The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- The lessons of the Iraq war and its aftermath deserve study in India

The resolution on Iraq adopted without opposition by the security council on May 22 opens a new chapter in the history of the United Nations. For the first time since its inception, the security council has conferred a mandate on an occupying power to administer the territory of one of its member states. In an earlier period, the UN, through its trusteeship council, had played a notable role in promoting the transition of non-self governing territories to independent statehood. The security council has now conferred legitimacy on the reversion of a UN member from independent statehood to the status of a non-self governing territory, albeit for a temporary period. History has shifted to reverse gear, as it were.

The New York Times quotes an Arab ambassador as commenting: “It is a trusteeship, a full, complete trusteeship. In the 21st century that is a sensitive issue for everybody.” This description is at once correct and incorrect. It correctly draws a parallel between occupied Iraq and the Trust Territories or League of Nations mandates of an earlier era. It errs in failing to note that the United Nations charter specifically forbids the imposition of “trusteeship” on any of its members. Article 78 states: “The Trusteeship system shall not apply to territories which have become members of the United Nations, relations among which shall be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality.”

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the former secretary-general of the UN, laments in his memoirs that the “United States sees little need for diplomacy; power is enough. Only the weak rely on diplomacy…The Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States. Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness”. The comment fails to do full justice to the United States of America — and to the role of diplomacy. Powerful states are, indeed, prone to take recourse to arms in pursuing their national interests but they must turn to diplomacy in order to obtain legal and moral cover. That is precisely what the US has done in the case of Iraq.

Washington decided to launch military operations against the Iraqi regime without a mandate from the security council because it was not prepared to accept the conditions demanded by France, with support from Russia and Germany. This situation resulted from major miscalculations on the part of France as well as the US. Paris failed to anticipate the price it might have to pay for opposing the American initiative. Washington failed to anticipate the extent of French demands and the support these would attract from other countries.

Washington later made it clear that its opponents, in particular France, would have to face the “consequences” of the stand taken by them in the security council. Realizing that they had exceeded their limits, the target countries rushed to make amends. The president of France, Jacques Chirac, wished “swift success” to the American operations in Iraq. The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, said that “for economic and political reasons” he wanted a decisive American victory. The German foreign minister, Joschke Fischer, announced that his government hoped for the “rapid collapse” of the Iraqi army.

These pious hopes were soon fulfilled by the US-led forces in Iraq. Having achieved its military objectives, Washington saw advantage in returning the Iraq question to the security council. It had two major objectives. First, it sought post facto legitimization of its position in Iraq as an occupying power. Second, it wanted the security council to terminate the economic embargo against Iraq so as to clear the way for exporting Iraqi oil and repairing the country’s economy at minimum cost to the US treasury. Anxious to mend fences with the US, France and its associates were now prepared to adopt a cooperative position in the security council. The US had only to make modest concessions to secure the passage of the recent security council resolution.

The resolution adopted on May 22 recognizes the role of the US and Britain as occupying powers constituting the “Authority” in Iraq. This Authority is to administer Iraq and implement a “process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq”. No time-frame is laid down for the transfer of power from the “Authority” to the “internationally recognized” Iraqi government. The resolution welcomes the “willingness of member states to contribute to stability and security in Iraq by contributing personnel, equipment, and other resources under the Authority.” In other words, it encourages other countries to extend material support and cooperation to the Anglo-US occupying Authority in Iraq.

The UN is given a modest and vaguely defined role in occupied Iraq. A special representative appointed by the UN secretary general is to work “in coordination with the Authority” to assist the people of Iraq. This would include “working intensively with the Authority, the people of Iraq, and others concerned” to facilitate the process leading to the formation of a representative government. It is clear that the UN special representative will play at most a supporting role in the process. It is no secret that it was at Washington’s suggestion that the secretary general appointed the Brazilian, Vieira de Mello, as his special representative.

The resolution lifts the economic embargo imposed on Iraq after the 1990 Kuwait war. Under previous resolutions, the embargo was to be lifted only after UN arms inspectors had certified that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction, but France and its associates prudently refrained from pressing this point, in view of American reluctance to prolong the mandates of the UN inspectors. The latest resolution merely refers to the intention of the security council to “revisit” — that is, to re-examine — these mandates. The fact is that the US has taken over the role of the UN inspectors in the embarrassing absence of any convincing evidence of the existence of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.

Iraqi oil revenues will go into a development fund established and operated by the occupying Authority. These will be used to meet humanitarian and reconstruction needs as well as the costs of running an Iraqi civilian administration. The UN secretary-general will continue to operate the “Oil-for Food” programme for another six months, after which his responsibilities will be taken over by the occupying Authority. The six-month provision will enable the UN to pay for goods already imported under the programme from other countries such as Russia, Syria and India.

The debates in the Indian parliament before and during the Iraq war reflected a singular concern with international law and morality. Not a single speaker referred to the primacy of power in international relations or to the ability of powerful states to redefine international law to suit their interests. The lessons of the Iraq war and the recent security council resolution deserve careful study in our country.

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