April 8, 2003 | WebMemo on Middle East
British Prime Minister Tony Blair met this week with President Bush in Belfast. This was the third meeting between the two leaders in the last month. A number of issues were on the agenda, including the progress of coalition forces in the Iraq war, the Northern Ireland peace process, the road map for peace in the Middle East, and the future of transatlantic relations. The summit was dominated by discussion of the post-war administration of Iraq, and the potential role of the United Nations.
While there will undoubtedly continue to be disagreement between the two leaders over the extent of UN involvement in a post-war Iraq, it is imperative that the White House and Downing Street remain united in their determination to liberate the Iraqi people, and that the Anglo-US special relationship remain the cornerstone of long-term strategic thinking in Washington and London.
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. An organisation which 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.
UN and Post-War Iraq
Tony Blair has signaled his support for seeking a UN mandate for a transitional US and British-led Iraqi administration. The White House has so far demonstrated no enthusiasm for such a course of action. It is imperative that there is no public spat between Washington and London over this issue. There must be no open divide, which would aid the cause of opponents of US/British military action against Iraq.
The likelihood of Blair gaining a UN resolution on Iraq is close to zero, unless major concessions are made to Paris, Berlin and Moscow. French President Jacques Chirac has made it clear that France will veto any resolution at the UN Security Council, which "would legitimize the military intervention and give the belligerents, the United States and the United Kingdom, the right to administer Iraq." Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has argued that the UN must have supremacy in post-war Baghdad: "The UN must steer the process and must be at the heart of the reconstruction and administration of Iraq".
President Bush should make it clear that there is no need for further discussions at the UN. The United Nations should play a subordinate role on the Iraq issue, 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. It is important for the future of the Iraqi people that France, Germany and Russia play no significant part in the creation of the new Iraqi state.
British Role in Post-War Security Force
President Bush is likely to ask Britain to play a lead role in post-war security operations in Iraq. Britain has deployed 45,000 combat troops to the Gulf, thousands of whom are at the forefront of military action against the Iraqi regime. Downing Street has already discussed the possibility of 15,000 British troops remaining in Iraq after the downfall of the Baathist regime. They would join up to 40,000 other coalition forces (mainly American), and would be charged with the securing of large cities, the defence of borders, and the protection of Kurdish areas. Other key roles would include the protection of Iraq's energy infrastructure and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and terrorist cells.
There is a strong case to be made for Britain taking the command of the security element of a post-war force, under the overall command of General Tommy Franks. The British have a broad and highly successful record of non-combat operations in a number of theatres across the globe, including Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland, and would be ideally suited to running the highly complex post-war Iraq security operation. The British have an in-depth knowledge of Iraq and the region, and have close diplomatic and historical ties with much of the Arab world. A British-led military operation would be less likely to inflame tensions and complicate Bush Administration plans for democratization in the region. In addition, it would allow the United States to free up much-needed resources to other parts of the world for the wider war against terrorism.
Great Britain is viewed unquestionably by Washington as its most important ally, politically, strategically and militarily and is seen as the keystone of the coalition of the willing formed to unseat Saddam Hussein. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair have jointly displayed outstanding world leadership at a time when the United Nations has demonstrated a lack of moral fortitude and a blatant unwillingness to enforce its own resolutions.
There is though an increasing danger of a US-British rift over the role of the UN in a post-war Iraq. The White House must privately put across the view to Downing Street that it would be a grave error to return to the UN to seek yet another resolution on the Iraq question. If Britain and America were to do so, the two powers could become mired in endless negotiations at the Security Council, debating nations that would happily have kept Saddam Hussein in power. The ultimate losers would be the Iraqi people themselves.
In the weeks ahead the Bush Administration must rebuff UN plans for a central role in a post-war government. Such a plan would jeopardize the United States' key war aims and seriously hamper President Bush's vision of establishing a free Iraqi nation from the ashes of tyranny, and spreading democracy throughout the Middle East.
Nile Gardiner Ph.D. is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy, and John Hulsman Ph.D. is Research Fellow in European Affairs, at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC.