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OP-ED: Distorting US Foreign Policy

NEW YORK, Oct 16 2012 (IPS) - Contrary to U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent foreign policy speech at the United Nations, candidates’ pronouncements during election campaigns distort US foreign policy. Some arguments defy voters’ intelligence, and incite nations who should be our allies.It is scary to hear that Russia is our biggest enemy; China must be contained; a “Red Line” be drawn on Iran’s nuclear ambitions; and Middle East be restrained – from newly gained freedoms in Egypt and Libya to Syria, Israel and Palestine. The worst is war mongering – even attempts by a foreign country to influence elections and dictate US foreign policy.

America was born, in 1776, as a symbol of equality and freedom dedicated to the higher principles of justice. For over 200 years, America has been a devout apostle of equality and freedom – defending peace, democracy, justice and human rights.

During the Berlin and Cuban missile crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev averted war realizing the devastation of wars. President Kennedy once stated, “Our hopes must be tempered with the caution of history.” He also said that “mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

Russia, today, is not a Stalinist Soviet Union with dictatorial powers. The Cold War is over. Putin advocates peaceful foreign policies. He abhors external pressure and advocates a multi-polar world and a bigger role for the United Nations to enhance global security. He has often said that “we do not want confrontation: we want to engage in dialogue but a dialogue that acknowledges the equality of both parties’ interests”. This could be the premise for United States to form better relations with Russia.

China holds almost $1.5 trillion of the $16 trillion US debt, and is the second largest US trading partner after Canada. It is a growing market that calls for continued diplomatic and business engagement. China’s determination to strengthen its economic and military power is unstoppable. Tensions over the disputed islands in China Sea make US uneasy about the potential for military confrontations.

Last month, while in Jakarta, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We will need the nations of the region to work collaboratively together to resolve disputes – without coercion, without intimidating, without threats and, certainly, without the use of force”. Sounds great.

UN also wants countries to solve those problems peacefully and not exacerbate the situation.

The Middle East is everybody’s nightmare. US supported Israel, Egypt and others for decades with billions of dollars in aid and grants every year – with enormous financial and human sacrifice. Most Arabs are ungrateful and hostile to America as we recently witnessed in Libya. Karzai has said that Afghanistan will support Pakistan in a war against the US. No money can buy peace, democracy or human rights. People need food, water, shelter, education and medicine.

The UN Security Council remains divided on Syria only because the US and NATO apparently misapplied the no-fly zone over Libya. Once bitten twice shy, and Russia has lost confidence in this mechanism. In Syria, there are two or several forces at play, and as we know Bashar Al-Assad is not the only one killing the Syrians.

It is appalling when a US presidential candidate attributes Palestinians’ forced predicament and stagnation to a lack of culture. UN has been seized with this issue for over five decades and the world knows where the problem is and who to blame.

US involvement in Middle East and South Asia has given us nothing but misery – two Arab oil embargoes; devastating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; a horrendous 9/11; global war on terror; never-ending terrorist threats – to name a few that have cost US three trillion dollars, and lives of thousands of US soldiers.

US attacked Iraq on bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I was in the UN Security Council chambers when US Secretary of State Collin Powell showed those spurious movies how Iraqi President Saddam Hussein made WMD’s in the desert. US waged war without UN blessings, and we are clamoring to repeat the same mistake.

Any unilateral military action against another sovereign state is an illegitimate act of aggression that would constitute a flagrant violation of international law and the UN Charter which clearly states that the use of force is not legitimate unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense [after a direct attack].

Red Line or not, there is no proof that Iran has a nuclear weapon, and it has not threatened military action against Israel. If Israel wants a pre-emptive attack on Iran, and it appears that they are blustering in that direction, it should do so alone without dragging America into a catastrophic war. United States has already squandered trillions of dollars in the Middle East through two wars. Another war would further destabilize the region.

During my 25 years at the United Nations, I never saw any sincere effort by Israel to live peacefully with its neighbors. In the Middle East, only Israel has nuclear weapons and, for obvious reasons, it wants to maintain status quo.

It is inconceivable that Iran – unless suicidal – would ever attack Israel. “If Iran ever makes a nuclear weapon”, as one UN diplomat confided in me, “a nuclear Iran would have a calming effect on Israel”. That reminds me how India and Pakistan painstakingly maintain peace today.

Right now, United States and peace loving nations have a unique opportunity to end this war mongering. An international conference is scheduled, this year in Helsinki, to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. This is the only way to fulfill aspirations of the people in the Middle East.

Historically, since 1974, the UN General Assembly has passed many resolutions on this issue but never adhered to. In 1991, the Madrid Peace Conference established a multinational mechanism to work on making the Middle East a nuclear weapon-free zone but was stalled in 1995 as a result of Israeli position.

Elimination of all nuclear and WMD’s from Middle East would provide common security interests of both Iran and Israel and of the entire region, and thereby other strategic interests of all major powers. United Nations can and should make it a success.

It is possible because we have done this before. All 33 states in Latin America and the Caribbean are parties to the 1967 (Tlatelolco) Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has also been signed and ratified by nuclear powers US, UK, France, China, and Russia. This is the solution – today – for Middle East.

It is time for all nations to respect the UN Charter, adhere to international law, use diplomacy and peaceful means to resolve international conflicts, and work harmoniously and in partnership to establish a world order that ensures peace, justice, security and prosperity for all.

* Former Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations.

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