The U.N.'s Strong Suit in Iraq
Coalition forces in Iraq are still fighting off pockets of
resistance, trying to stop looting and searching for weapons of
mass destruction. But as that important work goes on, it's also
critical to get on with the next step -- creating a peaceful,
stable, united, prosperous and democratic Iraq.
So who should take the lead in rebuilding Iraq?
Some say that the Coalition should step aside and let the United
Nations administer the country.
But, opponents reply, the U.N. lacks the capacity or resources to
administer post-war Iraq. Besides, they add, the world body failed
so abjectly in the pre-war diplomatic phase that it has no moral
standing to call the shots after the conflict ends.
The answer falls somewhere in between. A productive partnership
between the Coalition powers and the U.N. is
if the labor is divided properly.
The U.N. can play a positive and constructive role in Iraq. But
only if it plays to its strengths -- meaning humanitarian aid and
reconstruction. Governance and security must be left in the hands
of the Coalition and those nations chosen by the Coalition to
Why? For one thing, the job of administering a free Iraq is simply
too big for the United Nations to handle. Indeed, U.N. officials
have conceded as much. "Although a U.N.-led transitional authority
may seem more palatable than an administration by an occupying
power," an internal report done for the secretary general said,
"the U.N. does not have the capacity to take on the responsibility
of administering Iraq."
The U.N. is eager to be involved -- but as the secretary general's
report noted, only as long as the mandate doesn't exceed the
resources provided for the mission.
Many U.N. international failures started with just such a mismatch
between the mission and the resources given to accomplish it. That
likely would be the case in Iraq as well.
Moreover, the U.N. tends to be slow, bureaucratic and a slave to
consensus. It is often inflexible and probably wouldn't be able to
deal efficiently with rapidly evolving matters in Iraq. Leadership
by a small coalition would lend itself to quick, flexible and
effective decision making.
Creating security and stability is the most important job right now
in assuring Iraq's future. It will be fundamental for a successful
humanitarian, reconstruction and governance effort. Security
operations will include crushing the resistance, monitoring the
borders, securing oil fields and finding weapons of mass
destruction. The Coalition powers should be solely responsibility
for providing security.
That's because the U.N.'s record in security operations --
especially peacekeeping -- is spotty at best. U.N. missions in
Kosovo, Bosnia and Rwanda do not inspire confidence. The
international community can certainly help out, and the Coalition
should consider including other capable forces -- such as NATO --
in peacekeeping operations. But the Coalition must remain in
The challenge of governing a free Iraq also should be left in
Coalition hands. An interim authority is the quickest, most
efficient and direct way of transferring control of Iraq back to
the Iraqi people -- where it belongs.
The U.N. has run transitional governments, but has no experience
administering a transition for a country this large. Iraq is not
East Timor, Cambodia or Bosnia. Iraq is a country of 23 million
people the size of California. That's 33 times bigger than East
Timor. The U.N. can play a positive role later on in governance by
running elections -- starting at the local level.
The United Nations' strength is in the humanitarian field, where it
has a good record of feeding the hungry and getting refugees home.
The U.N.'s World Food Program, High Commissioner for Refugees and
UNICEF are uniquely qualified and should play a central role in
The reconstruction of Iraq will also include addressing state debts
and rebuilding infrastructure. The United Nation can also lend a
hand here. Loans from the U.N.'s multilateral financial
institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF, will be
critical in getting Iraq back on its feet economically and
improving the lives of ordinary Iraqis.
The United Nations can -- and should -- make important
contributions to leading Iraq from tyranny to freedom. But
Coalition leadership -- not U.N. administration -- will be the most
efficient and effective way to bring about an open, free,
prosperous Iraq as quickly as possible. There's no point setting
the United Nations -- and the Iraqi people -- up for failure.
-Peter Brookes, a
former deputy assistant secretary of defense, is a senior fellow
for national security affairs at The Heritage Foundation
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire