Systemic Misery

By Talmadge, Caitlin | Harvard International Review, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Systemic Misery


Talmadge, Caitlin, Harvard International Review


Abstract:

After a year of diplomatic gridlock, the December 17, 1999 UN Security Council arms inspection resolution on Iraq represents a step in the right direction on the part of the international community. Yet the circumstances surrounding the resolution's passage, as well as the text of the resolution itself, suggest true diplomatic negotiations have only begun.

Text:

After a year of diplomatic gridlock, the December 17, 1999 UN Security Council arms inspection resolution on Iraq represents a step in the right direction on the part of the international community. Yet the circumstances surrounding the resolution's passage, as well as the text of the resolution itself, suggest true diplomatic negotiations have only begun. The December resolution reflects several critical changes in UN policy. It lifts the cap on the amount of oil Iraq can sell in the Oil-for-Food program to purchase humanitarian goods. It also relaxes some of the current restrictions on civilian imports, particularly those regarding medical, agricultural, and educational products. Additionally, it replaces the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), originally created in 1991 to verify Iraq's compliance with the disarmament provisions of resolution 687, with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). If Iraq cooperates with UNMOVIC for 120 days, the United Nations will lift the broader economic sanctions it placed on Iraq nearly a decade ago, contingent upon Iraq's ongoing cooperation with UNMOVIC. Should UNMOVIC report at one of its 120-day inspection report intervals that Iraq has failed to comply with the arms inspections, the UN will vote to reinstate economic sanctions for another four months, pending a new UNMOVIC recommendation.

The UN Security Council passed this resolution 11-0, with permanent members Britain and the United States in favor; Russia, China, and, at the last minute, France, abstained. Reports at the time indicated that the latter three nations chose to abstain rather than vote against the measure because they perceived the continuation of economic sanctions as a worse alternative. Only France had a direct and visible reason for abstention-Iraq's explicit threat the previous week to cut off all diplomatic relations and cancel oil contracts with French companies if France were to vote for the resolution.

Publicly, Iraq continues to demand that the United Nations lift the embargo altogether before any arms inspections proceed, and Iraq has used the Security Council's divided vote to proclaim the proposed policy illegitimate and unenforceable. This insistent rhetoric reverses Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz's previous hints that Iraq would accept such a proposal to ease economic sanctions. Domestic politics aside, however, Iraq's initial refusal to accept the proposal seems contrary to its own national interests. The abstention of the other Security Council members is equally perplexing-on the whole, preserving the status quo seems the worst course of action for all parties. The new resolution offers a chance for the international community to attain its goals with respect to Iraq. But if Iraq persists in its dogmatic demands or if key Security Council members fail to recognize the broader humanitarian and security issues at stake, the recent policy turn will be undercut.

Legitimized Suffering

The current sanctions regime against Iraq has been utterly ineffectual. The United Nations still officially holds that lifting sanctions is contingent upon verified and long-term Iraqi disarmament. Since last year, the United States has unilaterally stipulated a companion objective to end Saddam's rule. Yet these goals give Saddam little incentive for compliance. He is not likely to abdicate power or to relinquish military control. Worse, the inconsistency between US and UN goals makes it clear that the international community is "moving the goal posts" and will never lift sanctions. …

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