A Political History of UN Security Council Resolution 1441
International University Bremen
17 March 2003
Today, word “Iraq” became a synonym for a suppressive authoritarian regime dangerous for the world peace as well as a possible victim of imperial superpower policy. The Iraqi issue is being discussed on highest levels among politicians, in schools and cafés among students and professionals, in front of TVs in households among ordinary people.. It’s linked more and more with more general questions as whether and when is the use of force legitimate, or the role of the United Nations as such. Question of Iraqi disarmament became indirectly a symbol of disunity of the United Nations; it’s associated with pacifist and anti-americanist movement. Therefore, it’s worth to have a closer look at this matter.
I guess that no one would argue that Iraqi regime, if it has weapons of mass destruction, poses no threat to its people or other states. This thread perception is reinforced by Iraq’s aggressive performance to its neighbors in two wars and by stubborn and noncompliant behavior to the following United Nations weapon inspections.
Therefore, the discussion over how to respond becomes increasingly crucial. The aspiration of solving this problem have had several United Nations Security Council resolutions, but the Resolution 1441, passed in November 2002, aimed at being the final attempt. How this decision came to being? What were the considered policy options? What does it say in concrete? I’d like to answer these questions in this essay.
At first, I will briefly introduce the problems in the disarmament process of 1990s. I’ll continue with description of change that war against terrorism brought to the treatment of non-standard political regimes. In the end, you can get acquainted with the Resolution 1441 a bit closely. My structure of the essay is mainly chronological, covering primarily the major developments in January - November 2002. Efforts to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) began in 1991 when it was ejected from Kuwait. Huge amount of problems linked with this fairly complicated goal have been constantly arising ever since. Iraq had to comply with economic sanctions, weapon inspections and non-flight zones (north of the 36th and south of the 32nd parallel).
In 1998, however, Iraq blocked the inspections and accused its leader, Scott Ritter, of spying for America.
After an attempt to resume the inspection process in November, United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) chief Richard Butler reported that the Iraqis were still refusing to cooperate. The inspections were stopped.
Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 the President Bush’s administration devoted considerable attention to asymmetric threats, which, in its view, had multiplied since the demise of communism in Europe. In his State of the Union address in January 2002 President Bush spoke of an Axis of Evil, comprising states that sought the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and supported international terrorism. He named Iraq as one such state.
Mr. Bush declared that his administration had two goals: first the eradication of terrorism, and secondly, “to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction”. Because he acknowledged that there was no evidence of direct connection between the regime of Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, Bush stressed on the issue of the weapons of mass destruction. He accused Iraq of developing all chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and added that the price of indifference would have been catastrophic, if regimes would provide these arms to terrorists. Subsequent US support for pre-emptive action had naturally drawn a considerable amount of criticism and divided the main world powers politically. For this reason, USA have always emphasized that they would act as well without an UN mandate if necessary, although it seemed to many very improbable.
Hence, there were many policy options discussed to force Iraq to comply with its duties in the media, among experts and politicians during the year of 2002. All approaches can be grouped into 7 types of response .
1. Continued Containment
This approach was the easiest one. It would require only continuance of economic embargo with the control over Iraq’s oil revenue. Opponents saw this view very dangerous, because no inspections at all would just let Saddam do what he wants and this immense threat will only rise with years to come. Doubts about this tactic are only reinforced by the historical example of consequences of the appeasement policy in the 1930s.
2. Coercive Weapon Inspections
Another method would constitute UN weapon inspections (of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency) backed up by an UN-mandated armed rapid-response unit, enforcing the implementation of the inspections when necessary.
As some said, this would “avoid the games of cat and mouse that have characterized inspections over the last 10 years”. But, there might arise a problem over decision-making authority when the force is to be deployed. Leadership of the Security Council would have made the forces absolutely inflexible, because in such a particular case as in Iraq every hour could be fatal. And, as well, the coercive inspections might lead Saddam Hussein to delay and stymie the inspection process.
3. Limited Air Campaign
The use of air power had been a central feature in nearly every campaign fought for by the US, but the precise nature remains uncertain. A limited campaign similar to the Desert Fox could possibly be used in order to coerce Iraq into compliance.
4. Extensive Air Campaign
Adherents of this scheme believed a more prolonged air campaign would be required to reduce the threat posed by Iraq and its WMD programs. They would call for destruction of Iraqi front line defenses, sites identified in the production of WMD and any further deployed units.
The air campaign alone, however, has some difficulties. First, it is not very efficient when the opponent’s army is widely dispersed and well concealed. And second, this approach might still not be enough for the regime change, which was (and still is) to American administration one of the objectives beside Iraq’s disarmament .
5. The ‘Afghan’ option
This option saw its’ model in the US-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. It would count with the support of the Iraqi opposition forces in the north and the south of the country (namely Kurds and Shias) .
Critics argued that the disparity between the military power of the Iraqi opposition and the government is too big. In Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance and the Taliban had similar forces in terms of training and equipment. In Iraq, on the contrary, most opposition forces are poorly trained and lightly armed guerillas. Moreover, the Afghan opposition’s distaste for Taliban seemed to be much stronger than that in Iraq. Furthermore, international situation among the Afghanistan neighbors was much more favorable for the regime change, than it is in the Middle East. It is so, because Turkey and the Gulf states might be unwilling to grant the use of their bases for the military operation (as is happening in Turkey right now), which is for successful operation in Iraq crucial. 6. Air campaign and limited ground intervention
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other leading Pentagon officials were advocates of an air campaign with a limited ground intervention.
This would contain an offensive action by a force of 40,000-90,000 personnel and assault helicopters against the core of the Iraqi regime in Baghdad and Tikrit. In support, extensive air power would target and paralyze the movement of Iraqi forces deployed, their communications, supply lines as well all other strategic targets. Additionally, they hoped that, as Anthony Cordesman put it:
“The [Iraqi] regime may not be fragile enough to produce uprisings and mass defections, but few are likely to rush in to rescue it. (...) While the US cannot count on the collapse of the Iraqi armed forces, Saddam cannot count on their aggressive loyalty and willingness to counterattack.”
The only catch, although implausible, would be in the fact that a “light” or “intermediate” war might be defeated.
7. Air campaign and large-scale ground intervention
Finally, many analysts believed that the US objective of regime change would require an extensive air presence accompanied by a large-scale ground intervention in style of the Desert Storm. About 250,000 soldiers were to be used, supported by heavy armor and artillery. Supporters of this approach could be found in the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Gordon, Indyk and O’Hanlon stated:
“If Saddam’s regime is to be removed militarily, the action must be quick and decisive and order must be subsequently maintained (...) These requirements mean that the United States must be prepared to deploy a large invasion force – perhaps 200,000 troops, backed by some 1,000 aircraft – and to keep many of them in the region for some time.”
The ground intervention and the air campaign would require a use of substantial number of bases across the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Possible two-pronged attack from both north and south would allow taking the northern and southern no-fly zones followed by Baghdad as its final destination.
It’s likely that the Iraqi Republican Guard would retreat to the cities employing tactics of urban warfare. In this scenario, casualties on the civilian as well as the US side would be significantly higher.
After analyzing the main possibilities to solve the Iraq’s non-compliance to the UN Resolutions, let’s examine the real political actions linked with the Iraq issue taken in 2002.
One way of approaching the Iraqi issue that was really followed was reconsidering the UN economic sanctions regime. This development was supported by the concern over the embargo’s humanitarian impact on the people in the country.
After months of deadlock, agreement was reached among the permanent members of the Security Council in November 2001 to introduce a revised system of “smart” sanctions. This was approved on 13 May 2002 under Resolution 1409, restricting potentially dangerous goods to flow into the country , although there was little agreement on the inclusion of certain “dual-use” items.
Another tactic was intensified diplomatic pressure, used more or less successfully during August and early September. These diplomatic challenges, though, were more formidable than those in Afghanistan or the Gulf War. United States were pre-empting a threat that seemed to worry Washington far more than Iraq’s own Arab neighbors. At that time, most of the international community believed that the risks involved in overthrowing Saddam Hussein far outweighed the potential advantages. Therefore, United States could not act alone, they had to press on and convince others. This was achieved by mustering support for a robust international response to Iraq’s non-compliance and pressure to engage with the United Nations accompanied by speculations over possible planning for military action.
Subsequent talks between Kofi Annan and Iraqi representatives over the re-admission of UN weapons inspectors ended in Vienna (5 July 2002) by complete breakdown as Baghdad sought assurances that economic sanctions will be lifted.
This mid-2002 Iraq’s refusal to cooperate with the UN and IAEA inspectors led the US and British governments to conclude that the diplomatic efforts come close to exhaustion.
On 12 September 2002, US president Bush addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations with a challenge to respond to Iraq’s noncompliance, asking:
“Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?”
President’s speech received a positive reaction from the entire international community, mainly because he reassured that the Washington did not intend to sideline the United Nations. Therefore, American and British officials started working on a new resolution that would not only reiterate the Security Council’s demands but also set a deadline and tight timetable for compliance.
On the same day, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan declared that “the leadership of Iraq continues to defy mandatory resolutions adopted by the Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter”. He urged Iraq to comply with its obligations, because “if Iraq’s defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities”.
He also stressed that the UN provides the unique legitimacy for this action.
Subsequently, Iraqi foreign affairs minister, Naji Sabri, informed the Secretary-General by a letter about his government’s decision to accept an unconditional return of UN weapon inspectors on 16 September 2002. In his words, Iraq responded to the appeal of the League of Arab States, as well as other Arab, Islamic and friendly countries. This act could be understood as Iraq’s wish to prevent the adoption of a new Security Council resolution that would impose more stringent demands. Kofi Annan passed the letter afterwards on to the Security Council to decide what to do next.
The reactions to this offer were of two types. One could be named as boundless optimism (Russia, China), the other one (USA, UK) was much more skeptical, insisting that it was only the first step in a long process. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) responded by an advance party of inspectors to visit selected sites and organize equipment that would arrive in Iraq on 15 October. Then, two 60-day inspection tours would follow lasting at least four months.
But on the same day, US Secretary of State Colin Powel said that his government “would block the return of inspectors unless serious weaknesses in the existing inspection arrangements were resolved by means of a new Security Council resolution”. Russia objected, arguing that Iraq’s obligations are set out clearly in existing resolutions. However, USA and UK concerned that the access for inspectors would not be unconditional and that UNMOVIC would be constrained by previous agreements between UNSCOM and Iraq, such as the 1998 Memorandum of Understanding. They called for a “tough, new inspection regime”. As a result of this discrepancy, on 20 September President George W. Bush asked the US Congress for authority to use “whatever appropriate means - including force” against Iraq if necessary. The Congress approved his proposal.
The tension increased on 5 October after US an UK air attacks on military facilities in western Iraq. This convinced other nations that the US took its’ call for action seriously.
On 8 November 2002, finally, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 1441. This was a little surprise, when even China and Syria voted affirmatively.
This decision meant a “final opportunity for Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations, while setting up an enhanced inspection regime for full and verified completion of the disarmament process established by resolution 687 (1991)” .
In concrete, the resumed inspections were to begin within 45 days. Within seven days Iraq had to confirm its intention to comply fully with the resolution.
Within 30 days Iraq should provide the UN institutions with a complete declaration of all aspects of its programs to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, including that ones it claims are for purposes not related to weapons production or material. The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have “immediate, unimpeded, unconditional and unrestricted access” to any place in Iraq. They would also have the right to remove or destroy any weapons or related items they find.
It explicitly warned Iraq that it would face serious consequences as a result of an inspections violation. It’s generally known, that these “serious consequences” would after Security Council decision mean a military strike. Discussing the seven options in 2002 above, the Resolution seemed to make a compromise between the options 1 (Continued Containment) and 2 (Coercive Weapon Inspections). This might seem a quite lenient solution, but we have to take into account the occasional UK and US air strikes (that would resemble option 3 – Limited Air Campaign) as well as the continuous threat of the air campaign and large-scale ground intervention (option 7).
On 12 November, Iraqi parliament rejected the resolution. However, on 13 November 2002, the Iraqi government accepted it unconditionally by a letter sent to the UN Secretary-General. Talks between Iraq and the two UN bodies responsible for disarmament continued during November and an advance party of inspectors arrived in Iraq on 18 November. The following months of inspections brought up much optimism, nevertheless, the discussions over Iraq’s continuing noncompliance and the consecutive Security Council’s response divided the international community again.
As we could have seen, the adoption of the Security Council resolution 1441 was long and complicated process influenced by both experience with the past and hope for the future. Former, represented by the US and UK, contributed with its’ realist view, skepticism and severe solutions. Latter (Russia, China, France and Germany) was satisfied with smaller achievements and tried to avoid possible injustice of war at any costs. Both views got together and put their hope into the Resolution No. 1441 to secure the peace in the Persian Gulf.
Iraq tried to avoid its obligations as much as possible, but it had to bow under the authority of the United Nations backed up by the force of the United States.
Because it’s not my task to judge the resolution or the current development, I would like to end my essay by expressing my hope that the resolution duties will be pursued and a peaceful solution will prevail to satisfy all.
1. “Bush asks Congress for authorisation”. Financial Times 20 September 2002, p. 12.
2. “Iraq and UN Security Council Resolution 1441”. House of Commons Library Research Papers 2002. 21 November 2002.
3. “Iraq: the debate on policy options”. House of Commons Library Research Papers 2002. 20 September 2002.
4. “Military options Towards Iraq” IISS Strategic Comments, Vol. 8, Issue 3, April 2002.
5. P. Gordon, M. Indyk and M. O’Hanlon “Getting Serious About Iraq” Survival, Vol. 44, No. 3 Autumn 2002.
6. “President’s Speech to the United Nations”. Financial Times 13 September 2002, p. 6.
7. President’s State of the Union Address, 29 January 2002.
8. Secretary-General Kofi Annan address the General Assembly. 12 September 2002. < http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2002/SGSM8378.doc.htm>
9. United Nations Report of the Security Council 16 June 2001 – 31 July 2002.
10. United Nations Security Council. Resolution 1441 (2002) Adopted by the Security Council at its 4644th meeting, on 8 November 2002.
Other studied material: