The World Reacts: The United States, the UN and Iraq

For the last week, the ripple effects of the address delivered by President George W.

For the last week, the ripple effects of the address delivered by President George W. Bush to the General Assembly of the United Nations have continued to reverberate around the globe. As the United States continues to lobby members of the Security Council, as Saudi Arabia concedes the use of military bases on its territory for any UN-sanctioned response, as Iraq itself announces its willingness to accept weapons inspectors, it is clear that, by going to the United Nations, the president has successfully changed the tenor of the debate over Iraq. Instead of focusing upon American predilections for unilateral action, the spotlight has shifted to Iraq's record of noncompliance and outright defiance of United Nations instructions. UN Secretary General Kofi Anan said that Bush's speech "galvanized the international community."

The initial and largely positive reaction to the President's speech again demonstrates that it is unwise to underestimate the legitimating power of UN Security Council resolutions as a basis for action. Yang Jiemian succinctly summed up the Chinese position (a position held to some extent by the other permanent members of the Security Council): "China is for a UN solution and will not support the use of force by the United States against Iraq without the consent of the United Nations." Dimitry Rogozin, chairman of the Russian parliament's International Affairs Committee, observes that the "entire legal and political legitimacy of moving against Iraq rests on the 16 UN resolutions" cited by the President. General Charles Boyd alluded to this in his recent interview for In the National Interest, pointing out that having the United States work through the United Nations "certainly has more appeal" to Russia, China or France "than the alternative, being left out, ignored, bypassed."

Nevertheless, it is just as clear that the evidentiary question will remain critical. It is striking how French, British, Russian and Chinese commentators all highlighted how it is an imperative for the Bush Administration to provide hard facts and undisputed evidence, either of Iraq's links to terrorism, and/or of the immediate threat posed to the region and the world by Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Unsubstantiated allegations will not suffice. Thomas Grant, in his contribution, zeroes in on this as "the real gap" in American public diplomacy.

Providing conclusive evidence of Iraq's complicity with terrorism (or of its violations of UN resolutions) is also a sine qua non given the strict scrutiny to which the Bush Administration has subjected the claims advanced by Russia or China regarding the links of Chechen or Uighur separatists to international terrorist organizations. The United States cannot then expect the other major powers to accept American allegations of Iraqi misdeeds solely on the word of the President--a sentiment strongly conveyed by Yuri Shchekochikin in his comments, and echoed to a lesser extent by Pierre Hassner.

In forging an international coalition against Saddam Hussein, however, the United States also needs to ensure that its goals are shared by its coalition partners. If the Administration accepts the perspective advanced by Pang Zhongying that "an international problem requires an international solution", it must be prepared for the probable outcome of such an approach. It may be true, as General Boyd, Henry Kissinger, and others have argued, that effective weapons inspections and disarmament will, in essence, lead to regime change in Baghdad by rendering Saddam impotent to act. It is just as likely, however, that the outcome could be, as Rogozin has noted, a disarmed Iraq with Saddam remaining in power. The administration's greatest nightmare would be if the majority of UN members accept Saddam's offer of an "unconditional" return of weapons inspectors as sufficient compliance with UN resolutions. Thus, the Bush team must continue to stress--both in public statements and private demarches--that the type of inspections envisioned are not toothless, occasional visits but something along the lines of the "armed inspections" General Boyd and others have proposed. The recent French proposal advanced by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin--to separate a resolution encouraging Iraqi compliance with inspections from one authorizing force in the event of defiance--falls short of American expectations.

To prevent Saddam Hussein from wriggling his way out of the trap set for him by President Bush, the administration will also need to confront head-on the question of the quid pro quos that the other permanent members of the Security Council may seek to extract from the United States in return for supporting a new resolution that unambiguously demands Iraqi compliance with all past resolutions and provides for the use of force to compel acquiescence, should that prove necessary. It is clear that each of the other great powers (and, no doubt, the other non-permanent members of the Security Council) all have wish lists. Even a casual perusal of the comments contained in this issue give some indication of what those concessions might be; for Britain, greater American flexibility on issues such as the International Criminal Court and trade disputes with the EU. The French would like to see the Iraqi issue more closely linked with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Russians and the Chinese both want to re-inforce the standing of the UN Security Council as a way to check perceived American "unilateralism" as well as to ensure that the United States will interfere as little as possible in their own anti-terrorist operations. It is likely that other Security Council members--such as Mexico or Colombia--will try to trade their votes for items of interest to them (increased aid, relaxation of immigration controls, and so on).