Time to Pitch In

It now appears likely that the United Nations will play a meaningful role in the handover of political power to Iraq, scheduled to occur on June 30.

It now appears likely that the United Nations will play a meaningful role in the handover of political power to Iraq, scheduled to occur on June 30.  The United States has tentatively approved a plan developed by UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi that would dissolve the Iraqi Governing Council, install a UN-appointed interim government and, eventually, provide for the drafting of a constitution and the holding of elections. 

The success of UN action will depend as much as anything on the quality and extent of European leadership.  To this point, Europe's commitment to Iraq has been incomplete.  While much of the region has devoted political and economic capital to the reconstruction, France, Germany and Russia, driven by their initial opposition to the war, have contributed almost nothing.  If UN action to facilitate the handover is to succeed, these three important countries must demonstrate by deeds the commitment to multilateralism they so often put into words.  Doing so means a number of things.

First, it means leadership.  The transfer of power will require the passage of a Security Council resolution setting out the terms of the handover, the structure of an interim Iraqi government and the nature of future political involvement by non-Iraqis.  Europe cannot act on an ad hoc basis here.  Along with the rest of the region, France, Germany and Russia must be actively involved in negotiating such a resolution.  The ultimate legitimacy of any UN action depends on it.

Second, it means money.  Even after obtaining a measure of political sovereignty, Iraq will require years of substantial foreign aid.  The United States will no doubt remain the largest donor, but Europe as a whole must - for both practical and symbolic reasons - assume a much larger share of the burden.  While certain European countries have provided funds over the past year, France, Germany, and Russia have offered virtually nothing.  Given that these three countries have as much to gain from a stable Iraq as any country, their continued financial free-riding is unacceptable.

Third, it means troops.  Although significant political control will be transferred to Iraqis after June 30, security responsibilities will remain firmly in international hands for years to come.  The Americans will retain the lion's share of these duties, but it is plausible that multilateral institutions such as NATO could participate, likely under a further UN resolution.  In light of its unanimity principle, NATO involvement would require the approval of France and Germany (though France's role in NATO is somewhat ambiguous).  Politically speaking, it would also require Russia's support.  As with the issue of money, these three countries should not be permitted to piggyback indefinitely on the security contributions of others.

Finally, it means realism.  Success in Iraq will require brutally honest appraisals of what can be achieved, and how quickly.  The international community will not be able to leave Iraq for a decade or more, in either a political, military or financial sense.  France, Germany and Russia therefore cannot continue to demand progress at the recklessly rapid rate they have expected it thus far. 

Despite the dominant nature of the American presence in Iraq, many European countries made the difficult decision to stand by the United States a year ago and to remain in the country steadfastly ever since.  Several countries outside Europe, such as Japan and South Korea, have made similarly difficult and correct choices in the face of strong domestic opposition.  Whatever the current state of things, the upcoming handover offers the best chance for broad and effective international involvement in Iraq's future since the war began.  The participation of France, Germany and Russia is essential to that effort.  They should not squander the opportunity.


Jonathan Kallmer practices international law in Washington, DC and writes frequently on international affairs.