means understanding that in this century, the world’s peoples are all dependent for our security upon each other.

Security is no longer a function mainly of military might, but of helping people everywhere build flourishing and hope-filled communities. The UN embodies those ideals of human security and global interdependence. In the 21st century, we and the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan need it more than ever before.