November 12, 2002

November 12, 2002 | WebMemo on International Organizations

U.N. Security Council Resolution Ratchets Up Pressure on Iraq

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed on November 8, 2002, has put Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on notice that he has one "final opportunity" to comply with his disarmament obligations and avoid war. After eight weeks of wrangling, the Security Council unanimously approved the Anglo-American resolution, which threatened "serious consequences" if Iraq fails to disclose and dismantle it long range missiles and its clandestine programs for producing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

This resolution, and the October 11th passage of congressional legislation authorizing the use of military force against Iraq if it continues to shirk its disarmament obligations, strengthens the hand of the Bush Administration in its confrontation with Iraq. It puts the onus on Iraq to cooperate with U.N. inspectors empowered with "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all, including underground, areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means of transport which they wish to inspect" as well as unrestricted access to all officials or other persons whom the inspectors choose to interview.

Iraq had barred U.N. inspectors since 1998 and the Security Council had done little about it. But President Bush's September 12 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, in which he challenged the U.N. to live up to the ideals of its founding and enforce its own resolutions, jolted the U.N. into action. Bush also made it clear that if the U.N. stood by and did nothing about Iraq's flouting of its disarmament obligations, then the United States would take military action, alone if necessary, to rectify the situation. The U.N. therefore ran the risk of becoming irrelevant unless it addressed the issue.

Saddam Hussein now faces a difficult choice. His regime previously had indicated that Iraq would accept the return of U.N. inspectors only if they were bound by a restrictive 1998 agreement negotiated by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan that allowed Baghdad to put "presidential sites" off-limits to surprise inspections. But the terms of the new resolution have erased that agreement. If Saddam rejects the terms imposed by the Security Council, then he again will find himself isolated in defiance of a broad U.N. coalition. This would make him an easy target for the Bush Administration, which is determined to disarm Iraq by force, if necessary.

But if Saddam accepts the new inspection regime, he runs the risk that the inspectors will find incriminating evidence that Iraq has retained prohibited weapons, as the United States and Britain have argued all along. Moreover, it will be difficult for the headstrong dictator to swallow his past words of defiance and bow to a U.N.-imposed inspection regime.

Resolution 1441 has ratcheted up international pressure on Saddam and could pave the way for the use of American military force, if Saddam violates it, as seems almost inevitable. By confirming that Iraq is in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions, it makes it harder for France and Russia to vote against the use of force in the future if Iraq squanders its "last chance". Moreover, those countries no longer can complain about American "unilateralism" now that Bush has involved them in the struggle to force Iraq to comply with its obligations.

James A. Phillips is a Research Fellow in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy