Keep the Pressure Up: A View from Paris
Colin Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council provided information about Baghdad's lack of co-operation with inspectors and its apparently deliberate attempts to hide forbidden material. And, even though Secretary Powell himself had warned he would not be showing a "smoking gun", the details he presented did strengthen pre-existing suspicions over Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to comply with his international obligations, in particular under UN Security Council resolution 1441.
However, while illustrating one of the most important conclusions of the Blix report, namely that although Iraq has offered good access to weapons inspectors, it has not come to a "genuine acceptance" that it needs to disarm, Powell's remarks did not provide anything new for those seeking a definitive answer to the basic and fundamental question: should inspectors be given more time to accomplish their work (as they are themselves asking for) or should the UN Security Council decide that time has run out and opt for the military option?
After sending a somewhat confusing message about the similarity between French and German positions, Paris clarified its stance and repeated its initial argument that war should be considered only as a last possible solution. Therefore, all peaceful means should be exhausted before the UN Security Council comes to the point where it may have to decide to use force. How long will we have to wait before we decide that Iraq is not complying? Until the inspectors themselves consider that no additional progress can be made. At this point in time, this is not currently the case. Indeed, the second most important aspect of the inspectors' report is that they have asked for additional time and means to accomplish their mission. It took several years for UNSCOM to halt Iraq's nuclear program and destroy most of its biological, chemical and ballistic weapons. How can it possibly be expected that UNMOVIC could achieve significant results in only two months' time? Actually, Powell's presentation could led one to argue in favor of enhanced inspections based on U.S. intelligence, something chief inspectors Hans Blix and Mohammed El Baradei have long been asking for.
This is the current situation. Inspections are not satisfactory because of Baghdad's lack of active co-operation. On the other hand, the military option remains problematic; it is fraught with major uncertainties about its outcome and its potential destabilizing effect on the country and the whole region, to the extent that no one can guarantee that a military intervention will, in the long run, enhance rather than weaken our security. But between the current situation of a contained Iraq with the possible strengthening of inspections and the unpredictable outcome of a war, there is no doubt that the former option is preferable. A point will come when inspectors get so close to finding hidden weapons that Saddam Hussein's only alternatives will either be to disarm completely or face a war. Confronted by increasingly intrusive inspections in 1998, Saddam Hussein had decided to block their access to various presidential sites. At that time, Hussein had rightly guessed that allies would not deploy ground troops to topple his regime. The current situation is fundamentally different: the combination of an immediate military threat and of constant diplomatic pressures exerts such pressure on Saddam Hussein that he is gradually being forced into co-operation: first by accepting inspectors back, then by accepting air surveillance of Iraqi territory and interviews with Iraqi experts. This pressure should be maintained as long as it produces positive results.
Jacques Beltran is a research fellow in the strategic studies program at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) (http://www.ifri.org).