Two flaws exist in U.S. policy toward Iraq Points include sanctions, weak curbs on arms sales, undermining of consensus


An article in the Perspective section Dec. 7, "Two flaws exist in U.S. policy toward Iraq," suggested that Syria's dominance in Lebanon is a violation of United Nations resolutions. In fact, Syria's presence in Lebanon was requested by the Lebanese government, and the United Nations was never asked to consider it.

The Sun regrets the error.

THE LATEST skirmish between Iraq and the United States, while provoked by Saddam Hussein's expulsion of Americans on the United Nations monitoring team, demonstrates two fundamental flaws in U.S. policy.

First, the combination of brutal economic sanctions and historically insufficient curbs on arms sales by the United States, Germany, Russia, France and other allied countries is hypocritical from humanitarian, political and arms-control perspectives.

Second, the U.S. claim to represent a global consensus against Iraq is belied by Washington's consistent undermining, through selective enforcement and rewriting the terms of U.N. decisions.

When Iraq lost the Gulf War, the United States used the United Nations to dictate the terms of Iraq's surrender, pressuring reluctant Security Council members to back Resolution 687, its punitive cease-fire. Ambassador Abdullah al-Ashtal, then representing Yemen on the council, said: "With this cease-fire we are still in a state of war. We need peace."

Certainly, some aspects of 687 worked: U.N. inspectors agree Iraq's nuclear program has been destroyed, and monitors found and destroyed significant materiel for forbidden chemical, biological and missile efforts.

On the other hand, the economic sanctions have not toppled Saddam Hussein, and they have brought Iraq's civilian population to its knees by creating shortages of food, water, electricity, medicine and other basic necessities.

Originally, 687's sanctions stopped all oil exports from Iraq. In 1996, the United Nations began to allow Iraq to export small quantities oil to purchase food. In October, a joint study by the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organization and its World ,, Food Program, noted that "malnutrition still remains a serious problem throughout the country." The sanctions have "significantly constrained Iraq's ability ... to import sufficient quantities of food to meet needs. As a consequence, food shortages and malnutrition became progressively severe and chronic during the 1990s."

In a new Iraq study released Nov. 26, the United Nations' Children's Fund reports that "32 percent of children under the age of 5, some 960,000 children, are chronically malnourished - a rise of 72 percent since 1991." UNICEF's Baghdad representative said: "What concerns us now is that there is no sign of any improvement since Security Council Resolution 986 [oil for food] came into force."

The Iraqi regime, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, obtained American, French, German and other materials for a significant program constructing weapons of mass destruction. And to this day, no effective sanctions were ever imposed against any countries that provided or may still be providing the Iraqi military with its dangerous components. It is no coincidence that the five largest weapons exporters in the world (along with Germany in ** the case of Iraq) happen to be the five permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia and China. Arms from all these countries continue to flood into the Middle East, adding to the region's instability.

U.S. policy toward Iraq, despite the frequent rhetoric of coalition partnership and multilateral decision-making, has severely undermined the United Nations.

Washington has consistently moved the United Nations' goal posts, undercutting its stated commitment to lift oil sanctions as soon as monitors certified that weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. Instead, President Clinton, Secretary of the State Madeline K. Albright and others have continued the Bush administration position that the United States will not allow sanctions to be lifted as long as Saddam Hussein remains in power. The result, of course, is a negative incentive: Why should a recalcitrant Iraqi government make any effort to comply, knowing that sanctions will not be lifted no matter what it does?

Perhaps even more serious is the United States' double standard toward U.N. resolutions. If the basis for imposing sanctions against Iraq was its occupation of Kuwait, what about Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor, or Israel's occupation of Palestine or Syria's occupation of Lebanon?

If the concern is human rights, what about Saudi Arabia, China or Kuwait? If it's the treatment of the Kurds, why should Turkey be exempt?

Even within Resolution 687 itself, only the punish-Iraq sections appear to be taken seriously. Washington ignores 687's reaffirmation of the United Nations' call for a nuclear-free zone throughout the Middle East, because that would require disarming Israel's 200 nuclear bombs - not on the U.S. agenda.

And Washington's history of backing Saddam Hussein cannot be forgotten. While Iraq's military did not use its available chemical or biological weapons (originally built from materials provided by Western arms exporters) during Desert Storm, it did use chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. At that time, the United States made no serious protest, allowed the gassing to go on, and continued providing Hussein with crucial military intelligence to bolster Baghdad against Tehran.

Such double standards continue to isolate the United States from its allies, and even more dramatically from countries in the global South.

In the Middle East, the much-vaunted coalition that stormed the desert fell apart long ago. With anger exploding in the Arab streets at continued U.S. backing for Israeli settlements, Arab governments have little interest in joining a U.S. military buildup against Iraq. Clinton's decision to send the aircraft carrier George Washington to join the Nimitz in the Gulf reflected Pentagon unease over the refusal of ostensible allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia to allow any military raids against Iraq from their territories.

U.S. policy toward Iraq must be completely redrawn. Washington should reject unilateral military action and commit to real multilateral decision-making, in which risk assessments and policy decisions reflect actual international consensus, not simply the power of U.S. pressure. Iraq policy should be only one component of a much wider diplomatic and political initiative aimed at a serious new international arms control regime, one paying particular attention to arms exporting nations. That means a stringently enforced international campaign to stop the production and export of all components that can be used for weapons of mass destruction.

As the most powerful nation on earth, the United States should take the lead in calling for wide-ranging arms control measures. These should include implementing unilaterally at first, if necessary, the long violated sections of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty mandating nuclear disarmament by the Big Five nuclear powers.

Washington should support reinforced U.N. efforts to establish a no-exception nuclear-free and weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone across the arms-bloated Middle East.

The Senate also should immediately ratify the Chemical Weapons Treaty, allowing unobstructed international inspection of U.S. chemical weapons facilities. Washington should stop claiming, as Sen. Jesse Helms and others do, the right to deny inspectors access to "high security" sites - ironically the exact privilege that Saddam Hussein is demanding for Iraq.

At the United Nations, the Security Council should acknowledge that Resolution 687's brutal blunt instrument economic sanctions have failed. A new resolution should be drafted, after comprehensive consultations with the General Assembly's First (Disarmament) Committee and especially with the Arab Group of the Assembly.

The United States should endorse the U.N. charter's preference for regional diplomatic solutions, the League of Arab States should be involved as a major diplomatic player. The tight arms embargo should remain in place, but the oil sanctions should be lifted, allowing Iraq to purchase nonmilitary goods for civilian use. Reimposition of the type of crippling economic sanctions devastating the civilian population must not be used as a threat to ensure compliance with a weapons inspection or other arms )) control program. Other persuasions must be found.

While continuing U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq, the new mandate should include a detailed set of criteria Baghdad must meet to end the monitoring. Washington should state unequivocal support for the specific terms of the U.N. resolution, and should stop moving the goal posts, thereby undermining U.N. decisions and Saddam Hussein's incentives to comply. Additional sanctions against Iraq's military leaders and not its civilian population, might include international travel bans on all officials involved in efforts to purchase restricted weapons-related goods, and freezing overseas accounts held by Iraqi military officials.

At the same time, the new U.N. resolution should include a broader monitoring program to track all components for weapons of mass destruction being produced, stockpiled, imported, or exported by all countries. Concerns about Iraq must be put in context.

Many terrible governments are in the world, some armed and supported by the United States and far more powerful than Iraq today. Some are militarized and repressive, occupy other nations' lands and are consistent violators of human rights.

Some, believing themselves threatened by existing regional or global nuclear powers, turn to chemical and biological weapons, which are often called the poor countries' nuclear weapons (though rich countries hold the biggest arsenals). All these potential threats must be recognized and addressed politically, by reducing or eliminating the nuclear arsenals that endanger such terrible responses. Iraq is only part to a global problem.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-editor of "Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader."

Pub Date: 12/07/97

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