May 21, 2003
By Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. and David B. Rivkin
Q:Would it be a
Mistake to let the United Nations Play the Lead Role in
Yes: Don't allow European nations that opposed regime change to
stake their economic and strategic claims in Iraq.
Numerous countries - including most members of the European Union,
Russia, China and virtually all of the G-7 states - are clamoring
for the United Nations to play a leading role in Iraq. Even some
coalition partners such as Britain have been urging the United
States to accord the United Nations considerable influence, mostly
out of a desire to help heal the breach in the Atlantic alliance
and rehabilitate the United Nation's tattered record.
While the United States always should listen respectfully to its
allies, it is imperative in the weeks ahead for the Bush
administration to rebuff U.N. plans for a central role in a postwar
Iraqi government. Moreover, the Bush administration should apply
the following guidelines to involvement of any kind by the United
Nations and the international community:
In addition to adhering to these principles, the Bush
administration also needs to challenge numerous legal and policy
arguments being advanced by U.N. partisans. These claims include
that: (1) the coalition members cannot administer Iraq without the
United Nations' legal imprimatur; (2) the coalition cannot draw on
Iraqi national resources to pay for any reconstruction-related
needs; (3) all existing Security Council sanctions resolutions
(originally passed to address specific misdeeds by Saddam's regime)
remain fully in force and can be overturned only by a new Security
Council resolution; (4) only the United Nations can bestow
legitimacy on any new Iraqi interim administration; and,
ultimately, (5) the U.N.-led process is essential to the creation
of an Iraqi democratic polity.
All of these legal and policy propositions are wrong. They are
driven largely by the same ill-thought-out impulse of trying to
discipline U.S. military and diplomatic power that was so evident
in debates at the United Nations before Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They also are inconsistent with the United Nations' charter and
violate international law.
Coalition countries legally can govern Iraq on an interim basis. An
entity created by coalition forces that can and should delegate
authority to Iraqi-run local, regional and national institutions as
quickly as possible is the legitimate government of the sovereign
state of Iraq. That entity is entitled to use Iraqi national
resources, including proceeds from oil sales, to pay for the
country's reconstruction and rebuilding projects. Over time, more
and more power and authority would be assumed by the Iraqi-run
democratic institutions. Eventually, coalition-run governing
structures would be dissolved.
While the United Nations' endorsement of this effort would be
politically advantageous, it is not legally required. Indeed, under
the 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Geneva Convention IV and
customary international law norms, the coalition countries bear the
ultimate responsibility for the safety and well-being of the Iraqi
people until the full transition to a new Iraqi government takes
place because the coalition caused the regime change in Iraq. They
cannot legally delegate their duties, rights and obligations to any
third parties or international institutions, including the United
Legal-authority issues aside, a U.N.-controlled postwar
administration merely would serve as a Trojan horse for European
nations opposed to regime change, enabling them to stake their
economic and strategic claims in Iraq. This cannot be allowed.
Efforts by Paris and Moscow to retain the United Nations' sanctions
regime against Iraq, particularly the oil-for-food program, also
ought to be vigorously opposed by the United States. As a matter of
law, various Security Council resolutions imposed on Iraq under
Saddam's regime were predicated upon the specific misdeeds
committed by that regime. Since the conditions that gave rise to
these resolutions now have been vitiated, it is entirely
permissible and appropriate for the United States to hold that the
resolutions are no longer in force and that rescinding them does
not require a new Security Council resolution.
The United States also immediately should address the legal status
of both the post-Saddam interim-governing entity, run by the
coalition countries, and the eventual Iraqi national government.
The Bush administration vigorously should argue that, under
existing international law norms, both the interim entity and its
successor Iraqi government are fully legitimate and possess all
attributes of Iraqi sovereignty, including the ability to borrow
money, sign contracts with foreign entities and manage Iraq's
Neither the U.N. charter nor customary international law grants the
United Nations any cognizable legal right to recognize governments
or bestow a seal of good housekeeping on them. Moreover, it
certainly would be awkward for an organization that lets Muammar
Qaddafi's Libya run the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and was
content to have Saddam's Iraq chair the U.N. Conference on
Disarmament to act as if it can or should pass moral
In a March 26 statement to Congress, Secretary of State Colin
Powell made it clear that Washington would not give the United
Nations a commanding role in administering a postwar Iraq. Powell
said, "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."
The Bush administration envisages a temporary U.S.-led
administration that will govern Iraq until an interim Iraqi
government can be put in place. The administration is charged with
overseeing civil governance, reconstruction and humanitarian
assistance. It will work with a coalition-led security force, which
may involve as many as 60,000 coalition troops.
Aside from the immediate reconstruction-related tasks, the
administration has articulated a set of far-ranging, ambitious,
long-term goals, including fostering a democratic Iraq in which
Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis would live in peace, developing a civil
society and rule of law and empowering Iraqi women to become
full-fledged participants in the country's political and economic
The United Nations slowly is dying as a force on the world stage
and will go the way of the League of Nations unless it radically is
reformed and restructured. It failed spectacularly to deal with the
growing threat posed by Saddam, and its influence well may diminish
further in the coming years. Indeed, what happens to the United
Nations in the future very much depends upon how it behaves here
and now. In this regard, there is no doubt that France and Russia
are pursuing narrow, selfish and anti-U.S. policy agendas with
regard to Iraq's postwar governance and democratization. Unless the
United Nations opposes the French and Russian plans at least with
the same vigor it has displayed in trying to handicap the
administration's Iraq policy, the United Nations would lose all
President George W. Bush should make it clear that no further
discussions on the Iraq issue are needed at the United Nations.
Indeed, the role of the United Nations in a postwar Iraq should be
limited to purely humanitarian involvement. The United States and
Britain should take the lead in administering a postwar Iraqi
transition government with the United Nations playing only a
is visiting fellow in Anglo-American security policy in the Kathryn
and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the
Heritage Foundation. Rivkin is a partner in the Washington office
of Baker & Hostetler and has served in the Department of
Justice and the White House Counsel's Office.
Featured in Insight on the News
Q:Would it be a Mistake to let the United Nations Play a Lead Role in Reconstructing Iraq?
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D.
Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
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