Security Council Replaces UNSCOM; Paves Way for Inspections, Sanctions Relief

NEARLY A YEAR to the day after Iraq ended its cooperation with UN weapons inspections following the initiation of punitive air strikes by the United States and Britain, the Security Council paved the way for renewed inspections and a measured suspension of economic sanctions, in place since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Resolution 1284, adopted on December 17 after months of diplomatic squabbling, outlines in broad terms a plan that proponents hope will promote Iraqi cooperation and defuse the rising tension between ensuring the complete destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs and growing concern about the humanitarian impact of the sanctions regime.

The resolution broadly outlines the structure and responsibility for a new inspection organization, to be known as the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), to replace the now all-but-defunct United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). Iraq is instructed to allow UNMOVIC "immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access to any and all areas, facilities, equipment, records and means of transport which they wish to inspect." (See full text of the resolution.)

While UNMOVIC will be charged with the same tasks as its predecessor, namely overseeing and verifying Iraq's compliance with the previous Security Council resolutions that specify its disarmament responsibilities, the particulars of the leadership, organization and mission of the new inspection group were left deliberately ambiguous and will be worked out in the coming months. On December 15, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan began a search, which must be completed by January 17, for an executive chairman to head up the organization. Once appointed, the executive chairman will have 45 days to develop and submit an organizational plan to the Security Council. Details of the work program and the "key disarmament tasks to be completed by Iraq" will be concluded in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) once inspectors are on the ground.

The definition of "key disarmament tasks" is certain to be a point of contention. Critics of UNSCOM argued that there would be little incentive for Iraq to cooperate if it could not, as Chinese Representative Qin Huasun put it, "see the light at the end of the tunnel." The key disarmament tasks, while not changing Iraq's disarmament responsibilities as defined by Resolution 687, are intended to set milestones by which Iraq's cooperation with the UNMOVIC inspectors can be measured. One concern is how to define the tasks with enough specificity to convey the Security Council's expectations while leaving flexibility for inspectors should they encounter unforeseen situations.

A second issue regards the transfer of expertise from UNSCOM to its successor. UNSCOM experts continue to work to make data collected during their tenure useful for the new monitoring team, but there are worries that the ability to identify disparities in Iraqi declarations will suffer with the loss of UNSCOM's institutional memory. While it remains to be seen whether UNSCOM inspectors will be hired to the UNMOVIC team, language explicitly allowing their employment was removed from the final draft of Resolution 1284. UNSCOM relied on arms and intelligence experts on loan from and paid by member states, but concerns spawned by allegations last year of improper dissemination of UNSCOM-collected intelligence may encourage a staff comprised of UN-payrolled inspectors.

Finally, the resolution calls for the creation of a "College of Commissioners" to advise UNMOVIC, review the organization's progress and "provide professional advice and guidance" to the executive chairman. The size and composition of this committee will largely determine its impact. One possibility is that the commissioners will serve as envoys between council members and the commission, defusing potential conflicts before they reach the council floor and possibly providing a way for the Security Council to directly influence UNMOVIC activities.

Resolution 1284 also moves further toward the relaxation of economic sanctions. The resolution lifts the $5.26 billion cap on oil sales under the oil-for-food program, simplifies the approval process for the purchase of most humanitarian goods and outlines conditions for the temporary but renewable relaxation of economic sanctions, contingent on Iraqi cooperation with the arms verification process. Once Iraq has cooperated for 120 days with both UNMOVIC and the IAEA, the sanctions may be lifted for 120 days. Continued progress toward defined disarmament goals will allow sanctions relief to continue in 120-day increments. These extensions are subject to veto by any of the permanent Security Council members, and sanctions relief may end within days if UNMOVIC reports Iraqi non-compliance.


Uncertainties Remain

The resolution passed unanimously (11-0), but the abstention of key members critical of the sanctions regime—Russia, France and China—raises questions about the prospects for full implementation of the council's mandates. Following the vote, Ambassador Peter Burleigh, the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the UN, said that "no council member would say that Iraq has met its obligations...we expect all members of the council, regardless of their vote on this resolution, to join in pressing Iraq for full and immediate implementation." But Sergey Lavrov, Russia's representative to the Security Council, stated that Russia's abstention "should not be taken to indicate that we are obliged to play along with attempts to impose its forceful implementation." Chinese Representative Qin concurred: "The implementation of this draft resolution before us is highly questionable."

Early reactions from Baghdad to the resolution have not been encouraging. Tariq Aziz, Iraq's deputy prime minister, said that the Security Council's "rewriting of Resolution 687" fell short of "Iraq's legitimate demand to lift the embargo." Iraq has insisted upon an easing of sanctions prior to the readmission of UN inspectors, but given its history of slow acceptance of Security Council resolutions (Iraq waited a year before accepting the oil-for-food program), Iraq's initial posturing has not been taken as a sign of permanent rejection.