Why US Sticks With the UN In Confronting Iraqi Threat

The UN responds to Iraqis with unanimous vote and the pullout of its inspection team.

Consensus and unity are words not often associated with the United Nations Security Council.

But in the latest battle of wills between Iraq and the UN, the attempt by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to exploit a fraying coalition has only succeeded in knitting it together.

Unanimous concern over Iraq's potential to use weapons of mass destruction helped bring about the Council's 15 to 0 vote on Wednesday to threaten Iraq with "further measures" if it expelled the six American members of the UN weapons inspection teams.

And yesterday, the UN pulled its entire team out of Baghdad after Iraq announced a plan to expel the Americans immediately.

Such UN unity confirmed the success of the US strategy to stick with the UN in applying pressure on Iraq instead of taking unilateral action, such as a retaliatory military strike.

President Clinton yesterday, after an emergency meeting of his foreign policy advisers, praised the UN Security Council's resolution, which condemned Iraq's action and slapped a foreign travel ban on Iraqi officials who interfere with the inspections.

"Plainly, it sent the right message," Mr. Clinton said.

Still, the US envoy to the UN, Bill Richardson, warned of "grave consequences" if Iraq keeps pushing the crisis to the brink.

Support for the US goal of ultimately getting rid of Saddam Hussein was weak to begin with and has weakened in the past few years, says Leon Sigal of the Social Science Research Council in New York. America's Arab allies have broken with that goal and so have the other permanent members of the Security Council, except for Britain. Because of this, the US has chosen to keep this issue in the confines of the UN, he says.

"The US has chosen the right objective to focus on reining in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. As long as we focus on that, we maximize political support around the world. When we focus on the other goal - getting rid of Saddam Hussein - we minimize our international support and often do things counterproductive to rolling up Iraq's weapons program," he adds.

The crisis erupted in October when the Iraqi leader threatened to expel Americans on the arms inspections team, UNSCOM, as well as shoot down American U-2 spy planes used by the UN for surveillance flights over Iraq.

Analysts say Saddam Hussein tried to capitalize on a growing rift in the Security Council concerning the seven-year-old sanctions on Iraq. The Council has said sanctions won't end until Iraq destroys all its long-range missiles and weapons of mass destruction in compliance with UN orders issued at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

But several countries, notably France and Russia, have expressed a desire to ease the sanctions. "Clearly, Hussein is trying to exploit fractures between the US and its allies.

But now the French, Russians, and Chinese have hewed to their longer-range national interest of nonproliferation," says Ruth Wedgewood, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York and a professor at Yale University Law School in Connecticut.

However, there's more at stake here than the Council's resolve regarding sanctions, says Ms. Wedgewood. In fact, the credibility of UN weapons-inspections teams is at stake.

"If UNSCOM can be sidestepped by a hooligan, then it will lose credibility," says Wedgewood referring to the United Nations Special Commission, the group responsible for disarming Iraq.

Unfortunately, the disruption in inspections has allowed Iraq more time to both conceal its weapons-development program and squirrel away weapons already developed, says Richard Butler, executive director of UNSCOM. "There is no second prize in disarmament," says Mr. Butler. "Either you get a weapon and destroy it, or you don't."

But even if weapons inspectors get back in the country, long-term monitoring of Iraq will be difficult, says Butler. Biological and chemical weapons are the hardest to watch given that their components are used in pharmaceutical and other industries.

The 180 members of the inspection team represent 35 countries. The top six countries represented are Chile (22 percent), the US (14 percent), Britain (11 percent), New Zealand (9 percent), Iraq (6 percent), and Australia (5 percent).

"The implication is that if there were more Russians or French on the staff that the answers would be different," Butler says.

But "even with a whole new set of experts, if they are given the same data, and they were honest scientists, they would come to the same conclusion."

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