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Thursday, April 3, 2003


Lots of talk about the UN these days, and from all sides . . . especially about how central a role the Security Council should play in post-war Saddamite Iraq. Not least, needless to say, from the Germans, French, and Russians who helped bring the UN Security Council into disrepute, refusing in the French case even to have a second resolution passed that did no more than reaffirm 1441, passed unanimously last November.

Disrepute? Of course. What else?

As Secretary of State Powell noted in a news conference held today in Europe, diplomacy not backed by credible force is a sham . . . as 12 years of Iraqi evasions and lies have underscored. The first resolution calling for Iraqi disarmament, passed in the fall of 1990 before the Gulf war, envisaged a time-schedule of 45 days. Roughly 100 times that number of days have passed since then, with the harsh economic sanctions doing little to stop or divert the regime from its WMD programs, even as they inflicted major harm on the Iraqi civilians --- not that the moralizing Germans seem to care about that, provided force wasn't used to remove the regime responsible for refusing to comply with the UN resolutions. As for the French and Russians, forget any moralizing cover for them. They have patronized Saddam, with the French becoming the major investor and exporter to the regime, while Jacques Chirac the President was the man responsible, as the French Premier in 1976, for signing the agreement to give Iraq, which has the second largest oil reserves in the Middle East, a nuclear reactor for allegedly peacetime energy needs. Even that, remember, was too much for the Soviet government to which Saddam had first appealed for nuclear aid.


Which UN Agencies Are We Talking About?

If the aim of such urging is to let the UN specialized agencies --- like the ones that have lots of experience in delivering food and other humanitarian aid to distressed peoples (as do lots of non-governmental agencies like the Red Cross) --- operate freely in Iraq, then you can assume safely, it seems, that Washington will readily agree to such a role. In effect, Powell while brushing off the vocal appeals for UN control of the reconstruction and oversight of post-Saddamite Iraq --- said so himself today.

When it comes to the Security Council, though, it's liable to be another matter.

To let the Security Council determine the future of Iraq is in effect to reward those who patronized and supplied Saddam with nuclear energy, whole cargo ships of weapons, industrial and high-tech exports, massive investments, and most likely a fair amount of dual-use goods that have violated UN sanctions ---- something we'll know for sure fairly soon, once the Saddamites are gone and the mid-level administrators (who will have to be kept on in most instances) spill the beans. And the French, German, and Russian push for a powerful Security Council supervising role appears, generally, to be aimed precisely at that goal: making sure they can cash in on the post-war economy and get the big bucks that Saddam's regime owes them, not least for their arms sales, never mind the even headier visions of oil-engendered bucks in the future.

Note something relevant here, their past behavior. Three permanent Security Council members --- France, Russia, and China --- together accounted for 83% of all the arms sales bought with Iraqi oil money between 1973 and 1990 in the Saddamite era before the first Gulf War. See Arms sales

The US role during the Iran-Iraqi war, it's important to add, was nonetheless significant in ways not brought out by the table. Washington agreed to let 10 Bell UH-1 Huey and 60 Hughes MD-500 Defender helicopters be sold; waived earlier restrictions in 1985 that enabled certain high-tech equipment to be sold too; and probably most important of all, provided Baghdad with US intelligence about Iranian troop movements. And though Washington did press the Europeans in the spring of 1984 to tighten their export controls of chemical exports after the UN documented the use against the Iranians by the Iraqis, we didn't press them hard, and together with the Europeans and Russians, the Reagan administration in the spring of 1998 made a disastrous moral choice and persuaded Congress to drop a Senate bill to sanction Iraq for the chemical attacks on the Kurds in the north. It was, to repeat, a moral monstrosity to let this happen, and it does nothing to assuage American moral responsibility here that the Russians and the Europeans did nothing at all either. (All this is conveniently set out by Kenneth Pollack, the former CIA specialist on Iraq and Clinton's chief adviser on it in the Clinton National Security Council: see The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq, pp. 19-25.)  

And don't forget. I'ts the French who sold the first nuclear reactor to the Iraqis and in 1980 agreed to sell about 170 pounds of weapons-grade uranium to Saddam, enough for three nuclear warheads . . . a decision that provoked the eventual Israeli pre-emptive strike on the reactor. Similarly, it was Moscow that agreed in 1995 to construct the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iraq and provide the regime with low-enriched uranium, not to mention the Iranian nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak that are claimed to be involved in nuclear weapons programs. Moreover, the Bush administration believes that Moscow has provided Iraq with uranium enrichment technology, essential to constructing weapons-grade uranium. And of course we shouldn't forget the discovery of night-fighting goggles and other advanced technologies that Russian companies have apparently sold to Saddam, despite Washington's protests long before the war now raging in Iraq itself began. There may have been Russian technicians on the ground helping the Iraqis even as the war started . . . all in violation of the sanctions regime.

What will happen to their hopes for more lucrative Iraqi deals when the blood-splattered, mass-murdering Saddamite regime is destroyed?

According to a French diplomat, says the New York Times, "French companies that know Iraq well--like the carmaker Peugeot and the telecom giant Alcatel--have a problem because their contacts and allies tend to be linked with the Ba'ath party rulers, who are liable to be on the wrong side in a new Iraq" Airbus orders will likely suffer, as will almost certainly TotalFinaElf, the huge French oil firm that had counted on possibly hundreds of billions of dollars worth of exclusive drilling rights in key areas of Iraq . . . as will Russian oil interests. And both Russian and French arms exporters are already bracing, says the same New York Times article today, for a big loss in what used to be one of their most lucrative markets.


What Does All This Say about the Security Council?

Quite simply this: there is no such thing as an disembodied, disinterested consensus of the so-called international community on any seriously contentious issue involving major security matters. There never has been, and there isn't likely to be so in any foreseeable future.

The Security Council --- whose composition reflects the major powers at the end of WWII, at any rate when it comes to the permanent members with a veto (the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain) --- acts on these major disputes, and even middling ones frequently, in terms of specific state interests as the leaders of the major five countries see them, with the security side often heavily influenced, as in the present case over Iraq, it seems, by major economic concerns as well. Period.

That is why the UN Security Council was virtually irrelevant to the 45 years of the cold war after WWII, with collective security agreed to only once --- at the start of the Korean War in June 1950, when the Soviets, as it happened, were boycotting the Security Council and hence unable to veto the action. And since then, only twice more --- in the Gulf War of 1991 and the war against Taliban, Afghanistan in 2001 --- has the Security Council taken decisive action, at least verbally. In 1991, neither China nor the Soviet Union (still intact) supplied any troops for the punishment of Iraqi aggression against Kuwait, and both countries prevented the UN from taking a strong stand on helping the Kurds and the Shiites when they were being slaughtered like so many grouse at a British weekend shooting party on some Scottish Duke's game preserve. In 2001, the UN was essentially irrelevant to the conflict in Afghanistan and did little more than rubber-stamp the support NATO gave to the US war, itself fought almost unilaterally by the US with local Afghan fighters and some British, Canadian, and Australian special forces. Otherwise, the record since 1990 has been dismal for the Security Council's peace-keeping actions: in Somalia in 19993, then in Bosnia in 1995, over Rwanda and the huge genocidal massacres there the year before (or in Burundi the year before that), again over Kosovo --- where the French and the moralizing Germans went to war with the rest of NATO without being bothered by a lack of Security Council approval just four years ago --- and now recently concerning the destruction of the Saddamite regime.

The delirious charade in the Security Council early last month --- when the US and Britain vied with France and Russia to bribe or pressure tiny states in Latin America or Africa that didn't want to be dragged into making a decision, and when the French president said early on that he would veto any second resolution that looked like an ultimatum (which turned out to include just a one-sentence new resolution calling for a reaffirmation of 1441) --- has brought the Security Council into a disrepute with US opinion that is unlikely to change in the future.


The Alice-in-Wonderland Nature of the UN Further Underscored: the Human Rights Commission and the Disarmament Commission

Apparently, all those bustling connoisseurs of a powerful UN role --- if not convinced of the above analysis --- will explain how it is that the Human Rights Commission, where a block of 13 or 14 of many of the most vicious regimes in the world have a powerful veto role, is now headed by that stalwart champion of human rights, the madman Colonel Khadaffi of Iraq, and the Disarmament Commission was to be headed this month by that even more stalwart law-abiding disarming state, Saddamite Iraq. This is the international equivalent of putting the inmates in charge of the insane asylum.

My own favorite moment from the Security Council carnival hi-jinx last month?

The unctuous Foreign Minister Dominique Villepin --- a great admirer of the mass-murdering, megalomaniac Napoleon I, who plunged Europe into 20 years of almost constant warfare, about whom Villepin has written an adoring study, praising Bonaparte's constant quest after French grandeur --- lecturing Colin Powell and Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary in that hectoring grandiloquent style that reek from the mouths of French politicians, about war as a last resort only . . . a last last last resort, so give the poor Iraqis, who were supposed to disarm in 45 days according to the first of 17 UN resolutions demanding it, another 30 days to prove their good will. That was exactly 4780 days ago, the first resolution, but the last of the last resorts demanded the extension, no? Not that the wily French weren't counting on that bringing the calendar to late April . . . at which point, assuming the unlikelihood that the French would ask for another 31 days given that Saddam had let the UN inspectors peek momentarily at some contrived document showing how the Iraqi government had taken French and Russian nuclear technology and were using it to burn the oil fields up north, the temperatures in the Iraqi desert soar into the high 90s. That, as even some dumb-cluck like the buggy professor could guess, would make the temperature for American troops dressed up in chemical-warfare gear about 115 degrees, not quite good weather for destroying a fascist friend of the French --- whose leader, according to Jacques Chirac in an interview three weeks ago, surely loved the Iraqi people.

As for the last last resort, I don't recall too many messages from German-occupied France urging the US-UK-Canadian Armada offshore of Normandy on June 4, 1944, to hold off their invasion and instead send an emissary to Berlin for some rousing rounds of negotiations with Adolf Hitler . . . war always a signal, the French told us, of diplomatic failure. Hitler himself, no doubt, someone who adored his people too. Just as, come to that, did Napoleon I . . . maybe at the acme of his French-adoring mood as his hundreds of thousands of troops, having just burnt Moscow, and oddly finding no Russians around to negotiate with in hectoring grandiloquent style, began their long painful retreat through the Russian winter back home to France --- most of them left behind before the Rhine was seen, their frozen bodies testimony to the grandeur and prestige of la France. Exactly, according to the New York Times interview Villepin gave at the end of February, the goals he sets for himself every day no matter how many guffaws his strivings happen to produce. See Villepin

In particular, according to New York Times interview (March 9th, 2003) Villepin "described Napoleon's philosophy as "Victory or death, but glory whatever happens." And added, "There is not a day that goes by without me feeling the imperious need to remember so as not to yield in the face of indifference, laughter or gibes" in order to "advance further in the name of a French ambition."

Yeah, I know. Like me, you probably rubbed your eyes when you saw this quote, then asked yourself whether the man uttering it wasn't stark-raving crackers . . . one of the inmates running the UN insane asylum. Compared to this guy, George Bush --- the Texan-Toxin, the wild moronic cowboy blazing his six-shooter in French and (German) imagination at every Iraqi Injun in sight --- comes across as St. Francis in his motive-power.


Theoretical Comments

None of this surprises realist theorists of international relations. The key underlying dynamic here is easy to set out: when major states disagree energetically about serious security and power-laden issues, they will not be able to arrive at some effective international action that involves collective security actions. For the French, Russians, and Germans, the key issue at stake over Iraq was and seems to be to stymie and reduce US influence in Europe and globally --- and to prevent the US from gaining an even more powerful role in shaping the Middle East. For Britain and the US, it has been the threat of Saddam's WMD programs and the prospect of Islamo-fascist terrorists using them. The Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Danish governments agreed with the US and UK in the EU debates despite public opinion leaning strongly in the other directions, and in NATO, the 3 active East European members and the new 8 members joining this year agreed with them too. China was wavering. It probably would have abstained had there been a vote on a second resolution --- not on any principle, but rather because it didn't want to damage its relationship with the US, better now than it has ever been.

Note that for all the work done by the members of what's called the new liberal institutionalism, there has never been any clear test-cases that show how institutions --- which are supposed to help states that want to cooperate, but can't because they fear any agreements reached could be cheated on without there being any legitimate and authoritative district attorney, courts, and international police to punish defecting states (the Prisoners' Dilemma) --- could overcome these security-charged issues. So far, the theoretical and the empirical work are restricted to cooperation on economic and social issues, and even then --- unless there are clear joint-gains at stake as the state leaders define them --- institutional effects seem unable to cope with serious disputes: witness the US refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty, which contrary to widespread opinion wasn't an arbitrary decision by the Bush administration, but backed by a 95-0 vote against that treaty in 1998 by the US Senate. And one reason for the Senate's vote (among many) was the refusal of the Chinese, Russians, Indians, Indonesians, and other important countries to apply the Kyoto restraints on C02 emissions to their own economies.

Brief clarifying remark. Institutional liberalism explains why states that want to cooperate but may not be able to overcome their fears of being cheated on, or alternatively about the distribution of the joint gains (a problem known as "relative gains", which may have significant economic and therefore power-laden concerns), can be aided by international institutions. First, by facilitating information that reduces the problems of monitoring. Second, by reducing what economists call "transactions" costs in negotiating and implementing as well as monitoring agreements. Third, by "nesting" economic or social interests together, as a result of which a state tempted, say, to defect on a trade treaty on agriculture might worry about being retaliated against by the others in autos or computers where its own interests would be badly hurt. And fourth, by transforming what is called a single-shot Prisoner's Dilemma game --- where defection (cheating) is always the rational dominant strategy unless full trust is present --- into a repetitive ongoing PD game that leads states tempted to defect at any one point to take a "long-term view" of their interests . . . something known in the jargon as extending the shadow of the future. (Interestingly, maybe significantly, the empirical work testing this that was pioneered at the University of Michigan by Robert Axelrod showed that a tit-for-tat strategy in an ongoing relationship could bring about this transformation into a long-term repetitive PD that overcame temptations to resist. What he forget to say was that in punishing any defection at any one point in time, the state trying to bring about the cooperative long-term view by defecting itself might mean WWII or WWIII.)

As for the constructivist school in IR theory, it has been even less effective when it comes to showing that institutions can make a big difference when serious disputes separating major state members erupt. In effect, its addition to institutional liberalism is to argue that institutions themselves can feed back and alter the basic national interests and priorities that state leaders bring to an institutional surrounding. Not once has this ever been demonstrated empirically, and the alleged claim --- without strong evidence --- that the EU has done this in security matters overlooks two significant influences that enabled the EU to get off the ground and evolve: the cold war that brought the Germans into NATO against a common enemy, and the presence of the US military and its dominance of NATO that in effect alleviated what realists would call the "security dilemma" of rearming Germany. Interestingly, in this connection, both London and Paris briefly flirted in 1989 with the effort of trying to prevent German unification (which the US itself favored). And an important study by Robert Art of Brandeis that came out in 1995, "Why West Europe Needs the US", showed that as doubts began to crowd in on London, Paris, Bonn, and others about the strength of the US commitment to remain in West Europe during the early years of the Clinton administration, security cooperation in West Europe slipped towards security wariness and competition of sorts ---- a danger that was repeatedly referred to by Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor, and a major reason for German agreement to further integrate the EU with France and others by giving up the German Mark and the independent influence of the German Central Bank in the euro-zone, which came into existence in 1999. For that matter, it was the main motivating force of Paris in 1990 when it proposed the eurozone as a solution to German unification, a strategy known as "binding" in realist terminology: dealing with a superior power by entangling it in an alliance or international organization. Art, it should be noted, based his analysis on months of interviewing French, German, British, and NATO policymakers to underpin his argument. The method is hardly beyond reproach, but then the same can be said about any methods in political science or economics: nothing can be conclusively proved by, say, a statistical model either, let alone in-depth case-studies.

Worse for the constructivist standpoint, the differing views about the Iraqi threat that raged since last November have badly split the EU countries as well ---- leading to a Franco-German effort at dominating the political future of the regional system, which in turn produced a big backlash and support for the US and the UK (a fellow EU member anyway) by Spain, Italy, Denmark, and Holland. The clash also led to the temper-tantrum of Chirac in Brussels where he lectured the 10 EU East European applicants to shape up or face the prospect of a French veto next year when the negotiations for their membership get underway.

Since then, the French, Germans, and Belgians are seeking to revive the defunct EU rapid deployment force --- agreed to by the EU in December 2000, but never implemented (the EU being good at paper commitments and rhetoric in foreign and security policies) --- by closer cooperation in military matters. Hard to see what this could amount to. For one thing, it won't heal the rift with the other EU countries. For another, the Germans are starving their military so markedly that they had to notify the other EU members a year ago that their commitment to supply 20,000 troops for the EU RRF would be delayed by only 10 or 15 years, and it's hard to believe that the Belgium military is capable of doing much beyond providing outdoor relief for men and women who would otherwise be unemployed. And for a third thing, it will make a common security and foreign policy even more divisive than it already is . . . ahead of what the French fear most, 10 and eventually 12 or 15 East European countries heavily aligned with the US.


In the End, Where Are We?

Utopians and moralists who refuse to face up to realities will continue to ignore hard facts that fly directly in the face of their hopes. No help for it. Meanwhile, hypocrites like the Germans, whose government went to war over Kosovo four years ago without any UN Security Council approval and even sent German troops into battle for the first time in 1945, will only add to the disfavor with which the UN is seen in the US and other quarters these days. As for the French and Russians, whose behavior on the Security Council was fully self-interested --- as was that of the US and the UK and Spain, mind you --- will not be taken seriously when they want to make the Security Council the chief supervising authority for reconstructing Iraq. To most of us, it looks like a poorly disguised effort to find a way to get their fingers into the economic pot, little else, while retrieving what they can of opting for the wrong diplomatic position that has undermined what little authority the UN Security Council could count on for being more relevant to the 21st century's major conflicts than it has been for the last 58 years.

The specialized agencies, by contrast, have a useful role to play. And that's that, or so it seems.