Security Council Resolution: Hidden Traps Remain

By Phyllis Bennis (Institute for Policy Studies, Washington 5 November 2002)

In a word, we're not there yet. The current draft resolution the U.S. has put before the Security Council is certainly a step in the right direction, but not yet something to cheer for as the triumph of the UN over Bush administration unilateralism. The newest draft reflects significant U.S. concessions demanded by other Council members, particularly France, Russia and to a lesser degree Mexico. And if implemented according to its actual text, as opposed to a Bush administration re-definition based on its own war-mongering concerns, it provides the basis for maintaining UN centrality in this crisis.

Washington insisted that the draft include the finding that "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations." But the next line gives Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." This leaves open at least the possibility (and thus provides a key tool for mobilization and activism) that economic sanctions could finally be lifted. In giving Iraq the "final opportunity," the draft sets "the aim of bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process." Upon completion of Iraq's disarmament obligations, according to resolution 687 (article 22), the crippling economic sanctions imposed on Iraq since 1991 "shall have no further force or effect." Since virtually every official in the Clinton and Bush I administrations have rejected this clear UN requirement, instead asserting that the U.S. would maintain sanctions "until the end of time" or the equivalent, this represents a potential shift in the U.S. position.

What the current draft (not yet accepted by the Council as a whole or even the three permanent members, Russia, France and China, who have expressed doubts) does not do yet is indicate that the U.S. in fact recognizes the centrality and authority of the United Nations Security Council to make decisions regarding the Iraq disarmament crisis.

According to Secretary of State Colin Powell, "if Iraq violates this resolution and fails to comply, then the Council has to take into immediate consideration what should be done about that, while the United States and other like-minded nations might take a judgment about what we might do about it if the Council chooses not to act." In other words, if the Council decision does not match what the Bush administration has unilaterally decided, Washington will implement its own decision regardless. This represents a thoroughly instrumentalized view of the United Nations that its relevance and authority are defined by and limited to its proximity to Washington's positions.

The concessions in the newest version include a call for a Council decision "to convene immediately upon receipt of a report [of Iraqi non-compliance]... in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Council resolutions in order to restore international peace and security." This was Washington's incomplete answer to France's demand for a two-resolution process, in which a second Council resolution would be required to judge whether Iraq was indeed in violation, as well as to determine what the consequences of any such violation would be. The current language, calling only for the "convening" of the Council, falls far short. There is no reference to an actual formal meeting being required, and more importantly, there is no reference to a Council decision being required to determine whether or not an Iraqi violation noted by the arms inspectors constitutes "material breach" at all, and if so what the appropriate response should be.

The other concessions had all been made last week, before the intensely awaited "final" U.S. draft was submitted. They included elimination of the call for UN member states (read: the U.S.) to provide military escorts and military "protection" for the UN arms inspectors, and a slight softening (though not elimination) of the inspectors' authority to interview Iraqi scientists and their families outside the country and provide asylum if desired.

The resolution reflects the enormous international and domestic opposition to the Bush administration's stated goal of war against Iraq dressed up in the prim language of "regime change." While the Republican sweep of the mid-term election will certainly further empower the administration's most unilateralist voices, the recognition of diminishing public support in the U.S. for a solo attack without the UN or allied support may act as a brake on that trajectory.

So far neither France nor Russia has indicated willingness to accept the resolution as currently drafted. Russia's deputy foreign minister said, "we still believe it is vital that the new resolution contain no automatic mechanism in using force." The French foreign minister, while indicating progress had been made on France's demand for a two-step process, said that France had "very wide backing among members of the Security Council" in opposing anything in the text that would provide automatic recourse to military force. The existing text does not include such explicit recourse to force. The problem is that the U.S. has made clear its position that it has the right to determine alone whether Iraq is in "material breach," AND whether to go to war in response. Nothing in the resolution text specifically rejects that claim, or asserts the legitimacy of the Council as a whole to make such decisions instead of the U.S. alone.

In fact, the resolution says nothing that would justify a U.S. call to war.

But the danger remains. The crucial factor remains whether the combination of international legality at the Security Council, massive international opposition at both the governmental and popular levels, and the pressure of a growing anti-war movement in the U.S., will be enough to restrain a newly emboldened Republican juggernaut. At the end of the day, the question is whether Washington can be forced to accept UN Security Council jurisdiction as paramount, or will Washington continue to claim that UN decisions do not "handcuff" any U.S. decision for war?

Institute for Policy Studies 733 15 St. NW, Suite 1020 Washington, DC 20005 202-234-9382 x206

[* For full US/UK Draft SCR 5 November 2002 text see: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17239-2002Nov6.html]

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