At the Crossroads on Iraq

Article excerpt

Three months after the return of UN arms inspectors to Iraq, chief inspectors Hans BLIx and Mohamed ElBaradei have, not surprisingly, reported mixed results. While there is broad international agreement on the need for Iraqi compliance with UN Resolution 1441, the UN Security Council is once again divided about the next steps.

After providing needed leadership for renewed and tougher inspections last fall, the Bush administration now asserts that further inspections are futile and threatens to go to war even without broad international support. Is there a need to take further action? Yes. Does this mean that armed invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein's government is the advisable and necessary action at this juncture? No.

If ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is the real goal and war is truly the last resort, then the United States and the Security Council can and must reinforce the powers of the UN inspectors and increase diplomatic and military pressure on Baghdad. The current inspections regime need not last indefinitely, as some fear it might. Blix told Time magazine, "If [the Iraqis] cooperate fully and spontaneously, then the time should be short. If it's a moderate amount of cooperation...it's a question of months."

Baghdad has cooperated more than it did in the 1990s but has yet to provide a complete explanation of past activities and evidence that it has ceased its pursuit of prohibited weapons. Perhaps of greatest concern are the suspected and unaccounted for nerve and mustard agents; chemical and biological munitions; and the presence of ballistic missiles with ranges beyond UN-imposed limits.

Even unobstructed weapons inspections will not guarantee that every prohibited Iraqi weapon has been eliminated. But tough inspections can provide the necessary confidence that Iraq cannot reconstitute militarily significant chemical, biological, and nuclear capabilities. Further inspections might also produce more definitive findings to help the Security Council members bridge their differences on the next steps.

Currently, there is no imminent threat that justifies a full-scale invasion of Iraq and the many risks and casualties such a course entails. The return of the inspectors and the presence of U.S. troops are, for now, effectively containing the potential threat posed by Iraq. The ability of the United States to maintain the diplomatic and military pressure needed to sustain this process over the next several months exceeds its ability to absorb the political, monetary, and human costs of a precipitous military invasion. …