War Stories

A Toothless Resolution

Even if the Security Council approves the U.S. proposal, it won’t change a thing in Iraq.

Hip, hip, but not hurray. The U.N. Security Council is expected to approve the Bush administration’s revised draft of a resolution designed to legitimize the U.S.-led occupation authority and the U.S.-commanded security force in Iraq. However, the vote will probably be close and, in any case, the support is certainly tepid.

There is good reason for this lack of enthusiasm. The resolution essentially changes nothing. Its drafters have paid lip service to accelerating the process of Iraqi self-governance and strengthening the United Nations’ role in this process. But a close reading of the resolution indicates that all power remains in American hands, that no real authority is transferred to the United Nations, and that a new Iraqi government remains a long way off.

The resolution may pass, but the act will have no effect. It will not compel or persuade other countries to donate money or manpower. Nor will it convince anyone who needs convincing on the ground in Iraq that the U.S. occupation is short-term or legitimate. In short, the resolution fails to accomplish the main diplomatic tasks at hand—to share the burdens of building postwar Iraq and to quell the violent resistance so the rebuilding can proceed securely.

Take a look at Section 1 of the resolution. This contains the much-quoted passage that notes the “temporary nature” of the U.S.-led occupation authority, and emphasizes that the authority’s functions “will cease when an internationally recognized, representative government established by the people of Iraq is sworn in” and takes over the authority’s responsibilities.

Sounds good, but two things are amiss here. First, most members of the Security Council want authority to pass from the United States to the Security Council itself—or to some body representing the Security Council—before moving into the hands of a new Iraqi government. Section 1 explicitly rejects this position: The U.S.-led authority will cease only when the new government is sworn in; there is no provision for an interim U.N. (or any other international) body.

Second, nothing in the resolution indicates that this transfer is going to take place any time soon. Many press reports have noted that the resolution gives Iraq’s current Governing Council a deadline of Dec. 15 to come up with a new constitution and a procedure for holding democratic elections. Some reports have depicted this deadline as a sign of the Bush administration’s newborn realization that power must be transferred quickly.

In fact, the deadline does no such thing. It merely “invites” (not “requires”) the Governing Council “to provide to the Security Council, for its review” (with no provision for how long the review will last), “a timetable and a program for the drafting of a new constitution for Iraq and for the holding of democratic elections under that constitution” (not a new constitution, not the drafting of a new constitution, but merely “a timetable and a program” for the drafting).

How long will it take to go from a) an invitation to submit a timetable and a program to b) a review of the timetable and program to c) the actual drafting of a constitution to d) the approval of a constitution to e) the holding of elections to f) the elections’ winners taking power?

Judging from the resolution, the Bush administration assumes it will take at least a year. The telltale sign here is Section 15, which notes that the mandate of the U.S.-commanded multinational security force “shall expire … when an internationally recognized, representative government of Iraq has been sworn in and assumed the responsibilities of the Authority.” However, Section 15 also notes that the U.N. Security Council shall review the requirements and mission of the multinational security force “not later than one year from the date of this resolution.” Put those two provisions together, and one can infer that Bush assumes the multinational force will still exist—meaning the new Iraqi government will not yet have been sworn in—a year from now.

The resolution does contain a few compromises by the Bush administration. In Section 15, it is a new concession that the Security Council is given any role in reviewing requirements and missions of the multinational force. It is also new that, in Section 7, the Security Council reviews the Governing Council’s timetable for a new constitution. Previously it had been assumed, if not laid down in stone, that the U.S.-led authority alone would have these roles.

However, it should be noted that these sections do not give the Security Council any power to do anything as a result of its reviews. And the review provided in Section 7 is explicitly to be conducted “in cooperation with the Authority.”

Those compromises will probably be enough to push the resolution through. They do reflect, albeit to a very limited degree, a realization that the United Nations must be more actively involved in the occupation if a new, democratic Iraq is ever to take hold. James Dobbins, former head of peacekeeping operations in the Bush and Clinton administrations, thinks this will be but the first of several resolutions that move steadily in a more multilateral direction. The other member-states of the Security Council are thinking along these same lines—which is why they will probably approve this resolution, however half-heartedly.

Another reason for its likely approval is that, in the meantime, just as it poses no real obligations for the United States to share power in Iraq, it also poses no obligations for the rest of the world to share burdens.

As with previous resolutions on the subject, it merely “welcomes the positive response of the international community”; “urges member states to contribute assistance … including military force, to the multinational force”; “calls upon member states … to contribute to the training and equipping of Iraqi police”; “appeals to member states and international financial institutions to strengthen their effort to assist the people of Iraq in the reconstruction and development of their economy”; and so forth. Nowhere does the resolution determine or demand or insist that assistance be rendered. (Emphasis added.)

The other countries of the Security Council no doubt have, to some extent, self-aggrandizing motives for their demand to be included in Iraq’s transitional rule. They want a hand on the lever of power, they want a share of commercial contracts. However, they also have objectively reasonable motives for this demand. Why should they spend their taxpayers’ money and risk their soldiers’ lives for a cause that most of them never believed in without a substantial say over how their resources will be used?