Iraq’s ‘Yes’ Isn’t Quite Good Enough

Michael E. O’Hanlon and Philip H. Gordon
Philip H. Gordon Former Brookings Expert, Mary and David Boies Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy - Council on Foreign Relations

September 18, 2002

Was Monday’s decision by Iraq to readmit U.N. weapons inspectors, without preconditions, a good thing or a bad thing?

Optimists will say that inspections did uncover and destroy many of Saddam Hussein’s illicit weapons in the 1990s and that a continuation of inspections and deterrence is preferable to a major war. Critics of the idea will worry that Hussein is just promising inspections to stall our march to war and that he will obstruct the work of inspectors once the threat of a U.S. invasion recedes.

In fact, it is too soon to know whether the Bush administration has achieved a success. It has at least managed to make the threat of war real enough to convince Hussein to soften his blustery stance. But no Iraqi disarmament has occurred, and none is guaranteed.

Moreover, Hussein outmaneuvered the administration this week, accepting a relatively lenient set of demands based on the existing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1284 before the United States could work with other countries to develop a new and tougher resolution linked to the threat of force. Because virtually all U.S. allies would prefer even a flawed inspection process to war, the administration’s job of crafting an ultimatum that enjoys international support is now more difficult. Russia has already challenged the notion that a new resolution is necessary at this point.

The good news is that the administration still should be able to recover. Specifically, it should be able to lead the international community in crafting a Security Council resolution that toughens the 1999 U.N. Resolution 1284—which made some sanctions relief contingent on Iraqi cooperation with weapons inspectors, rather than complete disarmament. The U.S. needs to keep arguing that Iraqi disarmament, rather than inspections per se, is the core demand that must be met before the lifting of sanctions can be considered. It needs to get the rest of the world behind this view. And it needs a new and stronger resolution to formally remind Hussein of the consequences of noncompliance.

A new resolution must insist, of course, that Iraq readmit weapons inspectors, fully support their work and ensure their immediate access to any and all sites—including presidential palaces and compounds.

The United Nations must have exclusive prerogative to determine the composition of inspection teams and be able to immediately grant asylum to Iraqi weapons experts and their families should they provide information to the U.N. that could put their lives at risk.

The resolution also must demand that Iraq vigorously start the disarmament process. It must account for, display and allow U.N. destruction of certain stocks of chemical and biological weapons and munitions that we know it possesses.

It must do all this within a short, specific period.

Looking to the longer term, Iraq must agree to intrusive, long-term monitoring of its weapons capabilities. These demands are already found in existing resolutions, but they need to be spelled out.

Specifically, the international community needs the right to demand no-notice inspections whenever and wherever it wishes, even if sanctions against Iraq are lifted someday.

Restrictions will have to remain on Iraq’s oil revenue, and industrial countries will have to establish rules for controlling Baghdad’s importing of potentially dangerous technologies.

The U.S. also needs to hold separate talks with Iraq’s neighbors. Because these countries would all prefer to avoid a U.S. invasion of Iraq, they need to agree to stop their illicit trade with that nation—by which oil comes out and many goods, including weapons and dual-use technology, enter Iraq. This would require detailed negotiations with Jordan, Turkey, Syria and perhaps even Iran, including consideration of some combination of economic incentives and strong pressure that would depend in its details on the country in question.

These demands are tough, but they are also specific and focused on Iraq’s weapons rather than its internal political practices. They are far from unreasonable, as U.S. allies should recognize. And yet they also create an ultimatum tough enough that allows us to take yes for an answer from the Iraqi regime. At the moment, Iraq’s yes is not quite good enough.