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New US Resolution Could Help Heal UN Wounds - 2003-05-10

In March, the U.S. attempt to get United Nations Security Council backing for military action against Iraq ended in bitterness between the United States and some council member states. Now the United States has introduced a new draft resolution at the council on Iraq's reconstruction. The new resolution could help heal the wounds from that acrimonious debate.

After being spurned in its bid to get U.N. backing for military action against Iraq, the United States has gone back to the Security Council, this time, for help in reconstruction.

Morton Halperin, a former State Department and National Security Council official, says that although there are those in the Bush administration who would prefer to ignore the United Nations, they now realize the U.N. is vital in postwar Iraq. "Well, I think that what's happened here is that the United States government has finally come to understand that it needs the Security Council to proceed with the reconstruction of Iraq, that the people in Washington who just sort of wanted to ignore the U.N. and move forward, I think, have now been persuaded that they need the U.N.," he says.

In the lead-up to the U.S.-led war against Iraq, there was acrimonious, sometimes shockingly undiplomatic argument in the Security Council about the need for military action. France, Germany, and Russia led the opposition in the council, and effectively blocked U.S. efforts to get a resolution authorizing the use of force. The debate and the subsequent U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, launched without Council backing, left deep scars.

Jonathan Tepperman, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs Magazine, says the United States is trying to make amends to countries like France and Russia, while still maintaining overall control of the postwar reconstruction effort in Iraq. "I think the Bush administration has finally recognized that they need to play nicely in a way that they didn't in the first go-round at the Security Council. And so they're engaging here in something I've started calling "cosmetic multilateralism." That means they're making lots of bows both to the U-N and to countries like France and Russia, if maybe not in substantial ways, certainly in demonstrative and very public ways that allow them to save face," he says.

The proposed new U.S. resolution would lift U.N. sanctions against Iraq. But the resolution also endorses the United States and its allies as the occupying authority in Iraq until an interim government can take power. The United Nations is to play what is termed a "vital role" in providing humanitarian relief, in supporting the reconstruction of Iraq and in helping in the formation of an Iraqi interim authority.

But the term "vital role" is not clearly defined. That, say analysts, may not satisfy some nations that want the United Nations, not the United States, to have the lead role in Iraq.

Mr. Halperin says there are nations that want to contribute to helping Iraqi reconstruction but will not join the effort unless it is under a U.N. flag. "There are many countries that have capacities that we desperately need, police capabilities, capabilities in the area of civilian courts, and the criminal justice system who have said they will not go in without going in under the auspices of the U.N.. I think this comes pretty close to meeting that requirement, but I think not quite. I think there, too, there's going to need to be further discussion and negotiation," he says.

Ann-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, says she is troubled that there is no mention of how to deal with accused war criminals nor of the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq. "The one thing I think is very noteworthy and troubling about this resolution, the two things that are missing are U.N. involvement in courts in trying Iraqi war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity, and the [weapons] inspectors," she says. "And the question's going to be, are they left out as potential bargaining points? Are we prepared to concede? Or are they simply further than the U.S. is willing to go?"

Russia and France have their own proposals, and hard bargaining can be expected among the 15 Council members before language acceptable to all is reached.