Is There a Better Way to Go?
By Jessica Tuchman Mathews
Sunday, February 9, 2003; Page B01
Even after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's speech to the United Nations Security Council last Wednesday, some foreign policy experts still argue that war is not the only option left. Outlook asked a leading proponent of one alternative scenario to describe in detail what her preferred course of action might look like.
The immediate question left hanging at the end of Colin L. Powell's presentation to the United Nations Security Council was: What next? Given his explanation of the problem with Iraq, immediate war is not the only answer.
Powell did not make a case that Iraq presents an imminent threat, as indeed it does not. Instead, he concentrated on the overwhelming evidence that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein remains determined to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and is engaged in an active effort to deceive, evade and thwart international inspections.
We have known for a very long time, or should have known, that Hussein will give up his weapons of mass destruction only when he is convinced that the alternative is his certain destruction and that of his regime. Baghdad hasn't gotten this message yet, Powell made clear, in part because the Security Council hasn't sent it. Huge numbers of American forces in the region and bellicose rhetoric from Washington cannot do the trick alone, because Hussein knows that the United States wants international support for military action if it can possibly achieve it.
The genius of American strategy has been to drag other nations into a willingness to do something about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction by showing clear U.S. readiness to act alone. Other countries -- especially the major powers that wield veto power at the Security Council -- know that if the United States did act alone, the resulting damage to the United Nations would not be in America's interest. But they also know that the loss to their own power and influence would be far greater. Powell thrust the dilemma under their noses. Iraq shows by its actions, he said, that it holds the Security Council in "contempt." More of the same puts "this body . . . in danger of irrelevance."
Yet there is overwhelming global opposition to a war now, when a huge new inspection effort has barely begun. The United States can assemble a broad coalition to fight the war, but with few exceptions, it will be a coalition of resentful, unwilling states. Some will be less prepared to say yes the next 20 or 30 times the United States needs their help in the war on terror. Few will share with us the immense costs of the war and its aftermath. More importantly, U.S. planners know that a war entails immense risks: the possibility that Israel will be dragged in, perhaps through an attack with weapons of mass destruction; the danger of high civilian casualties and lasting enmity in the Muslim world; the likelihood that a war will be a recruiting tool for al Qaeda and motivate more terrorism; and, above all, the looming burden of postwar Iraq -- a large-scale, long-term military occupation and political reconstruction for which the American public is totally unprepared.
If war now is not the answer, however, what is? Is there an alternative that can both command enthusiastic international support and effectively disarm Saddam Hussein? The answer is yes, and it involves a plan for truly coercive inspections. One cannot know for certain that such an alternative would succeed any more than one can predict the course of a war. But, by making plain that Hussein is defying the United Nations and that the status quo is intolerable for the United States, Powell's speech has opened new political space for a transition to an inspection regime stiffened beyond the system now in place.
The idea isn't to avoid war at all costs. The idea is to disarm Iraq, and that can be done by truly muscular inspections backed by a multinational military force.
The necessary steps for implementing such an alternative involve repairing two intolerable mistakes inspectors made in executing their existing powers, and reinforcing those powers with direct military force. In ascending order of difficulty, the steps are these:
1. Put the right people in the field. Resolution 1441 directs that the inspectors be "the most qualified and experienced experts available." Decoded, these are not the anodyne words they seem. They direct that technical expertise be put ahead of the usual U.N. need for geographic balance in hiring. That has not been done. They also mean that every possible former inspector, the only individuals with experience, should be rehired. The Security Council intended that the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) not have to climb the slow learning curve that its predecessor, the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), did. Yet today, the UNSCOM experts -- familiar with the ground, trained in interrogation techniques and practiced in dealing with Iraqi deception -- are sitting in television studios. Why? Because, in the past, Baghdad objected (for obvious reasons) to their return.
2. Get the U-2s flying. U-2s are, in the words of former chief inspector Rolf Ekeus, "uniquely effective tools of inspection." They possess the ability to stay in place (unlike satellites), detect activities aboveground and underground, and use sweep cameras to photograph large areas or zero in with high resolution. This is why Iraq objects so violently to their use. Iraq's protests are mere bluster, though. The U-2s should begin operations without further discussion other than to point out the obvious: that if a U.N. plane is fired on or shot down it will provide an immediate casus belli. Baghdad will protest, as it did before, and leave the planes alone, as it did before.
3. Enforce "no-fly" and "no-drive" zones. The cat-and-mouse game can be largely ended and the odds of success tipped decisively in the inspectors' favor by giving them several additional powers. These measures should begin with expanding the existing authority to stop Iraqi helicopters and planes from flying and military vehicles from driving in broad regions designated by the inspectors. Violators would be subject to destruction. These zones can be enforced by strengthening the American and British air forces that currently patrol no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq, and broadening their composition to include forces from other countries. Doing so will give many states that oppose or deeply fear a war the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to disarming Saddam Hussein.
4. Destroy any site being sanitized. Powell's dramatic photographs showed that we can watch while facilities are cleared out and cleaned up. Henceforth, evidence that material is being removed, or a site otherwise altered, should be taken as prima facie evidence of banned activity. The site should then be demolished by inspectors on the ground or by an airstrike from coalition forces.
5. Don't let lethal items slip away. If inspectors on the ground find lethal items being moved -- warheads, for example, or a mobile biolab -- and cannot stop it, they should be able to direct airstrikes to destroy it. The same should hold true if something is detected from the air and inspectors cannot reach it on the ground.
6. Put troops on the ground. If inspectors with these new powers find that they still need additional ground support in order to operate effectively far from Baghdad, the U.N. should be prepared to put bases on the ground.
These steps all assume the best possible intelligence, delivered in real time. That, in turn, means that providers must have confidence that their intelligence will be protected. With the proper routines and technology, Iraqi eavesdropping on the inspection teams can be stopped, but not if the United States and other providers simply sit back, criticize and withhold their most valuable information.
In addition, the inspection teams need the right leadership. If Hans Blix, the head of UNMOVIC, feels uncomfortable with this more in-your-face approach to inspections, he should be quickly replaced by someone ready to carry out what is, for an international civil servant, a very difficult role.
Finally, participating countries will have to be prepared for a few awful mistakes. This operation cannot be carried out so cautiously that some errors won't happen. The consolation is that, whatever the losses, they will pale beside the costs of a war.
How long coercive inspections would take depends on how rigorously the new rules are applied and therefore how quickly Saddam Hussein gets the message that no ending is possible other than disarmament. Roughly a year is a good guess. Success will require unqualified support from a united Security Council. That could be achieved today, I believe, but it will not be easy to sustain.
For many, this approach may seem too long, too frustrating and too uncertain. They'd prefer the decisive feeling of pressing a button to start a war that would end this standoff once and for all. In truth, while war is certain to mean the end of Hussein's rule, it will also mean the beginning of new uncertainties that could multiply over the decade or more of war's aftermath.
We have been at this -- trying inspections and containment -- for 12 years. A policy of determined patience for another 12 months seems a reasonable price when weighed against the unknowable human, political and economic costs of war. If the coercive inspections fail, war would be necessary. But there is one huge benefit that war cannot bring if the inspections succeed. That is a message of unswerving, broad-based, international determination to halt the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It will be heard far beyond Iraq, all the way to Pyongyang.
Jessica Mathews is president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.