The United Nations Security Council must now make two decisions on Iraq, but
Bush administration is focusing on only one. So far as President Bush is
concerned, the big question is whether he can convince the council
Iraq is in "material breach" of its resolution on disarmament. But if the Security Council refuses to
authorize an Anglo-American invasion, it is going to face a second question:
withdraw the UN inspectors from Iraq?
If the inspectors stay, the administration will confront an
unprecedented situation: A unilateral U.S. invasion would not only constitute war against Iraq. It would mean making war on the United Nations by
the lives of inspectors who remain at work in and around Baghdad.
The United States can't use its veto in the Security Council
force the inspectors out. Their activities in Baghdad are already
authorized under existing resolutions. Because no new resolution is
to keep them in Iraq, there is nothing the United States can veto.
We have been here before -- in 1998, when Saddam Hussein refused further cooperation
the inspectors. The Clinton administration then persuaded the United Nations to
withdraw its inspection teams before proceeding with a punitive
campaign. This decision did not come easily, with Russia agreeing
But it will be much tougher to obtain a withdrawal order this time
Chief UN inspector Hans Blix has just announced a new agreement with Iraq that promises
greater cooperation, and France, Russia and China have made it clear
Colin Powell that they want to give this agreement a chance.
The American task is complicated further by the fact that Germany is presiding over
the Security Council for the month of February. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
Europe's most emphatic opponent of an invasion. George W. Bush has
responded to this policy disagreement by transforming it into a
quarrel. There is currently a deep freeze in the two leaders' personal relationship -- just when
Schröder's cooperation is most needed to remove the inspectors.
Which returns us to our initial question: Can the administration be
seriously in threatening military action that might kill UN
For all the intelligence of our "smart bombs," there can be no
against terrible blunders once an attack on Baghdad begins. American
managed to hit the Chinese Embassy in Yugoslavia, and to kill
troops in Afghanistan. Another military misstep would have disastrous
consequences in an age of media diplomacy. CNN would transform a
on the UN mission into a searing indictment of U.S. unilateralism.
The consequences would be profound at home as well. Recent
indicate that less than half of Americans support an invasion without
Security Council authorization. Will this support diminish further if we
bombing sites where UN officials may be at work?
Even the most hawkish hawk should be appalled by the prospect. But
administration has yet to confront it publicly. Perhaps it
that, when push comes to shove, the Security Council will simply cave
and quietly remove the inspectors before American troops begin their
invasion. Perhaps it hasn't looked this far ahead in the diplomatic
Only one thing is clear: The Security Council would be
rights to stand its ground and insist that the inspectors keep
Absent a "smoking gun," it is entirely reasonable for the rest of the
council to allow Blix to test the credibility of his recent agreement
Hussein. To withdraw precipitously at the first sign of superpower
displeasure would profoundly compromise the integrity of the United Nations for a
time to come.
To justify an invasion, it is not enough for the United States to insist that it already has enough evidence of a
material breach. It must also explain why such a breach gives it the authority to threaten the lives of the
inspectors -- the very people who are trying to obtain the proof necessary to convince the
of the world community.
Bruce Ackerman is professor of law and political science at Yale
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