Europe: Don't Offer Hussein an Escape Route

In the ongoing debates over Iraq, many Europeans rely upon a set formula to quiet their consciences: "Yes, Saddam Hussein is a horrible dictator, and his removal would actually be a blessing for his own country and for the world, but.

In the ongoing debates over Iraq, many Europeans rely upon a set formula to quiet their consciences: "Yes, Saddam Hussein is a horrible dictator, and his removal would actually be a blessing for his own country and for the world, but

. . . " At this point, critics of American policy then begin to recite the well-known litany of problems that could result from an attack: the undermining of the global anti-terrorist coalition, the possible disintegration of Iraq, economic chaos resulting from wild fluctuations in the oil price, even a doomsday scenario of an Iraqi attack on Israel using weapons of mass destruction followed by nuclear retaliation.

However, what comes before the "but" is important. Many Germans--and Europeans in general--acknowledge the evils of the Iraqi regime. Very few people would deny that Hussein has violated international law for years, evading sanctions and continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. It is the dictator from Baghdad who mocks the world community, misuses aid deliveries for his corrupt regime, and even holds the world responsible for the death of starving children in his country. It is Saddam Hussein who, according to a number of reputable intelligence assessments, has the capability to launch up to two dozen medium-range missiles at targets in Israel and elsewhere in the region, armed with chemical and biological weapons which he demonstrably possesses. The Iraqi government oppresses its minorities and terrorizes its own citizens. It was Hussein who provoked two deadly regional conflicts (first with Iran, and then invading Kuwait), and it is clear that he has not given up on his ambition to dominate the Persian Gulf and emerge as the leading nation within the Arab world.

Thus, the international community, but especially Europe, faces an unwelcome dilemma. On the one hand, they cannot ignore Iraq's flagrant violation of international norms and regulations. On the other hand, the invasion plans being unveiled in Washington--particularly those that have as their goal regime change rather than compliance with UN resolutions--can be legitimized only by stretching the norms of international law.

There is a way out; the pressure from Washington, especially the President's speech before the United Nations, has broken the logjam. Baghdad, by sending its letter to the UN Secretary General has apparently weighed the costs, and rediscovered its liking of a weapons inspection regime (in preference to invasion). This time, the United Nations should jump at the opportunity, avoid old mistakes, and lace the corset even more tightly. Pressure and containment -- two old acquaintances from the handbook on how to deal with dictators -- are available options.

For international pressure to be successful, however, the international community cannot proffer any escape route to the Iraqi dictator. The threat of the use of force in the event that Saddam Hussein does not comply must be credible. The leading powers must be united on this question.

Saddam Hussein must not have the luxury of exploiting dissension within the Western alliance as a way to continue his noncompliance. But as long as the Iraqi foreign minister congratulates the German chancellor on his role as the supposed rupture point in the anti-Saddam coalition, all that remains is to quiet one's conscience because of one's own helplessness.

Stefan Kornelius is the editorial page editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung.