Imperialist intervention, the UN and socialists
Green Left Parramatta
glparramatta at SPAMgreenleft.org.au
Tue Nov 23 13:14:47 MST 1999
Imperialism intervention and socialists
Despite the undoubted dominance of the US, the UN continues
to be an arena of struggle between contending international
interests, principally Western imperialism on the one hand and
the Third World on the other. This is especially so at the level
of the General Assembly, but on a few occasions it is also
reflected at the Security Council.
At certain points, the pressure of mass struggle in the Third
World combined with mass popular opinion in the West has forced
US imperialism to retreat. Just as the UN is used by imperialism
when it launches it offensives, that body has often been the
mechanism Washington's uses to disguise its back-downs or to
allow its Third World proxies to save face.
A very similar situation to that of East Timor took place in
Namibia a decade ago. Weakened by the successes of the
anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the decisive defeat
of the South African army's invasion of neighbouring Angola by
the combined forces of Cuban internationalist volunteers, the
Angolan army and the guerillas of the South West African Peoples
Organisation (SWAPO), the US-imperialist backed apartheid regime
in South Africa was forced to agree to allow Namibia's
independence. In the US and Europe, a mass anti-apartheid
movement was at its peak.
In July 1988, representatives of Angola, Cuba and SWAPO on one
side and South Africa on the other agreed that South Africa would
reduce its troops in Namibia to 1500 prior to an UN-monitored
constituent assembly election in November 1989, leading to
independent Namibian state in March 1990. In return,
revolutionary Cuba agreed to withdraw its volunteers from Angola.
In August 1988, the UN Security Council approved a resolution
authorising an armed UN force of 4650 troops from Australia,
Denmark, Finland, Malaysia and Britain to supervise elections for
the constituent assembly which would draft independent Namibia's
The UN Transitional Assistance Group (UNTAG), established under
UN Security Council resolution 435, was originally to have been
7500-strong. Washington argued that it be slashed to 3000.
Following objections from the Non-Aligned movement, the African
frontline states, SWAPO and others, the compromise strength of
4650 was agreed on.
The anti-apartheid movement and revolutionary socialists did not
denounce the UN force as a ``betrayal'' nor did they declare that
forcing imperialism to retreat and allow Namibia's formal
independence was not an advance. Socialists did not call for the
UN forces' withdrawal. Socialists did not argue that the
deployment of a UN force in these circumstances ``sowed''
illusions in imperialism's or the UN's ``humanitarianism''.
Such a position would have played into the hands of apartheid
South Africa and US imperialism. Imperialism's goal was for SWAPO
to be as politically weak as possible in an independent Namibia.
Socialists opposed US efforts to reduce the UN force and exposed
every instance of UN inaction in the face of Pretoria's attempts
to use violence and dirty tricks to sabotage SWAPO's attempts to
win a two-thirds' majority in the constituent assembly.
Socialists condemned Pretoria's manoeuvre of integrating 3000
members of the dreaded *Koevoet,* a death-squad
``counterinsurgency'' unit, into the police force, which was
charged under resolution 435 with responsibility for maintaining
law and order.
Socialists condemned UNTAG's slowness in deploying troops and its
failure to confront -- i.e. they demanded that the UN use
force against -- South African troops and police who killed
hundreds of SWAPO fighters and supporters in the first weeks of
the transition process.
International pressure by the anti-apartheid movement --
especially in the US where outrage at the slackness of UNTAG was
fuelled by press coverage of massacres -- forced the US to
apply pressure to the South African-appointed administrator of
Namibia and in August 1989 Koevoet were confined to barracks for
the duration of the election campaign.
SWAPO won an overwhelming victory in Namibia's November 7-11,
1989 constituent assembly elections. The remaining South African
occupation forces withdrew a week later, and the UN troops left
in April 1990. The creation of an independent Namibia, despite
all the obstacles thrown in its path by the apartheid regime and
Washington, was a massive defeat for Pretoria and an inspiration
to the people in South Africa still struggling against apartheid.
South Africa and Israel
Similarly, it was the combination of the anti-apartheid struggle
inside South Africa and the mass solidarity movement throughout
the world in the 1980s, that forced the UN Security Council to
impose a range of arms and economic sanctions against Pretoria.
The impact of those sanctions speeded the demise of apartheid.
Socialists did not respond by denouncing these concessions by
imperialism. They campaigned for them to be *enforced* as major
imperialist powers flouted them or turned a blind eye to
widespread <169>sanctions busting<170> scams.
As of 1998, Israel was defying as many as 69 resolutions passed
by the UN Security Council resolutions. At least, 29 others had
been vetoed by the US. The fact that 69 resolutions were allowed
to pass by Washington was a concession to the anti-imperialist
sentiment in the Arab world and public opinion in the West.
Socialists did not simply ignore these resolutions' existence but
highlighted the hypocrisy of the failure of the UN to *enforce*
them, in stark contrast to its actions in relation to Iraq, Libya
While not a perfect analogy, revolutionary socialists' attitude
toward the UN can be likened to that toward bourgeois
parliaments. Like parliament, which is thoroughly bourgeois, the
UN is thoroughly imperialist. Should socialists then boycott it,
declare it ``politically obsolete''.
This is not the position taken by revolutionary Cuba. Cuba
participates actively in the General Assembly to propagandise in
of socialism, to defend the Cuban revolution by mobilising
opposition to the US blockade of the island, and to argue in
favour of action that helps the oppressed and working majority of
the world. Cuba does not call for the UN's abolition but for it
to be transformed by the abolition of the veto power of the five
permanent members and for its democratisation so that the Third
World majority can rightfully control it.
Cuba's participation -- which inevitably requires it to call
on the UN Security Council to *act* in the interests of oppressed
-- exposes imperialism's hypocrisy and inaction. It also
allows Cuba to exploit differences between it enemies and play
them off against one another.
On November 9, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a
resolution for the eighth successive year, and by a record 155-2
majority (12 abstentions), calling for an end to the 40-year US
economic blockade. Only Israel voted with the US.
``Washington's friends and allies -- as well as its usual
adversaries -- [such as Japan, Canada, Norway, Australia, and
Finland on behalf of the 15-nation European Union] supported the
resolution, mainly because they consider their own sovereignty is
infringed by the `extra-territorial' effects of the embargo in
punishing non-US companies that trade with Cuba'', reported
In situations where imperialism is forced to *retreat* in the face
of struggle, Cuba's participation help's maximise the gains won
by the oppressed -- as its role in Namibia's independence
Cuba has no qualms about participating in the UN Security
Council. At the time of the Gulf War, the only members of the
Security Council to vote against the resolution that authorised
the attack on Iraq were Cuba and Yemen.
Such an approach gives Cuba another avenue to exploit differences
between our enemies. The fact that the 1998 US-British bombing
campaign against Iraq was not undertaken with the UN approval
because of dissent among the leading Security Council members --
notably France and Russia -- and that war against Yugoslavia was carried
under the auspices of NATO, rather than the UN, indicates that
even at the Security Council level, the US does not hold
unbridled sway. The ability of Cuba to tactically influence
decisions at that level can at least hamper imperialism's
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