U.S., Security Council Debate

November 2002

By Paul Kerr

As weapons inspectors waited to enter Iraq, the United States submitted a resolution to the UN Security Council on October 25 that firmly calls for Iraq to dismantle its weapons of mass destruction but does not directly threaten the use of force if Baghdad fails to comply. Supporting a tough stance against Iraq, Congress passed a joint resolution, which President George W. Bush signed October 16, authorizing the use of force to compel compliance with UN resolutions.

The new resolution, submitted with the United Kingdom, declares Iraq to be in “material breach” of its obligations under “relevant” Security Council resolutions, particularly Resolution 687, which mandated in 1991 that Iraq give up its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs and most missiles. It calls for Iraq to submit “a currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects of its [prohibited weapons] programs.”

The inspection teams would have a strong mandate under the resolution, which specifies that Iraq is to allow “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access” to “facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means of transport which they wish to inspect.” To prevent Iraq from moving materials, the resolution grants UN inspectors the authority to prohibit the movement of vehicles and aircraft around sites to be inspected. Inspectors would also have the right to interview anyone they choose, without Iraqi officials present, in any location they wish.

The resolution also mandates access to “presidential sites,” superceding a 1998 memorandum of understanding between Baghdad and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that had placed special conditions on inspectors to such sites. Although the memorandum, which was endorsed by a Security Council resolution, did not give Iraq the right to impede inspections, some former UN inspectors have argued that these conditions could enable Iraq to conceal prohibited weapons activities.

Significantly, the new resolution gives the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the right to access “any information that any member state is willing to provide,” an apparent reference to sharing of national intelligence data.

UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Hans Blix said during an October 28 briefing to the Security Council that access to intelligence about Iraqi weapons activities would be an important tool for UNMOVIC to perform effectively, but he emphasized that UNMOVIC would not give intelligence data to national governments. Allegations that UN weapons inspectors had been gathering intelligence in Iraq for their governments led to a controversy in 1999 that damaged UNSCOM, the previous inspection organization.

The resolution demands that Iraq “state its acceptance” of the resolution within seven days and submit declarations of its weapons programs within 30 days. UNMOVIC is to resume inspections no later than 45 days after the resolution is adopted and to update the council 60 days later.

Move Toward Compromise

The resolution differs in several respects from an earlier draft resolution that the United States circulated to permanent members of the Security Council in September, particularly in its provision for the use of force. The previous draft stated that failure “by Iraq at any time to comply and cooperate fully in accordance with” the resolution’s demands would “constitute a further material breach of Iraq’s obligations” and authorize “all member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area.”

The current resolution also says that Iraq’s failure to comply would be a “material breach,” but instead of directly threatening force, it merely “recalls” previous Security Council warnings that Iraq will face “serious consequences as a result of …continued violations of its obligations.” In the event that weapons inspectors report Iraqi noncompliance with the resolution, the new resolution requires the Security Council to meet “in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all of the relevant Security Council resolutions in order to restore international peace and security.” The previous draft did not include such a requirement.

The U.S.-British draft is an attempt at a compromise with other council members, particularly Russia and France, but neither country appears satisfied with the U.S. text. Both Moscow and Paris have composed their own draft resolutions but have not yet decided to submit them formally, according to an October 28 interview with a UN official. Both proposals omit the phrase “material breach,” believing that it sets the stage for the use of military force, according to U.S. sources. The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, the U.S. law establishing the overthrow of the Iraqi government as U.S. policy, contains the same phrase.

The same sources also indicated that the Russian and French resolutions include somewhat less stringent standards for inspections, as well as assurances that Security Council members would discuss possible responses to Iraqi noncompliance before using force. These changes are consistent with previous Russian and French statements. For example, Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov criticized the U.S. proposal’s “automaticity of the use of force” in an October 23 press conference following a Security Council meeting.

France had previously supported a two-resolution process, where one resolution would demand the return of weapons inspectors and the second would authorize necessary action. (See ACT, October 2002.) Russia had previously opposed a new resolution.

Inspections Without New Resolution

Whether weapons inspections would begin without a new resolution has been open to question. After Baghdad announced in September that it would accept weapons inspections “without conditions,” Iraqi representatives met with Blix and IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna from September 30 to October 1 to finalize necessary logistical arrangements.

The meeting resolved many key areas of potential disagreement, according to an October 8 letter from Blix and ElBaradei to an Iraqi official, but several issues are outstanding. In an October 15 briefing to the Security Council, Blix said that uncertainty remains regarding UNMOVIC’s use of helicopters, the presence of Iraqi officials during interviews of Iraqi citizens, inspectors’ right to supervise the destruction of weapons materials or documentation, and the use of aerial imagery.

Blix also indicated that UNMOVIC had been prepared to resume inspections on October 19 but had decided to wait for the Security Council to adopt a new resolution.

It is uncertain if Iraq will abide by the provisions of a new resolution. An October 24 letter from Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri condemned the decision to wait for a new resolution and blamed the United States for blocking inspectors’ return. Iraq had stated in September that it would allow the inspectors access to any sites they wished to inspect, and Iraq agreed during the Vienna meeting to allow UNMOVIC access to previously restricted “sensitive sites.” Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz stated in an interview aired October 12 on Beirut television that inspectors would be allowed into presidential sites but that the inspectors should not be allowed repeat visits to them.

U.S. Response

Frustrated by delays in the process, the Bush administration has indicated that it may abandon the UN process if the Security Council does not vote for its resolution. On October 26, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meeting in Mexico, Bush stated that the United States would “lead a coalition to disarm” Iraq if its resolution failed to pass. A date for the vote has not yet been set, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters October 29 that “time is running out.”

After several weeks of debate about how much freedom to give the president, the House of Representatives passed a resolution October 8 providing Bush with the authority to use military force against Iraq. The Senate followed suit October 11, and Bush signed the resolution October 16.

The resolution expresses support for Bush’s efforts to work through the Security Council and authorizes the president to use force to “defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq” and “enforce all relevant” Security Council resolutions. It also requires the president to notify Congress 48 hours after initiating the use of force, explaining his determination that a peaceful solution will not “adequately protect the national security of the United States” or enforce Security Council resolutions.

The Bush administration has been unclear about the conditions under which it would use military force against Iraq. Bush said in an October 7 speech that, in addition to dismantling its prohibited weapons programs, Iraq must end its support for terrorism, account for military personnel missing from the Persian Gulf War, and end human rights abuses. “Only by taking these steps [can] the Iraqi regime…avoid conflict,” he said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell contradicted Bush in an October 20 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” While pointing out that UN resolutions cover some of the issues Bush raised, he said “all we are interested in is getting rid of those weapons of mass destruction…there are many other resolutions that [Saddam Hussein] has violated…. All of those...have to be dealt with in due course, but the major issue before us is disarmament.”

It is also uncertain whether U.S. military action would attempt to overthrow Iraq’s government. Recent Bush administration statements suggest that a disarmed Iraq would be sufficient to satisfy Washington’s requirement for “regime change,” which the administration previously defined as a change in government.

The text of the 1998 legislation reads, “[I]t should be the policy of the United States to seek to remove the Saddam Hussein regime from power in Iraq and to replace it with a democratic government.” In his October 7 speech, however, Bush said that Iraq’s compliance with his demands would “change the nature of the regime.”