Anti-war movement must avoid UN trap

War against Iraq is now almost certainly only a matter of a few weeks away - despite the mass opposition that pervades much of the world, from the Middle East to Europe, and which is growing in the United States itself. Bush and Blair are trying in their distinctive ways to maximise their political capital for when the bombing and invasion kicks off. It appears that Blair has once again persuaded Bush to attempt to get a second resolution through the United Nations security council to cover this piece of blatant international piracy with a legal fig leaf. Bush, while insisting that he does not need a second resolution to go to war, has said he is prepared to attempt for a couple of weeks to get one through - primarily, it seems, in order to help Blair to split and weaken the anti-war movement, particularly in Europe. US secretary of state Colin Powell has presented his 'proof' to the UN that Iraq is hiding banned weapons and is therefore in 'material breach' of resolution 1441 - the excuse for initiating war - yet he also admits he has found no 'smoking gun' (ie, no proof). Absurdly he insists that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are partners in terrorism, even though a leaked British intelligence document ridicules the idea. Blair meanwhile intones that the Iraq war crisis is entering its "final phase", as he tries to bring French president Jacques Chirac on board. While the diplomatic rifts between London/Washington and the French and Germans over this issue have at times been quite bitter and fraught, nevertheless Blair knows, given the fact that French and German imperialism fear being shut out of a redrawn, US-dominated Middle East set-up if the invasion goes ahead without them, he has an even chance of procuring a change of heart from the Elysée at least. Germany might be a bit more difficult, given the extremely tenuous position of Social Democratic chancellor Schröder, whose government's support has plummeted only a few months after his re-election on an anti-war programme. He is now hopping around trying to please both left and right, as if someone (notably the anti-war constituency who voted for him) is grasping him by the testicles. But Germany does not have a veto on the security council, and therefore Schröder's predicament can be more easily ignored. France, on the other hand, is crucial, not so much for Bush's war plans, which can and undoubtedly will go ahead irrespective of the opinion of Chirac and Raffarin, but in getting Blair the UN authorisation he desperately needs to bolster him at home for the coming attack on Iraq. In any case, whatever the differences of interest or perceived tactics between the imperialist powers, more unites them than divides them when push comes to shove. The danger for them, what they fear most of all, is that an unsuccessful or misdirected military adventure could backfire against capitalist stability and the system itself. Indeed, this is much of what the argument between the leading European governments, on the one hand, and Bush and Blair, on the other, is about: tactics. In no sense do they solidarise with the potential victims of an invasion of Iraq - all they are worried about is that the current US projection of itself as the policeman of the world is counterproductive and will endanger their own interests. Therefore, at a certain point when it becomes clear that Bush and co are not going to be persuaded to back down and adopt a more 'reasonable' tack, chances are that the French and German ruling classes, as well as the Russians and Chinese, who hardly relish the prospect of a diplomatic falling out with the US, will eat their anti-war words and climb upon the 'regime change' bandwagon. This is what recent history reveals by way of precedence. It is also what gives Blair apparent confidence that he will win out over the objections of the French and Germans. No one can say for certain that things will shake out exactly this way, of course. But it is more likely than not, given the nature of the protagonists. Opinion polls in Britain have most recently shown that there is a large section of anti-war opinion - around half of it by some reckoning - that would change its mind and support the war if Bush and Blair managed to get a resolution authorising an attack through the security council. Certainly, a lot of the opposition to Bush/Blair currently being voiced through the Labour Party could potentially fall victim to such illusions in the UN; and there is a real danger that this kind of development could have a demoralising effect on the anti-war movement as a whole. We therefore need clarity within the anti-war movement on the nature of the UN, which after all exists primarily as a means for reconciling imperialist interests and safeguarding the stability of the capitalist world order as a whole. Many, of course, in dismissing this analysis and the conclusions that flow from it, will point to the numerical weight of third world and poorer countries in general in the United Nations, citing this as a reason why the potential of the UN to act as a barrier to war should not be dismissed. But again this is an illusion. Blair's 'gang of eight' declaration - the European states that signed up to his pro-US, pro-invasion document last week - provides pointers as to the real role of the governments and ruling classes of less advanced countries in the UN. After all, the countries Blair managed to enrol, apart from his rightwing buddies, Berlusconi and Aznar in Italy and Spain respectively, most notably included the three poorest countries in Nato, awaiting admission to the EU: Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is glaringly obvious that such countries see themselves as dependent particularly on American goodwill and aid for much of their future economic prospects, to the extent that any conception that they have any real independence of judgement is something of a joke. What happens to poorer countries who get stroppy, or refuse to go along with US war plans in the United Nations, is shown by the example of Yemen in the last Gulf War. After it dared to vote in the security council against the resolution authorising Desert Storm, the Yemeni UN ambassador was taunted by US officials that they had cast "the most expensive 'no' vote in history": US aid to Yemen was cut off, reinforcing the impoverishment of the masses in this dependent Middle Eastern country. This is not to say that we should not exploit the difficulties and the divisions that have been causing the imperialists problems over this question. On the contrary, the reluctance of France and Germany to go to war is rooted not just in ruling class perceptions of self-interest, but also in fear of the massive anti-war sentiments that have built up in Europe, including in Britain itself, as Bush has made his bellicose speeches and stepped up his war preparations. It is the task of the conscious elements of the anti-war movement, particularly revolutionary socialists and communists, to seek actively by means of propaganda to harden up the anti-war masses, including through exposure of the record and crimes of the United Nations in the service of imperialist interests over decades, from Korea to the Gulf to the former Yugoslavia. We should not be afraid to outspokenly criticise the likes of Tony Benn, who preach above all that this war is immoral because of its tendency to violate 'international law', more than because of its predatory, imperialist nature per se. If the anti-war movement is trapped by such legalistic pacifism, it will be so much easier for the government to just brush it aside, particularly in the event that Blair gets his craved-for second UN resolution. Blair himself has admitted that his drive to war on Iraq alongside Bush is a massive gamble, that could cost him his premiership and his political career. And indeed, this highly desirable outcome is very much on the agenda, given his precarious position vis-à -vis public opinion, with something like 47% of the population opposed to war with or without a second UN resolution, according to one recent opinion poll snapshot (on top of another 40-odd percent opposed without such a resolution). This kind of mass dissent has the potential to knock Britain out of the war. We need to deepen the existing anti-war mood to take advantage of this situation: to go beyond mere sentiment, in the direction of working class action. Once again, we can point to the example of train drivers in Motherwell, Scotland, in their refusal to transport military supplies for use against Iraq, as showing the way to what is needed above all to give the anti-war movement real teeth. The political space opened up by the imperialists' divisions over this war is vitally important - not for its own sake, but for the political gap it opens up for the working class to advance its own independent interests, and begin to take the offensive against the capitalist social system itself, a system that breeds the barbarism of imperialist war. Ian Donovan