by Jan Oberg and Christian Harleman
March 14, 2003
When, in 1991, in the wake of the Gulf War, the Security Council decided about inspections and sanctions it must have suffered from some kind of hubris. Iraq should be punished for the invasion of Kuwait - and it did invade and it was foolish and illegal to do so. Sanctions should put pressure on the regime and, it was hoped, turn the people against the leadership. Hard as the sanctions were, they were designed to last for a short time, the time it was assumed to take to find and disarm Iraq's weapons of mass-destruction.
The winners of the war dictated the conditions. Iraq, the loser, had to obey unconditionally. Lifting the sanctions was made dependent upon the delivery of an inspection report to the Security Council that would state that all that could be used in the production of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons had been found and destroyed and there was nothing left anywhere in Iraq.
Here is the trap produced by the victors' hubris. This has lead to the sanctions being our moral problem; we dealt with that previously. The major players seemingly were so triumphant and self-assured about the rightness and the justice of their cause - the punishment of Iraq - that they didn't even think of asking a few practical and philosophical questions such as these:
1. Will it at all be possible for inspectors to state that no amount of a substance pertaining to weapons of mass-destruction exists in a country that covers about half a million square kilometres and is not exactly eager to reveal everything about its military?
2. Is it wise to make the lifting of the sanctions conditional upon such a declaration by inspectors, i.e. to use sanctions as leverage for the disarmament process?
3. What if the inspection process takes a much longer time and inspectors will still be there in, say, 2003? If we want 100% compliance and a guarantee that Iraq is 100% clean, that will take time. Sanctions are known to have negative effects on citizens. So, isn't it a risk that, if we make slow progress, we will be made morally responsible for the increasingly destructive humanitarian consequences?
Today it is easy to see that the answers to these questions are no, no and yes.
To comb half a million square kilometres for a few kilos of some chemical or biological substances is quite a task. There is sand; there are stones, rivers, mountains and buildings of all kinds. The Iraqis know how to drill deep down for oil; they could drill a hole, hide something at the bottom and cover the hole. Or they could place the stuff outside Iraq, in another country or on boats in international waters.
Alternatively, imagine that every kilo and gram was actually found and destroyed - then what? Given that the knowledge of how to produce these materials remains with thousands of Iraqi scientists, engineers, assistants, workers and others, it would probably not take long before they could re-introduce these substances or divert them from civilian production facilities and laboratories. If so, would we re-introduce sanctions?
We seem to be so afraid to self-critically recognise that we, i.e. the Security Council and then most governments and media, took for granted that all this would be simple and quick. In December 1995, some quick-fix U.S. diplomats also put together the Dayton Accords for Bosnia wishfully thinking that it would all be implemented in 12 months; it still won't work.
Another not-so-easy problem is this: while Iraq is obliged to disarm its weapons of mass-destruction, it has a sovereign right to self-defence (UN Charter Article 51) and security by means of a conventional military. Security Council resolutions emphasise that the country's sovereignty and integrity shall be respected during the inspection process.
But that is not how the Iraqis can see it. Inspectors go to any place with only a few minutes notice. Any place! Require to see everything, collect anything, ask any question, interview anyone they find interesting. This goes for purely civilian sites and sites of conventional defence; and that's in a country that is threatened by history's strongest military power who also reserves the "right" to, if necessary, use nuclear weapons on Iraq.
When Iraq has had the slightest dissenting opinion about reasonable inspection versus intrusive, intelligence collecting inspections, if they insist on their sovereignty as a member of the United Nations, they are told that they'll be bombed because they don't co-operate, because they are not in compliance with our ultimatums. Thus, the philosophically nonsensical statement made time and again that Saddam is the one who decides whether there will be a war.
Finally, there is the problem of burden of proof. The inspection regime is so constructed that anyone can state that he or she believes that Iraq possesses something it should not possess. The US time and again practises the method of stating that it knows that Iraq is hiding something that the inspectors have not and cannot find and the Iraqis say they don't have. Remember the palace site issue? In that case Iraq could prove that there was nothing there by opening them up to inspection. But the philosophical question remains why the international community forced Iraq to unilaterally prove that it had not violated the rules of the game, that it was not guilty. In a constitutional state and in international, lawful behaviour, the burden of proof is normally on the side of the council for the prosecution.
Most things can be seen from more than one angle. This is not only a matter of right and wrong, it is also a matter of psychology: perceptions, feelings of pride, honour, sense of being ignored and humiliated. And it is, ultimately, about trust. Why?
Because the inspection mission is mission impossible. No inspection team will be able to guarantee that every kilo of prohibited substances in Iraq have been found; it could be disproved the next day. Even if it were proved, the substances and weapons may come back, sooner or later. And solving the categorisation problems mentioned above (civilian, conventional and mass destructive) will invariably cause conflict between the parties - with good arguments (and not-so-clean motives) on both sides.
These essential issues have never been seriously discussed. Given that nobody seems to have thought them through carefully at an early stage, the only answer has been that Saddam is a criminal, a cheater, a liar, a man playing for time, etc. It was easier to blame than to think - not to speak about being self-critical. (There were enough negative lessons about sanctions that could have been used by the Security Council in its deliberations back in 1991).
The best we can hope for is an inspection report that will, one day, state that "there are reasons to believe" that the Iraqis have give up 95, 96, 97, 98, or even 99 per cent of their physically identifiable mass-destructive weapons and materials for them. Some countries would be satisfied with that and insist that the sanctions be lifted. Some, among them the United States, would not. The argument would be something to the effect that "we can't trust that guy to even have 1 per cent left. We can't let him or, later, his son acquire them after we have lifted the sanctions. No, keep up the pressure and get a new regime we can trust."
If the inspections regime aims at 100 per cent certified disarmament of Iraq's mass-destructive weapons and potential, the inspection will remain an absurd theatre. Waiting to lift the sanctions will be like waiting for Godot. It's a meaningless "mission impossible".
If it aims at less than 100 per cent, it must build on trust to compensate for the fact that there won't be 100 per cent guarantees by anybody. That trust is simply not there after 12 years of inspections, sanctions, quarrelling, threatening, mistrust, bombing and mutual hate.
These are some of the more philosophical reasons why we think the UN SC will never lift the sanctions. Such a decision depends on 100 per cent certified disarmament and that will never be stated on paper.
This inspection-sanctions link was never of Saddam Hussein's making; he can't be blamed for the foggy thinking it is based upon. The UN SC thoughtlessly and without vision, decided this in a mood of triumphalism, victor's hubris and out of a wish, one must assume, to humiliate the President of Iraq that they hated.
We have described the results of this policy in before, backed up with facts from the UN on the ground. It was hardly intentional, but the UN Security Council and the international community have caused a genocide affecting one-half to one million innocent Iraqis. Our sanctions have destroyed the economy, the school and health-care system, the standard of living, the hopes and the social strength of the only ones who could, in the best of cases, have toppled that President: the Iraqis themselves.
Could it be that some countries in the West have such bad consciences that the living witnesses to this morally bankrupt policy must die because their suffering reminds us, painfully, of our complicity in crimes, of our violations of the human rights of the citizens in Iraq?
If there are decent leaders in the international community, they should begin today, rather than tomorrow, to discuss how we can cut the link between inspections and sanctions-lifting. Until now, we have been wasting innocent lives every minute we discuss and plan a war - a war to cover our deep feeling of guilt.
Please ask yourself, when have the Iraqis suffered enough for their non-elected President's decision to invade Kuwait 12 years ago? When does the civilised West become so civilised that it is able to admit its mistakes? If it denies these mistakes and conducts war instead, it is morally so feeble that the centre and all the rest may not hold.
How can leaders and governments, who know perfectly well what they did, have done and continue to do, seek reconciliation and ask forgiveness from the people they have hurt so much? This, not war, is the question that should occupy us. Is it already too late?
Jan Oberg is the Director of the Transnational Foundation For Peace and Future Research (TFF) in Sweden (http://www.transnational.org). Christian Harleman is a TFF Associate. © Copyright Jan Oberg and TFF 2003