Divvying up the tab for Iraq's reconstruction

Western Europe's military forces are mediocre compared with those of the United States - as the US demonstrated in its invasion of Iraq.

But Europe is nonetheless what Harvard University professor Andrew Moravcsik calls a "quiet superpower." Its help will be needed in the coming months and years as the US struggles with waging the peace in Iraq after a relatively easy war.

What Europe has to offer is deep experience in peacemaking and a major financial contribution toward what promises to be a costly occupation and reconstruction.

Taken together, Europeans provide more than 70 percent of all civilian foreign aid in the world. This is four times as much as the US, Mr. Moravcsik notes. The rebuilders and reformers of Kosovo and Afghanistan are largely European, he says.

Moreover, European Union nations contribute 10 times as many peacekeeping troops as the US in trouble spots scattered as wide as Eritrea and Guatemala.

"There has to be more European involvement [in Iraq] than simply permitting them to give foreign aid," says Moravcsik.

In this regard, when British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President Bush in Northern Ireland early last week, they agreed the UN should play a "vital role" in postwar Iraq.

But details are slim.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the French newspaper Le Figaro that Britain wants the UN to supervise foreign aid and play a "major role" in organizing a postwar conference of Iraqi representatives. Britain, he added, would seek a UN Security Council resolution "endorsing an appropriate post-conflict administration."

It's unclear whether the US would go along with this and whether the UN's role would be large enough to satisfy European leaders outside London.

Without sufficient UN involvement, European parliaments are unlikely to sign off on massive assistance to Iraq, Moravcsik says, and Mr. Blair would be "finished" politically at home.

Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York, wonders if the US expects Europe "to come crawling back" after the Allies' victory in Iraq, and whether Europe will want the US "to come crawling back" as it seeks help to cover the postwar task.

"Each one is wrong," Ms. Bronson says.

US cracks about "Old Europe" and other insults hurled in the effort to obtain French and German backing for a UN resolution approving the war have not helped. Ms. Bronson suggests that the US and Britain might be left to "muddle along" nearly alone to clean up the mess.

While Japan has promised $100 million in aid, it seems unlikely that and other countries will pitch in as generously as they did after the 1991 Gulf War. Then Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, Germany, and South Korea reimbursed the US for 90 percent of the war's $61 billion cost ($78 billion at today's prices).

Occupation and reconstruction costs cannot be precisely calculated. But a CFR bipartisan task force on "Iraq: the Day After" estimates the cost at $20 billion per year. It could be more.

"It's not going to be cheap," says Anthony Cordesman, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington.

Iraqi oil has been generating $12 billion to $16 billion a year in revenues. About $3 billion is needed to keep the oil fields from running down further. Prior to the war, production was approximately 2.6 million barrels per day (bpd). It will require a $5 billion investment to return output to the 3.2 million bpd level of 1991, Bronson says.

By 2010, with much investment, oil output from Iraq could be doubled. It has the largest known reserves after Saudi Arabia. At that higher level, though, world oil prices could tumble. So Iraq might end up selling more oil for the same revenues.

At this point, the experts can't sort out how much of Iraq's oil revenues will be left for reconstruction. Some money will be needed to continue the oil-for-food program that helped Iraq's 27 million people survive a decade of economic sanctions. But oil exports have yet to resume.

The UN has appealed for $2.2 billion in humanitarian aid for Iraq. The European Union, divided on war in Iraq, has committed to $305 million. The UN's World Food Program part of the humanitarian package amounts to $1.3 billion. As of last week, it has received $290 million, of which $260 million came from the US. The rest came from Britain, Germany, Canada, Spain, New Zealand, and Italy.

More funds are "desperately needed," WFP says. Last Tuesday, it dispatched a food convoy of 55 trucks across the frontier into northern Iraq. WFP's aid to Iraq could become four times as large as than any other food-aid program in WFP history. With the oil-for-food program, WFP has 44,000 food-distribution points in Iraq to use when the war situation allows.

The Bush administration has asked Congress for $2.5 billion in relief and reconstruction money. If it can't or won't persuade other nations to help, it will have to ask for a lot more in the future.

"As a taxpayer, I am much interested in multilateralizing the costs," says Anthony Lake, a former national security adviser to President Clinton, now at Georgetown University in Washington.

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