Preparing for the Next Crisis With Iraq: a Step-by-Step Plan

Whatever else comes of the current confrontation with Iraq, two things are all but certain: The world will have Saddam Hussein to contend with for some time to come, and the international coalition the United States has built to corral Saddam is in serious need of fixing.

There is no simple way to shore up this disparate coalition. Nothing less than a concerted series of steps that will cut across several of the central elements of post-cold-war foreign policy is required.

First, the Clinton administration must accord a higher priority to dealing with Iraq. Contingency planning - what's to be done if Saddam violates any stipulation of various UN Security Council resolutions - ought to constitute a key element of regular consultations with coalition members, including Great Britain, France, Russia, and selected Arab states. In this regard, US influence will increase if others are persuaded that we are prepared to use substantial military force if force is to be used.

Second, the time has come to adopt a more explicit position on economic sanctions and when they might be lifted. Both the Bush and Clinton administrations have created the perception that no amount of Iraqi compliance with weapons-inspection demands would ever lead to relief while Saddam remained in power. This has contributed to a sharp decline in Arab support for sanctions, which tend to be blamed (however unfairly) for the misery that is the life of most Iraqis.

The administration has begun to shift its policy, by suggesting that we might agree to a modest increase in the amount of oil Iraq can sell and to less restriction on imports. But this trial balloon is poorly timed - it rewards Saddam for interfering with weapons inspections - and is unlikely to be enough to affect either Iraqi behavior or, more important, how the Iraq sanctions are viewed in the Arab world.

Focus on UN resolution 687

A new US position would declare adherence to UN Security Council resolution 687. Iraq would be free to sell what oil it wanted and to import anything other than military equipment and sensitive "dual use" technology - but only after and so long as it met its post-Desert Storm obligations. Principal among these is unconditional inspections in perpetuity (or until the Security Council votes otherwise) to ensure no weapons of mass destruction are built or hidden.

This would help meet Arab concerns, while not precluding the US from introducing new measures, such as extending the no-fly zone to all of Iraq, designed to weaken Saddam or even hasten his departure.

Third, the administration should approach Congress to rework US sanctions policy. Secondary sanctions introduced by the US against those who choose not to obey selected US economic sanctions against Cuba, Iran, and Libya are straining critical bilateral relationships. What is worse, we pay this price without getting anything for it - there is no evidence that sanctions are altering the behavior of target states.

A new bargain with allies

What is needed is a new bargain with France and our other allies: The US will drop all threats of secondary sanctions in exchange for greater coordination of policy toward problem states. In the case of Cuba, it could entail no investment in confiscated properties. For Iran or Libya, it might entail multilateral sanctions against only those firms contributing to the development of weapons of mass destruction.

Fourth, the US would be wise to calibrate carefully the pace of any future NATO enlargement. Russian cooperation against Iraq will become even less likely if we press ahead with NATO membership for additional nations, in particular Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. We need to allow Russia to digest the initial phase of enlargement. Slowing down future NATO expansion has the added benefit of helping NATO; too much growth too fast risks diluting the utility of what has been this country's principal alliance.

Fifth, the US should make good on what it owes the UN. It makes little sense to try to win over the Security Council and depend on its weapons inspectors at the same time we are engaged in a battle with the organization.

Sixth and last, the Clinton administration needs to change its approach to the Arab-Israeli peace process. Arab unhappiness with America's reluctance to criticize Israel when criticism is merited has sharply reduced the will and ability of Arab regimes to join with us against Saddam.

The president must speak out, publicly as well as privately, when either Israeli or Palestinian behavior comes up short. Only by doing this will we rebuild respect for the US in the Arab world - and revive a peace process consisting of gradual normalization and new talks on permanent status.

All of these changes are justified on their merits. But they are essential if the US is to be able to contend with Iraq. Those who call for unilateral action are deluding themselves. We cannot maintain sanctions or stem the flow of critical technology to Iraq on our own. Nor can we mount a serious military campaign without access to the bases of others.

Some of these steps also will generate more than a little domestic criticism. But it will be time well spent and criticism worth taking if it means that we can better meet future challenges by Saddam, particularly a Saddam seeking to arm himself with biological or nuclear weapons.

* Richard N. Haass, a senior aide to President Bush throughout the 1990-91 Gulf crisis, is director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

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