Executive Summary: Blueprint for Freedom: Limiting the Role of the United Nations in Post-War Iraq

Report Middle East

Executive Summary: Blueprint for Freedom: Limiting the Role of the United Nations in Post-War Iraq

April 21, 2003 4 min read Download Report

Authors: Nile Gardiner and David Rivkin

According to media reports, the United Nations Secretary General's office has already drawn up detailed plans for the U.N. to step in and govern Iraq three months after the war is over. Numerous countries, including most members of the European Union, Russia, China, and virtually all of the G-77 states, have also been clamoring for the U.N. to play a leading role in Iraq. Even some Coalition partners, such as the United Kingdom, have been urging the United States to accord the U.N. some modicum of influence, less because of the unique ability of the U.N. to assist in Iraqi rebuilding and reconstruction and mostly out of a desire to help heal the breach in the Atlantic alliance and rehabilitate the U.N.'s tattered record.

While the U.S. should always listen respectfully to requests from its allies, it is imperative that in the weeks ahead the Bush Administration rebuff U.N. plans for a central role in a post-war Iraqi government. Such a scheme would jeopardize the United States' key war aims and would also seriously hamper President George W. Bush's broad vision of a free Iraqi nation, rising from the ashes of tyranny.

To the extent there is a role for the United Nations to play in a post-war Iraq, it should be limited and restricted to purely humanitarian tasks, carried out by agencies such as UNICEF and the World Food Program.

Key Principles to Apply in Iraq's Reconstruction
While administering post-war Iraq and carrying out democratic and economic reforms, the Bush Administration should apply the following guidelines to involvement by the U.N. and the international community:

  • The United States and the United Kingdom, not the United Nations, must oversee the future of a post-Saddam Iraq. They should make clear that the 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Geneva Convention IV, and customary international law provide a solid legal basis for the Coalition countries' interim governance of Iraq, pending the full transition of power to a new democratic Iraqi government. There is no need for a U.N. resolution mandating a post-war Allied administration.
  • Only those nations that have joined the "coalition of the willing" should participate in the post-war administration, reconstruction, and security of Iraq.
  • The role of the United Nations in a post-war Iraq should be solely humanitarian.
  • All individuals who have committed war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and other grave violations of international or Iraqi law should be vigorously and promptly prosecuted. Appropriate punishments, up to and including the death penalty, should be meted out to the individuals found guilty of these offenses.
  • Both the prosecution and truth finding should be carried out primarily by the Iraqis themselves with appropriate input from the Coalition countries. There should be no involvement by any international tribunals, whether ad hoc (as was the case in the Balkans) or in the form of the permanent International Criminal Court.
  • The United States must press the U.N. Security Council to end the oil-for-food program. All of the revenues from the past sales of Iraqi oil, now controlled by the U.N., are the sovereign property of Iraq and should immediately be turned over to the Iraqi interim government. The regime change in Iraq has vitiated all of the Saddam Hussein-era sanction resolutions. While a new Security Council resolution acknowledging this fact might be politically expedient, it is not legally required.
  • The interim government run by Coalition countries, and its eventual Iraqi successor government, should be viewed as the legitimate government of Iraq, disposing of all attributes of sovereignty.
  • Oil and other financial contracts signed between Saddam Hussein's regime and European governments and companies that have violated either international law (by flouting the Saddam Hussein-era sanctions) or the applicable Iraqi national law should be carefully scrutinized by the post-war Iraqi government.

The U.N. is slowly dying as a force on the world stage and will go the way of 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 may well diminish further in the coming years. Indeed, what happens to the U.N. in the future very much depends upon how it behaves here and now.

This is a moment of truth for the U.N. and Secretary General Kofi Annan. There is no doubt that France and Russia are pursuing narrow, selfish, and anti-American policy agendas with regard to Iraq's post-war governance and democratization. Their policy aspirations are quite different from any conceivable U.N. vision of how a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq should be governed and reformed.

President Bush should make it clear that no further discussions on the Iraq issue are needed at the U.N. Indeed, the role of the United Nations in a post-war Iraq should be limited to purely humanitarian involvement. The United States and the United Kingdom should take the lead in administering a post-war Iraqi transition government, with the U.N. playing only a subordinate role.

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. David B. Rivkin, Jr., Esq., is a partner in the Washington office of Baker & Hostetler, LLP, and has served in the U.S. Department of Justice, the White House Counsel's Office, and the Office of the Vice President in the Reagan and first Bush Administrations.


Nile Gardiner
Nile Gardiner

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

David Rivkin

Senior Research Fellow