After raids on Iraq, UN in turmoil
Security Council spat over weapons-inspection program tests members' ability to cooperate in post-cold-war era.
Seventy hours of American and British airstrikes have thrown into disarray the eight-year effort to rid Iraq of its chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare programs.Skip to next paragraph
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The raids have intensified a dispute in the United Nations Security Council over the inspection regime, as well as over economic sanctions that have hamstrung Iraq's military even while driving most of its 21 million people into penury.
"The big question for everyone is, what now?" says a UN official on condition of anonymity. "The Council is so split. How could they have a resolution that reflects everyone's views?"
But more than the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is at stake. The dispute also represents the latest post-cold-war test of relations between the United Nations Security Council's permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France - and their ability to cooperate on complex challenges in the coming century.
Intense diplomatic talks are under way in an effort to determine the future of one the most ambitious and controversial arms-control initiatives ever.
But given the disparate interests of UN members, some American officials are increasingly dubious that the UN can respond to US views of international security threats, such as Iraqi WMDs. UN-backed coalitions are desirable, they say. But the conflict with Iraq shows that the US may find itself more often acting alone or with a few partners, even at the risk of provoking deeper resentment of American "unilateralism."
"We need two tracks [in foreign policy]," says a senior US official. "One would be multilateral. But we are going to have to have hard unilateral approaches as well."
A two-track strategy appears to be what the US will pursue following of the Dec. 17-20 attacks triggered by Iraq's latest bid to thwart UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspections in defiance of the 1991 Gulf War truce accord.
Publicly, the US insists on retaining UNSCOM. It says Baghdad must allow UNSCOM to resume its work to certify the destruction of Iraq's illicit arms programs. Until that certification is made, the US will use its Security Council veto to kill any moves to free Iraq of oil and trade embargoes, US officials say.
"If the Iraqis aren't going to let UNSCOM in, if they aren't going to allow an effective UNSCOM to work, then their desire to have sanctions lifted is an empty desire," says James Foley of the State Department.
US officials also reject calls for reconfiguring UNSCOM. France, for instance, has suggested that UNSCOM no longer pursue intrusive inspections, but continue monitoring the 211 civilian facilities that Iraq can adapt to produce chemical or biological weapons.
"It would be a serious mistake to politicize UNSCOM, to organize UNSCOM along different lines, one that was not either professional, expert, authoritative, or responsible," says Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering.