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Iraqi Resolution Is 'Enormously Important,' Says U.N. Expert Richard Gardner

Interviewee: Richard N. Gardner
Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor
November 8, 2002

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Richard N. Gardner, an expert on the United Nations and a Columbia Law School professor, says that the U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, which was approved 15-0 on November 8, is “enormously important.” Gardner, a former U.S. ambassador to Italy and to Spain, said that the passage of the resolution provides the United States with solid international backing for military intervention if Iraq spurns the Security Council’s demands. He also speculated that the pressures on Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, might lead to his overthrow.

The interview with Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for the Council’s website, cfr.org, took place following the Security Council vote on November 8, 2002.

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Q. The Security Council has just voted unanimously, 15-0, to approve a U.S.-British resolution giving Iraq “a final opportunity” to destroy its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. How important is this resolution?

A. It’s enormously important. It is a historic day. It is a great success for the United States, for the president, for Secretary of State Colin Powell, for our ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, for U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, whose support for a unanimous resolution was continuous and strong, and for head U.N. inspector Hans Blix, who went before the council and was very explicit that he wanted a strong resolution backed by the threat of force. The tremendous value of this resolution is that it averts any need and temptation for the United States to go to war now on its own without any international legitimacy or support.

This way we are going to give inspections a try. It gives a chance to disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully. But if that fails, the U.S. still has the freedom to act. If it does act, after a material breach by Saddam of the inspection regime, it will do so with a great deal more international support than it had before.

Q. It was interesting to hear the French ambassador say that if Iraq puts up a stone wall to inspectors then anything might get passed . . .

A. Absolutely. The French, and indeed, other members of the Security Council have passed this resolution, which says Iraq has been in material breach, and which says that any further refusal to implement this new unanimously passed resolution would be a new material breach, with serious consequences. And if Hans Blix comes back with a persuasive story of non-cooperation, how could the Security Council refuse to act?

If they should decide not to act, and Russia casts a veto, for instance, but everyone else is in favor of action, then the United States will act, this time without a new U.N. resolution but with a great deal of legitimacy. In my view, we have the authority to act now, under resolutions 678 and 687. But we have rightly decided to stay our hand. We will be in a much stronger position if we act after a clear violation than if the Security Council doesn’t act in the face of such evidence. But I think there is a chance it will, and this conveys a strong message to Saddam, who must be very shocked and surprised by the outcome of the vote.

Q. How do you explain Syria’s vote? After all, Syria is a Middle East Arab state.

A. Syria is seeking more international respectability. It fears the United States and the consequences of being the one country to vote no. I do confess, though, that I was a bit surprised. I thought it would abstain, but this is a good sign.

Q. What is the timetable?

A. The timetable is the following: Within 7 days of this resolution, Saddam has to say whether he has accepted it. And I think it is very likely—nothing is assured—that he will accept. If he just says no, in the face of this unanimous vote, there is no question that the Security Council will authorize war. So, his back is to the wall. He has to say yes.

He may play his usual games. He may say, “I accept on the understanding that...” or he may try to reinterpret the resolution. But he is not going to get away with that. So I think the inspectors will go. Hans Blix told me that he planned to go to Baghdad with an advance team 10 days after a resolution was passed. Within 30 days, Saddam has to declare everything he has—all his weapons of mass destruction, as well as dual-use facilities where they might be producing chemical or biological agents, allegedly for some non-weapons purpose.

In 45 days, the inspections will begin and 60 days thereafter, which takes us to February 21, there has to be a report back to the Security Council by the inspection leaders on how it is going. They have to report back earlier if they encounter opposition.

Q. What if Saddam says that he does not have anything, that he has destroyed it all, and the inspectors cannot find anything?

A. That is the 64-trillion-dollar question. That is quite possible. But Hans Blix very clearly has quoted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said that the “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” Just because they haven’t found anything doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Blix said the burden of proof is on Saddam to prove he doesn’t have anything. So the inference I draw is that the inspectors will stay there. That this could go on for three years.

One just hopes that the Security Council will not waver, will not lose its political will. The case for doing this rather than going to war is—I know some people in the Pentagon and elsewhere might say, “Oh my goodness, we are losing our opportunity to get rid of him.” But there will be immense pressure on him with inspectors swarming around there, with all the new powers they have, such as the right to fly helicopters and airplanes, getting a lot of help from the intelligence agencies of the U.S. and other members.

This is strong stuff. My expectation is that while all this is going on, the United States will continue its military buildup in the countries around Iraq. With this new resolution, there is now a good chance that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey will provide air bases and other facilities. What you are going to find is that the inspectors will stay there indefinitely, turning every rock over to find something, and that the buildup will continue. I think the secret hope of the administration is that this could produce a crack in the leadership of Iraq, and possibly a coup.

It sounds improbable now, but someone once said that all revolutions seem impossible before they occur, but inevitable after they occur. The pressure on Saddam by the international community and his neighbors via the threat of force and inspectors will be enormous. The risk of going to war right away without any international sanction, without making one more try to solve the problem peacefully through inspections, would have been much more risky than what we are doing now.

Q. How do you explain the length of these negotiations?

A. First of all, I blame the French and the Russians. They have been mischievous on Iraq for years. They have important economic interests. The Russian are owed something like $7 billion or $8 billion by Iraq. They and the French have contracts already signed to sell things to Iraq. They also are waiting to go in with their oil companies. They always put their short term interests ahead of their long term interests of disarmament.

Q. What happened behind the scenes?

A. First of all, Putin and Chirac have a lot of reasons to play ball with us. A veto would have torn the relationship. And maybe behind the scenes we have given them some assurances that some of their economic concerns will be taken care of. I have no way of knowing, but I am guessing. Also, the French and Russians had to demonstrate they would not be pushed around by the United States. I am sure Chirac is taking credit. You will see articles in Le Monde on what a great success this was for France. The United States made it explicit that it would not press the trigger. We’re going to wait until the inspectors go, and if there is a breach, it will be for the Security Council to discuss it. But as Colin Powell said rightfully, we will not be handcuffed if the Council fails to act. …We gave the French assurances that the United States will go the multilateral way for a while and will not act unilaterally. But we also said that if they fail to accept their responsibility, we will not give up our right to act. It took a while to work that detail out.

Q. Wasn’t the United States also responsible for the delay?

A. I will be a little critical of the administration, here, even as I praise them for the good outcome. I think the constant reiteration in rather arrogant language for the last nine months that we would go to war to change the regime. The Bush administration’s National Security Strategy talked about preemptive strikes and gave the impression to the world that we would use this new doctrine of preemption in Iraq. And if the world gave the green light to that, they’d be endorsing this very dangerous doctrine which says that we reserve the right to go to war with any country that we think might have weapons that could eventually threaten us. That opens a Pandora’s Box. It would validate a preemptive strike by Pakistan on India, Taiwan on China, North Korea on South Korea, whatever. It would even validate post facto, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. That got everybody unnecessarily upset.

And it isn’t needed for Iraq. Because we have existing U.N. resolutions. And it isn’t needed for al-Qaeda. We have been attacked by al-Qaeda and so we have the right of self-defense to pursue them everywhere.

I think there were some tactical missteps, but I give enormous credit to Colin Powell who pulled the administration back from using unilateral force into a multilateral approach. And it’s paid off. The great thing now is that it has demonstrated to the American people that the United Nations can be a very effective instrument for the carrying out of our foreign policy.

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