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The United Nations must be given a chance

01 April 2003

The days between 24 February (when Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States submitted to the UNSC a draft resolution to authorise a collective war on Iraq) and 20 March (when the United Kingdom and the United States launched a military intervention in Iraq, with logistical and political support from some other states) will be remembered as a crucial moment in history. Indeed, the very existence of the Security Council, the only body entitled to maintain peace and stability globally, was put at stake. Had events unfolded in a different manner, perhaps today the days of this body would be numbered. And yet, is that not the case today?
For the United States, the war was chiefly justified in self-defence against possible future attacks. Many Europeans who support the war tend to minimise this aspect; however, for the Americans it is the capital argument. US Congress joint resolution of 10 October 2002 (adopted, therefore, one month before Resolution 1441) authorised President Bush to use force against Iraq, first to `defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq', and second to ensure the respect of UNSC resolutions. Nevertheless, the UN Charter clearly indicates that self-defence may not be based on speculation. Indeed, although possible terrorist attacks against the United States (or other countries) with WMD are a matter of serious concern, they might have diverse origins, apart from Iraq.
On 17 March, President Bush said: `Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict.' During the forty-eight hours ultimatum given by President Bush, a UNSC meeting showed that the chief UN weapons inspector, as well as a majority of the Security Council members, favoured giving more time to inspections in order to verify Iraq's disarmament. Plausibly, Iraqi WMD could have been checked and destroyed (as Al-Samoud missiles were when the war started) in some months' time. However, the United States chose to wage a war because it was pursuing other goals in addition to Iraqi disarmament. A whole range of other motives have been offered by the US administration: not only self-defence but also regime change, `unfinished business', democratisation, repression of an `axis of evil', etc.
From 24 February to 20 March, China, France, Germany, Russia and Syria stated publicly that they did not support the draft resolution aimed at transforming the inspections regime into an authorisation to employ force. Two days after the outbreak of hostilities, Chile and Mexico, two other Security Council members, declared that they believed that inspections should have continued. Therefore, it seems obvious that the draft resolution was not put to a vote owing to a lack of the necessary nine affirmative votes. Reliable reports and some public declarations from the proponents of the draft resolution suggest that, had the draft rallied those nine votes, it would have been put to a vote, even if one or several vetoes would most probably have prevented its adoption. At that moment, the vetoes would have perhaps been dismissed as `unreasonable' by the proponents of the draft resolution, and the UN Charter would have been declared obsolete.
The Security Council will have another opportunity to fulfil its role once hostilities are over. It could then discuss an agreed framework to coordinate the reconstruction of Iraq. Those discussions would be a good opportunity to mend fences between allies. However, the organisation of postwar Iraq might also prove a divisive issue if the previous positions were maintained.
At the end of March, when this article was written, there were two different visions of the Security Council's role in postwar Iraq. Although there seemed to be general agreement that the military administration should be undertaken by American and British forces, there were opposing views as far as the political and economic dimensions were concerned. The United States appeared to maintain that, taking into account that it had taken the initiative and borne most of the war effort, it should also take the lead in Iraq's `democratisation process' and economic reconstruction. For their part, most of the European allies favoured a multilateral approach to the postwar phase. This would notably include a decision by the Security Council to ensure collective action to support the establishment of a democratic government in Iraq.
It is evident that the involvement of the Security Council in Iraq's reconstruction would have clear advantages. It would allow the international community's participation in the postwar process. It would offer a good opportunity to discuss the situation in the Middle East as a whole. Finally, the expertise of the United Nations and some other institutions and individual states in state-building would be utilised. Despite these and other advantages, one cannot know in advance whether postwar Iraq will be organised in a multilateral way or not.