U.N. Expert Says Security Council Resolution on Iraq Creates a ’One-Man Show’

May 28, 2003

Interview
To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.

William J. Durch, senior associate of the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington and an advocate of a more prominent role for the United Nations in postwar Iraq, says that the latest Security Council resolution on Iraq is a “start” but U.N. responsibilities must be better defined.

Durch says that the new special representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, needs a staff, a budget, and more sweeping responsibilities to ensure that the new Iraqi state has a chance to emerge as a democracy. He argues that the United Nations has done more nation-building work than the United States has in recent years.

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He was interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, consulting editor for cfr.org, on May 28, 2003.

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In a provocative essay written for the Stimson Center in April, you said the United States needed the support of the U.N. Security Council to help rebuild Iraq. Has Resolution 1483, which lifted economic sanctions and established postwar guidelines, done much to help administer Iraq?

The short answer on 1483 is that it gets us past a lot of the early political obstacles to reconstructing Iraq, and it facilitates the flow of oil and the sale of oil; that’s good. It sets up a fund for development, so it gets the money flowing; that’s good. In terms of the United Nations itself, it is an embryonic statement of the U.N.’s role, and that needs to be defined more clearly and crisply. What we’ve got is a start, but it remains to be defined.

What, for instance?

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Let me start with what I talked about in the first part of my essay in April, all the arguments for why it’d be a good idea to have Security Council backing. Most of those arguments have been met by 1483. The United States and United Kingdom are described as occupying powers. The Geneva Conventions and the Hague regulations [governing postwar responsibilities] are cited, and the resolution calls upon the “occupying powers” to uphold these regulations. The United States and the United Kingdom have voted for this resolution, so they basically endorsed this language and accepted that they’re “occupying powers.”

This is a good thing. The resolution also calls upon the Authority [the occupying powers], with the assistance of United Nations and other international organizations, to help the Iraqi people establish an interim government and set up a final government that would be able to take responsibility for running the country from the Authority and give it back to the Iraqi people. So that’s a good thing.

I’m not an international lawyer, but I think that kind of gets us past the Geneva Conventions’ stipulation that occupying powers not alter the laws or the governance of the country they’re occupying. This is a green light to reconstruct the Iraqi government. On the economic side it enables the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to undertake post-conflict reconstruction programs with the United Nations and work with the Authority more openly to get resolutions passed by their executive councils, and so forth.

So the whole international machinery of reconstruction and development now can move ahead. The Poles had said they wanted a U.N. resolution before they could move their [peacekeeping] forces in, so now they can move. Basically, [the resolution] frees up a whole lot of potential for international assistance with the reconstruction and rebuilding or governance. And it provides for security, because 1483 also endorses the notion of coalition partners collaborating with the Authority to provide security and stability and calls upon them to do it.

What are the drawbacks?

There are a lot of unformed programs and responsibilities that are listed for the [U.N.] special representative to do. Sergio [Vieira] de Mello has been appointed a special representative of the secretary general [SRSG], the highest-ranking title for a U.N. envoy. That’s the rank that’s normally given to someone who heads a U.N. field operation.

What is de Mello’s reputation?

Sergio de Mello has an excellent reputation as a leader, as an executive, and as a detailed planner, from his experience as SRSG for the U.N. transitional administration in East Timor. He was there for two to three years; he basically ran the country and prepared it for transition to independent governance. It had been under Indonesian occupation for about 25 years before it voted to be independent in 1999. Sergio has the longest experience of any living individual in dealing with the governance of a territory like that. Now Iraq is many, many times bigger and more complicated than East Timor. East Timor you could almost view as a pilot program for re-establishing governance, because it’s about the size of Kosovo.

What will de Mello have to do?

First of all, I want to note that de Mello’s appointment was quite different from the process that led to Lakhdar Brahimi’s appointment as special representative in Afghanistan and the establishment of his mission there. There was a long process of planning for UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan], and Brahimi was out there long before the process was completed. Before his mission was set up, there was a 25-page [document describing the] concept of operations and mission structure. This set forth the goals and the staffing levels. So far, there’s none of that for de Mello’s operation, no staff and no concept of operations.

I’ll be waiting to see what kind of mission this is, or if it’s going to be just one man. If it’s [the latter], he’s going to have limited ability to get anything done, and he will essentially function as an advisor to Jerry [L. Paul] Bremer [the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq]. If he ends up having an actual mission and a structure, then he has the opportunity to do a little bit more.

In your April essay, you said the United Nations could serve an important role in educating the Iraqis in democracy. Do you still see that as a potentially important U.N. role?

Yes. The United Nations clearly has an educational role to play. Iraqi people have zero experience of democracy as we know it in the West. It’s going to take some time to inculcate a sense as to what democracy can do for them. In the meantime, the Authority has to get services and governance back up, so that people can take their eyes off of daily survival and security and pay some attention to what kind of government they want. Otherwise, they will just assume that something else is going to be imposed, or that it’s going to be competition among Shiites, Sunnis, and others to scramble to the top of the heap and impose the form of government they prefer.

What other activities could the United Nations and de Mello be involved in?

There’s already a whole bunch of U.N. humanitarian agencies and development people all over Iraq. There’s the Oil for Food program; the U.N. secretary-general has responsibility for that program, which he could delegate, in theory, to de Mello. There’s the U.N. high commissioner for refugees [Ruud Lubbers], the [United Nations] refugee agency, there’s the human rights folks, there’s the U.N. Development Program and their subcontractors, the World Health Organization, all these kind of independent agencies. De Mello has not been given any kind of authority over them.

What he’s been given is a mandate to help make them play nice with each other and to act as a kind of a liaison between them and the Authority. But it’s all very voluntary, and there’s no command authority at all in this. [Success will] depend on good working relationships in the field, or a later upgrade of his authority, if [the current arrangement] doesn’t work initially.

Will he be involved in establishing Iraq’s new government?

Paragraph 8C of the resolution says the U.N. representative will work “intensively with the Authority, the people of Iraq, and others concerned to advance efforts to restore and establish national and local institutions for representative governance,” including a “process leading to an internationally recognized, representative government.”

Now, if you were an energetic and forward-leaning SRSG and you had the people and money to help you, you could use this in bargaining with the Authority to say: “Look, we’ve done this before, we’ve done this in Kosovo, we’ve done this in Timor, we’ve done the educational campaigns in Namibia and Cambodia and elsewhere. Whatever you think of the results in Cambodia, the education campaign was great. And, frankly, you haven’t had such experience.”

The United Nations does not have the facilities to do civil administration, but they’ve got people who have done it, like de Mello and the people who work for him and the people who worked and are working in Kosovo. At a minimum, the Authority should tap those people. That takes us to paragraph 8F of the resolution, which says one of the U.N. representative’s duties is working with the Authority to encourage “international efforts to contribute to basic civil administration.” In other words, he’s supposed to help the Authority to scavenge people to help run Iraq.

A lot depends on his personal involvement.

I could see another U.N. resolution that defines what de Mello’s role is, and actually makes it a mission as opposed to a one-man show. But [nevertheless] there’s a bunch of experienced people out there, and there’s an outfit called the U.N. Volunteers, which is like their Peace Corps, and these are people with all sorts of technical experience that they could draw on to supplement these various U.S. contractors. And I just want to draw attention to the last two bits of this paragraph 8, which encourages international efforts “to rebuild the capacity of the Iraqi civilian police force” and “to promote legal and judicial reform.” These are two short sentences that encompass enormous programs.

Is another resolution or a document from the secretary general needed?

After de Mello and Bremer and company compare notes for a while and [after] they get an assessment mission out there and [it] completes its work, you could do an entire new U.N. resolution explicating and clarifying what the resolution really means.

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