The Limits of UN Power in the New World Order ; ANALYSIS; the 2003 Iraq War Confirms That Legitimising the Use of Force through the UN Will Remain the Exception Rather Than the Rule
Freedman, Lawrence, The Independent (London, England)
The serious fighting is ended, but Allied commanders are still finding it difficult to declare this war over. Unlike wars of the past, there has been nobody available to offer a dignified surrender, agree an orderly transfer of power or negotiate a ceasefire. Groups of desperate men, many of them not even Iraqi, may keep on fighting, or lay low and then regroup for a later terrorist campaign. This is what has happened in Afghanistan, where remnants of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida are still able to cause trouble.
By contrast, the 1991 Gulf War appeared to have a neater conclusion, with a negotiated ceasefire, the return of prisoners and gradual disengagement. By not addressing the problem of Saddam Hussein's regime, however, it created the conditions for the 2003 war. The reasons for not addressing the Saddam problem then lay in the assumption that his failed Kuwaiti adventure would be followed by the normal processes of political succession in Iraq, anxiety about triggering a disruptive civil war if the Allies tried to force the pace, and the potential cost and bother of trying to occupy and then run the country. In addition, the international license for the war did not extend beyond the liberation of Kuwait.
The judgement of 1991 was neither unreasonable nor controversial. Only in retrospect does it appear so flawed. At the time the conduct of this war was seen to offer a model for the new world order, setting standards for the use of force by the great powers. Such force must be sanctioned by the United Nations, mounted by an international coalition in pursuit of limited objectives from which it must not stray, and show great care for civilian life and property.
These are the standards against which the 2003 war has been evaluated, and so often found wanting. Yet it was the 1991 war that was the historical oddity, and its aftermath must at least lead to some questioning of whether the model was either realistic or appropriate.
Prior to this date, the only war approved by the UN was in 1950, and then by a fluke, because the Soviet Union was boycotting the Security Council when the United States gained agreement to push back North Korea's invasion of the South. The UN conspicuously failed to condemn Iraq's invasion of Iran in 1980, in a move of unanimous hypocrisy. This was compounded more than a decade later, in changed political circumstances, when the UN decided, retrospectively, that this was, after all, aggression.
The UN did manage to deplore Israel's 1981 destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osiraq, sold by France with scant regard for a non-proliferation treaty, which it was itself then refusing to sign. By and large, the veto- wielding powers on the Security Council protected themselves and their friends, and so with most armed conflicts little was condemned and even less was approved. Force could normally be justified, albeit only at a pinch, by reference to the "inherent right of self-defence" as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. There was no need to turn to the Security Council.
It was a combination of the unambiguous character of Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and the unprecedented degree of harmony on the Security Council following the end of the Cold War that made possible the series of UN resolutions that culminated in resolution 678 of November 1990, allowing member states to use "all necessary means" to reverse the aggression. The mandate went no further. This was to be a truly limited war in both ends and means, which meant that in important respects it was to be inconclusive.
The same had been true of the Korean War. At one point, until the Chinese intervened, it looked as if the US might use the opportunity to engineer a regime change in the North. As it was, this became the prototype limited war, with the basic objectives achieved but no resolution of the underlying conflict, which grumbles on over half a century later. …