IRAQ: U.S. Diplomacy

April 25, 2005

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Current political and economic issues succinctly explained.

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What happened to diplomatic efforts to avert a war?

Diplomacy at the United Nations on the issue collapsed. A proposed second U.N. resolution to declare Iraq in material breach of its obligation to disarm was pulled from the Security Council March 17 by its backers, the United States, Britain, and Spain. France had indicated it would veto any resolution that contained an automatic trigger for the use of force, and in addition, the resolution never attracted more than four votes in favor.

Why was the Security Council unable to agree on a "second resolution"?

The U.N. Security Council was deeply divided about whether force was required at this time to disarm Iraq. Veto-wielding permanent members France, Russia, and China, and a number of other members favored granting weapons inspectors more time; inspections, these nations argued, had begun to prove their effectiveness. The United States, supported by Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria, said that Iraq was defying inspectors and hiding weapons of mass destruction. With thousands of U.S. troops pouring into the Persian Gulf region, some countries favoring inspections charged that the United States was not serious about wanting to avert war. The United States and its allies ultimately felt that the U.N. Security Council was not serious about disarmament.

Why did the United States go to the Security Council in the first place?

Initially, the Bush administration said it was willing to oust Saddam Hussein on its own if necessary. But President Bush was persuaded by Secretary of State Colin Powell to seek Security Council backing to lend international support. To get such support, the administration presented the Iraq issue in terms of disarmament rather than regime change. That produced a 15-0 council vote on Resolution 1441 in November. As the war approached, the administration came full circle and made Saddam’s ouster its primary goal.

What allies did the U.S. have in the war with Iraq?

Britain, Australia, and Poland were the only countries to contribute combat troops. The Bush administration, to bolster its argument that it is not operating largely alone, maintained a list of countries that publicly supported the effort. As of April 3, the list contained 49 countries. Four--the United States, Britain, Spain, and Bulgaria— were at that time members of the U.N. Security Council. The State Department also said that there were an undisclosed number of additional countries supporting the war that did not wish to be named publicly.

Which countries were on the list?

They were: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Tonga, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan.

Can we guess the identity of some of the undisclosed countries?

Yes. Israel supported Saddam’s overthrow, but it made no overt contribution to the war effort because to do so would have enflamed Arab states. Several Arab countries that provided bases or other help were likely members of the unnamed list. These include Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan, Omar, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt.

Without the second Security Council resolution, was the war illegal?

U.S. administration officials say no. They say that the United States had enough legal support from three resolutions: 678, which in 1990 authorized the United Nations to take military action against Iraq; 687, which set the terms of the ceasefire at the end of the 1991 Gulf War; and 1441, which stated Iraq was in continued material breach of its obligation to disarm and threatened it with "serious consequences." Administration lawyers argue that because Iraq never lived up to the terms of the ceasefire, it was valid to use force. They also point out that the United States has used force many times before without U.N. authorization— for instance, in Kosovo in 1999.

Many lawyers, however, say that the war violated international law. If the U.N. Security Council had voted down a resolution authorizing military action, this case would be stronger. To avoid the impression that it was acting in defiance of the United Nations, the United States, along with Spain and Britain, decided not to bring the second resolution to a vote.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the American Society of International Law, said that although most international lawyers might view a war as "illegal," it could be later accepted as "legitimate" if the United States found hidden weapons of mass destruction. "Even without such evidence, the United States and its allies can justify their intervention if the Iraqi people welcome their coming and if they turn immediately back to the United Nations to help rebuild the country," she write in a New York Times op-ed piece.

-- by Sharon Otterman, staff writer, cfr.org

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