Success worth noting in Iraq
The Bush administration offered two reasons to wage unilateral
war in Iraq – Saddam Hussein was stockpiling vast quantities of weapons, and
efforts to contain him through sanctions and inspections were hopeless. The more
time passes, the more it appears that both arguments were wrong. Not only are
the weapons probably not there, but a decade of international import
restrictions, UN arms inspections and US military deterrence look far more
effective than once thought. That is a crucial lesson for Americans to digest at
a time when other countries dream of building biological, chemical and nuclear
weapons and when the risks of waging preventive war on the basis of faulty
intelligence have become so starkly evident.
In response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and its defeat the next year by
an American-led military coalition, the UN Security Council imposed oil export
restrictions, a ban on the import of weapons and potential weapons ingredients,
and a series of disarmament requirements to be monitored by aggressive
None of the measures worked exactly as intended. All were met with Iraqi
deceptions and resistance. Oil export sanctions were evaded with increasing
success. UN inspectors were repeatedly obstructed and often felt threatened.
They were withdrawn in advance of American bombing strikes in 1998, and not
permitted to return until 2002. Yet the totality of these measures, particularly
the prohibitions on importing weapons and their ingredients, now appears to have
worked surprisingly well, apparently persuading Saddam that he would never be
able to rebuild his weapons programs so long as sanctions remained in effect.
That was exactly the message Washington wanted to send.
The most crucial sanction banned the import of all prohibited weapons and of any
ingredient that could conceivably be used to make them, including many items
that also had consumer and medical uses. To reinforce this arms embargo, Iraqi
oil exports were initially banned. Then, under the oil-for-food program, oil
revenues were channeled through a UN bank account, so that Saddam could not use
them to purchase prohibited weapons material on the black market.
The case of Libya also illustrates the effectiveness of sanctions. Col. Moammar
Gaddafi’s renunciation of his weapons programs was not simply – perhaps not
even principally – a reaction to the American invasion of Iraq. It came in
response to years of painful economic pressure through sanctions, along with
diplomatic assurances that changed Libyan behaviour could bring relief.
President Bush emphasised this point after Libya announced its decision, telling
other pariah countries that they too could rejoin the world economy and
international community if they gave up their unconventional weapons programs.
Clearly spelling out the steps needed to win relief from sanctions can motivate
at least some countries to change their offending behaviour.
Sanctions are hardly a perfect tool. They hurt innocent civilians, require broad
international enforcement and work best when backed up by effective inspection
arrangements. – New York Times
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