UN Resolution Does Not Authorize US To Use Force Against Iraq

November 14, 2002

Despite successfully pushing the U.N. Security Council to toughen further its already strict inspections regime against Iraq, the Bush administration appears ready to engage in unilateral military action. “If the Security Council fails to act decisively in the event of further Iraqi violations, this resolution does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq or to enforce relevant United Nations resolutions,” U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte claimed immediately after last Friday’s vote.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The U.N. Security Council, in its unanimous adoption of resolution 1441, declares in Article 14 that it “decides to remain seized of the matter.” This is diplomatic language for asserting that the Security Council alone has the authority to determine what, if any, action to take regarding current or future Iraqi violations of their resolutions.

The U.N. Charter declares unequivocally in Articles 41 and 42 that the U.N. Security Council alone has the power to authorize the use of military force against any nation in noncompliance of its resolutions. It was the insistence by France, Russia and other nations that any alleged Iraqi violations be put before the Security Council to determine the appropriate response that delayed for seven weeks the adaptation of the U.S.-sponsored resolution.

Originally, the United States insisted upon the right of any member state to unilaterally attack Iraq if any single government determined that Saddam Hussein’s regime was violating the strict new guidelines. The U.N. Security Council categorically rejected the U.S. demand to grant its members such unprecedented authority to wage war. Instead, the resolution adopted insists that any alleged violations be brought forward by the inspection teams consisting of experts in the field, not by any member state. At such a time, according to the resolution, the Security Council would “convene immediately in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.”

Why, then, has the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress and the media disingenuously reinterpreted the resolution? Apparently, President Bush has been determined for some time to go to war regardless of the level of Iraqi compliance but — given that public opinion polls indicate a majority of Americans would support a war against Iraq only if there was U.N. approval — he needs to claim U.N. authorization.

Lacking such authorization, he and his congressional and media allies have decided to claim that the United States has such authorization anyway.

One can therefore picture a scenario like this: In the early stage of the inspections process, some technical or bureaucratic glitch will emerge that other Security Council members believe is resolvable, but the United States will claim to be Iraqi noncompliance. The rest of the Security Council will insist the problem is not that serious, but the Bush administration will exaggerate the nature of the dispute and will claim the right to enforce the resolution unilaterally.

The vast majority of the international community will not support this conclusion, but Bush and his supporters will claim that the United Nations is prevaricating again and that it is up to the United States to enforce U.N. resolutions since the United Nations is supposedly unwilling to do so itself.

Iraq agreed back in September to accept a return of UN inspectors under conditions put forward by the Security Council that were already far stricter than those initially imposed after the Gulf War. In response, the Bush Administration threatened war unless the Security Council voted to strengthen them still further, essentially moving the goalposts.

There are more than 100 U.N. Security Council resolutions being violated by member states. Iraq is in violation of at most 16 of them. Ironically, Washington has effectively blocked the enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions against many other nations, since they include such countries as Morocco, Indonesia, Israel and Turkey that are allied with the United States.

At the same time, the Bush administration insists that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake if it doesn’t enforce by military means the resolutions against Iraq.

In reality, it is this kind of double standard that threatens the credibility of the United Nations.

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Iraq