Margaret Thatcher and the limits of the United Nations

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the West suddenly had to decide how to confront what was in many respects the first great challenge of the nascent post-Cold War. Much has been made of the role that Margaret Thatcher played in "stiffening the spine" of George H.W. Bush and ecouraging a firm line against the aggression. Less noticed was her doubts about the United Nations as a vehicle for the campaign against Saddam. As I recounted in my book on the Security Council, she wanted the United States to secure U.N. resolutions condemning the invasion and noting the right of other states to aid Kuwait -- and not much more than that. As she wrote in her memoirs:

I did not like unnecessary resort to the UN, because it suggested that sovereign states lacked the moral authority to act on their own behalf. If it became accepted that force could only be used -- even in self-defence -- when the United Nations approved, neither Britain's interests nor those of international justice and order would be served. The U.N. was a useful -- for some matters vital -- forum. But it was hardly the nucleus of a new world order. And there was still no substitute for the leadership of the United States.

President Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, disagreed. They instead made the Security Council the center of their Gulf War diplomacy, securing a string of resolutions setting up a naval blockade, imposing sanctions, authorizing force, and ultimately requiring Iraq's disarmament. America's U.N. ambassador at the time, Thomas Pickering, recalled "it became my strategy never to let the Council have a day without focusing on Iraq." That frenetic diplomacy vaulted the Security Council from the periphery back to the center of world politics. In many respects, it stayed there. And in 2003, George W. Bush faced a world where military action without council approval was seen as almost inherently illegitimate. He may have wished that his father had taken Thatcher's counsel more seriously.

The Multilateralist

Catching up with Jordan's globetrotting WTO candidate

Ahmad Hindawi is a busy man. He was in Egypt recently, huddling with Arab League officals. Yesterday he was in Washington. Today, he's in Paris. Then it's off to Turkey, India, China, Pakistan, Russia, Japan, several Latin American countries, and parts of Africa. The frenetic globetrotting is all part his bid to become the World Trade Organization's next director-general.

A former Jordanian trade and industry minister, Hindawi held a succession of senior ministry posts and helped shepherd his country into the WTO. He now heads up a private consultancy in the United Arab Emirates. In December, Jordan formally nominated him for the WTO post, which is being vacated by France's Pascal Lamy. In all, there are nine candidates for the post. 

Like other candidates, Hindawi believes resuscitating the prostrate Doha Round of trade talks is essential:

The cost of a failed round is so large that no country, whether developed or developing, can afford it. A failure will lead to complete loss of credibility and confidence in WTO as a whole, hence severely impeding its ability to make progress with any new multilateral trade rounds in the future. Moreover it will undermine the organization’s legitimacy and relevance and hence its ability to maintain its ability to provide its other core functions effectively, including dispute settlement and trade policy review. The world cannot afford such detrimental results. 

Conscious of the hurdles to a comprehensive agreement, Hindawi told me he endorses the "early harvest" approach to Doha that Lamy has articulated. This strategy would involve securing a slimmed-down agreement on some technical "trade facilitation" issues while pushing off more fundamental questions. 

The other hopefuls are on their own goodwill tours, and the oddsmakers don't like Hindawi's chances. As Dylan Mathews pointed out here, betting sites in Britain list him as a 25-1 longshot. But he's resolutely confident. In his presentations to governments, Hindawi has been touting his combination of government and private-sector work, which he says gives him a "competitive edge." He also thinks his nationality will be an asset. "One of the major strengths in Jordan’s candidacy comes from the country itself," he told me. "Jordan is a small and moderate country. We are a developing country and we fully sympathize with needs of developing countries. And we have always been committed to trade liberalization."

I asked Hindawi whether he's run across other candidates on the campaign trail. Not yet, he told me, but he's in touch with them electronically. "I just sent them yesterday an email wishing all of them the very best, and I got responses from some of them." Consultations at the WTO began yesterday, and the four candidates with the least support will be encouraged to withdraw. After several further rounds of winnowing, a final decision is due by the end of May.