Limit the Role of the United Nations In Post-War Iraq

Report Middle East

Limit the Role of the United Nations In Post-War Iraq

April 1, 2003 4 min read
Nile Gardiner
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow
Nile Gardiner is Director of The Heritage Foundation's Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow.

According to media reports, the United Nations Secretary-General's office has already drawn up detailed plans for the UN to step in and administer Iraq three months after the war is over. The confidential blueprint calls for a UN Assistance Mission to be established in Baghdad, which would oversee a post-Saddam Iraqi government.


It is imperative that in the weeks ahead the Bush Administration rebuff UN plans for a central role in a post-war government. Such a plan would jeopardize the United States' key war aims, including the:


  • Hunt for weapons of mass destruction and terrorist cells;
  • Protection of Iraq's energy infrastructure;
  • Securing of large cities;
  • Defense of Iraq's borders; and
  • Protection of Kurdish areas.

It would also seriously hamper President Bush's vision of establishing a free Iraqi nation from the ashes of tyranny, and spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.


An organization that failed to enforce no less than 17 resolutions calling for Iraqi disarmament lacks the moral standing or the capability to either administer Iraq or to enforce security in the country after Saddam Hussein is removed from power. There is an important role to be played by the United Nations in a post-war Iraq - but it should be limited and restricted to purely humanitarian intervention, carried out by agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program.


Bush Administration Plans for Post-War Iraq

In a statement to Congress on March 26, Secretary of State Colin Powell made it clear that Washington would not give the United Nations a commanding role in administering a post-war Iraq, saying, "We didn't take on this huge burden with our coalition partners not to be able to have a significant dominating control over how it unfolds in the future." Powell's comments have echoed remarks made by White House and Pentagon officials who have expressed doubts about a post-war role for the UN.


The Bush Administration envisages a temporary U.S.-led administration, which will govern Iraq for a period of several months until an interim Iraqi government can be put in place. Retired U.S. Army General Jay Garner, under the rubric of the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, will head it. Garner will draw together over 150 officials from the United States and Great Britain. The administration will be charged with overseeing civil governance, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance.


The UN as a Trojan Horse

In the coming weeks, the United States will face mounting pressure from other members of the UN Security Council, most notably France, Russia and Germany, to cede control of a post-war administration to the UN. France's Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, has argued that the UN must have supremacy in post-war Baghdad, saying "The UN must steer the process and must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq."


In a sharp riposte to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the three aforementioned nations have stipulated that a UN mandate for a post-Saddam government will only be given on their terms. French President Jacques Chirac has made it clear that France will veto any resolution at the UN Security Council that "would legitimize the military intervention and give the belligerents, the United States and the United Kingdom, the right to administer Iraq."


The Paris-Moscow-Berlin axis has unequivocally condemned U.S.-British military action against the Iraqi regime, and has refused to cooperate with London and Washington by not expelling Iraqi diplomats from their capitals. A UN-controlled post-war administration would merely serve as a Trojan horse for European nations opposed to regime change, enabling them to stake their economic and strategic claims in Iraq.


The spectacle of French or Russian bureaucrats, who for decades have tried to keep a brutal dictator in power, ruling over the Iraqi people, would be utterly abhorrent. It is important for the future of Iraq's citizens that Paris, Moscow and Berlin play no significant part in the creation of the new Iraqi state.


Key Principles That Should Be Applied

The Bush Administration should apply the following guidelines in relation to the UN and the international community in planning for a post-war Iraq.


  • The United States and Great Britain, not the United Nations, must oversee the future of a post-Saddam Iraq. There is no need for a UN resolution mandating a post-war Allied administration.
  • The role of the United Nations in a post-war Iraq should be purely humanitarian.
  • Only those nations that have joined the 'coalition of the willing' should participate in the post-war administration and security of Iraq.
  • Oil and other financial contracts signed between Saddam Hussein's regime and European governments and companies which have violated international law should not be honored by the post-war government.
  • There must be a full and exhaustive investigation into links between French, German and Russian companies and politicians, and the Iraqi dictatorship, once the Baathist regime's archives have been opened in Baghdad. U.S. sanctions should be applied against any nation that contributed to Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction or violated the UN oil for food program.


The United Nations is slowly dying as a force on the world stage, and will go the same way as the League of Nations unless it is radically reformed and restructured. It failed spectacularly to deal with the growing threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and its influence is likely to diminish further in the coming years.


Against this backdrop, President Bush should make it clear that there is no need for further discussions on the Iraq issue at the UN. Indeed, the role of the United Nations in a post-war Iraq should be limited to purely humanitarian involvement. The UN should play a subordinate role on the Iraq question, with the United States and Great Britain taking the lead in administering a post-war Iraqi transition government. UN intervention in a post-Saddam Iraq would merely strengthen the hand of those nations who have opposed even the principle of regime change in Baghdad, and which have appeased the Iraqi dictatorship for decades.


Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom and Bernard and Barbara Lomas Fellow