Security Council must choose

As the United States seeks approval of a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, one fact is eminently clear: The resolution has nothing to do with Iraq.

Last summer, with the Taliban ousted and Afghanistan largely pacified, attention turned to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

At that time, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other presidential advisers argued the United States already had all the international authority it needed to march on Baghdad — and they were right.

The forceful disarmament of Iraq was authorized by the Security Council in the original resolutions passed after Saddam’s takeover of Kuwait (specifically, Res. 660 and Res. 678, both from 1990). The resolutions clearly sanctioned force for the eviction of Iraq from Kuwait, for the restoration of regional stability and, importantly, for the enforcement of future resolutions relating to Iraq.

These resolutions have never been rescinded or superseded – because Iraq has never complied. Resolution 1137 (from 1997) reaffirmed the Security Council’s enforcement authority in the face of continued Iraqi resistance. Indeed, these 1990 resolutions, and the 1997 reaffirmation, were the legal basis for Operation Desert Fox, the bombing ordered by President Clinton after the inspectors were forced to leave Iraq in late 1998. They also are cited in the continued enforcement of the no-fly zones by the United States and Great Britain.

Technically, the “paperwork” has always been there. However, last August, Secretary of State Colin Powell convinced President Bush to seek a greater goal than the toppling of Saddam. The United States would forego two arguments for the use of force against Iraq — past United Nations resolutions and pre-emption.

Instead, the U.S. would create a precedent, a process for the removal of threatening regimes based on international consent through the auspices of the Security Council.

This route would be an extension of the effort begun by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. At that time, the assembled coalition and Security Council authorization were in response to transborder aggression by Saddam. That “internationalist” answer was initially successful, faltering only in subsequent years as the coalition gradually lost the stomach for enforcing the demands of the Security Council, and the burden was left to the United States and Great Britain.

President Bill Clinton chose not to follow up on the previous administration’s efforts to bolster the strength of the United Nations, instead intervening outside of the Security Council’s authority or, as in Desert Fox, based on prior approval. In accepting Powell’s proposal, President George W. Bush has sought to place new restrictions on other governments which may consider the use of force to solve bilateral problems. Rather than immediate intervention, a process of international deliberation, coalition-building and, finally, Security Council authorization would become the norm.

For the United States, such a precedent would not restrain the exercise of power; the United States has no interest in intervening militarily, even in pariah states, except when other viable options have failed. Neither would this precedent interfere with the recognized right of self-defense or, arguably, pre-emption. However, other nations would find a new standard in international relations which would hinder the use of force in unsanctioned military adventures. Whether such diplomatic restraints would be effective is questionable, but the strength of this precedent could be built over time.

In seeking this new standard, the Bush administration assumed some things about the Security Council, and in particular, the permanent members. The United States assumed these members would take a long-term view of their responsibilities, not merely their national interests. The United States assumed these members also sought a new international security environment, where rogue states and terrorists — forces of chaos in world relations — were held in check by the combined strength of responsible nations. Finally, the United States assumed these members would favor an invigorated Security Council with a central role in maintaining world order.

The response of France, Russia and China, and to a lesser extent, other Security Council members, to the resolution now before them will indicate whether the president’s assumptions were correct. A failure to pass the resolution will not result in the demise of the Security Council. It will, however, represent a lost opportunity to structure international security in a world of expanding threats.

Paul A. Miller is an editor, columnist and publisher of the Web log, Along the Tracks, located at He is also a BGSU alumnus, Class of 1990.