The battle being fought in Baghdad will help disarm a dictatorial regime that has used weapons of mass destruction (WMD) against its own people and its neighbours.
This is a conflict that the United States and its nearly 50 coalition partners did not ask for, did not seek, did not want, and that America and the coalition did everything feasible to avoid.
Saddam Hussein and his 12-year record of defiance of one UNSC Resolution after another brought the war in Iraq on the Middle East and the world. But even though the evidence is detailed and comprehensive, debate lingers over the legality of coalition military action against the Iraqi despot.
Make no mistake. This war has a firm basis in international law. On March 19, acting under international law and in accordance with the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs), coalition forces began the forcible disarmament of Iraq. International authority for this action exists under UNSCR 1441, and the earlier UNSCRs 678 and 687. Resolution 678 authorised the use of force against Iraq in January 1991, to drive it from Kuwait and to restore peace and security in the region. This resolution remains in effect today. Indeed in 1993 and 1998, when Iraq was previously in material breach of its WMD obligations of Resolution 687, Resolution 678 was the basis for using military force against Iraq to compel compliance with its disarmament obligations.
Following Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Security Council imposed a series of demands on Iraq, including extensive and specific obligations to eliminate its WMD, as part of the ceasefire agreement under UNSCR 687. On numerous occasions over the past 12 years, Iraq refused — despite repeated requests from the international community — to provide credible evidence to substantiate its claims that it had disarmed fully and completely and no longer possessed WMD.
UN documents cite 17 instances when inspectors uncovered facts on the ground that directly contradicts the Baghdad regime’s claims of innocence. Over these many years, Iraq successfully concealed its WMD and ballistic missile programmes from UN inspectors — continually changing its story in order to deal with incriminating evidence produced by UN inspection teams. For example, only in 1995 did Iraq declare its offensive biological weapons programme, after publicly denying its existence for four years. Only in 1997 did Iraq admit an additional 187 pieces of specialty equipment used to produce deadly chemical agents, which had been prohibited years earlier. Only in 2003, when confronted by inspectors, did Iraq turn over the Iraqi air force document that, by disclosing an additional 6,500 bombs and 1,000 tonnes of the blistering agent mustard gas, makes a mockery of its original chemical weapons declaration.
Because Saddam Hussein had consistently flouted UNSC resolutions, the Security Council voted unanimously for UNSCR 1441, thereby giving Iraq one final (that is the word in the resolution) opportunity to comply with UNSC mandates. Resolution 1441 was passed after seven weeks of Security Council debate, following President Bush’s September 12, 2002, speech at the UN General Assembly. There was no question at the time about what Security Council members were voting for. The United States and the other 14 Security Council members were endorsing a resolution that indicated unambiguously that Saddam Hussein was in violation of his obligations to destroy Iraq’s WMD.
In UNSCR 1441, all 15 members of the Security Council declared that Iraq’s non-compliance with its disarmament commitments was a threat to the international community, and that Iraq remained in material breach of its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions. That is why the Security Council warned Iraq at the time of “serious consequences” if it did not disarm immediately. The Security Council also decided that if Iraq made false statements or omissions in the declarations it was required to provide and failed at any time to comply with and cooperate fully in the implementation of UNSCR 1441, that would constitute a further material breach. Iraq was then given 30 days to present evidence that it had disarmed, or to show UN weapons inspectors where its WMD were stored. Regrettably, Iraq failed to comply.
Iraq’s material breach of Resolution 687 revived the authority to use force under UNSCR 678 to disarm Iraq of its WMD. Since Iraq has materially violated these disarmament obligations, the use of force to compel Iraqi compliance with its WMD requirements is plainly authorised under UNSCR 678.
Despite this Security Council mandate to use force under relevant and existing UNSC resolutions, the United States and its coalition partners tried to convince all members of the Security Council to adopt an additional resolution to demonstrate the resolve of the international community, and to send a further signal to Iraq to declare its WMD programmes so that this crisis could be resolved peacefully. As Secretary of State Colin Powell explained to the US Congress on March 26, we sought this resolution, not because the US felt another was needed, but to go that extra step. Nothing in UNSCR 1441 required the Security Council to adopt any further resolution, or other forms of Security Council approval, to establish that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its WMD obligations under UNSC resolutions, which is the predicate for the United States and its coalition allies to resort to force to disarm Iraq of its WMD.
As President Bush stressed on March 17, “One reason the UN was founded after the Second World War was to confront aggressive dictators, actively and early, before they can attack the innocent and destroy the peace. In the case of Iraq, the Security Council did act, in the early Nineties. Under Resolutions 678 and 687 — both still in effect — the United States and our allies are authorised to use force in ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will.”
(The writer is the US ambassador to India)