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By Cleio Alexandridi
The present article constitutes a brief analysis of the role of the UN Security Council in matters of conflict resolution, specifically in the case of the Iraq War in 2003. This analysis focuses on the constitutional abilities of the UNSC, the utilization of such abilities in the aforementioned case, as well as the evaluation of UNSC’s intervention in Iraq.
Conflict Resolution & UNSC: Constitutional abilities
The principle of conflict avoidance and promotion of peace and stability is highlighted in the UN “Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promote Just, Peaceful and Inclusive societies”. However, even before the declaration of the Sustainable Development Goals, the role of the UN in war prevention was set out by the UN Charter, as a central mission of the United Nations. Several bodies of the UN are participating in maintaining peace and security, most notably the Security Council.
The main aim of the Security Council is to settle the disputes by peaceful means and methods in agreement terms, after the determination of the existence of a threat or an act of aggression (Chapter VII/UN Charter). Under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, the UNSC is allowed to enforce measures that can potentially lead to the restoration or maintenance of peace and security. The UNSC has the ability to apply, as part of its dispute settlement method, a wide variety of sanctions and, in extreme situations, even decide on international military mobilization.
UNSC Resolutions concerning the Iraq invasion: Pre-war
The UN Security Council adopted a plethora of resolutions concerning Iraq and, more specifically, the disarmament of the country and the maintenance of peace and stability in the gulf region. Two UNSC resolutions stand out due to their link with the invasion of Iraq by the US, the UK and other allied forces:
– UNSC Resolution 687: Adopted on 3rd April 1991 and reaffirmed previous resolutions on the subject. It called upon Iraq to adhere to obligations under the Geneva Protocol and to destroy any biological, chemical, or ballistic weapons with a range more than 150m. The UN created the United Nations Special Commission – UNSCOM (later United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission – UNMOVIC), in order to monitor Iraq’s activity on the matter, and Iraq was obliged to hand out reports to the Secretary General and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
– UNSC Resolution 1441: Adopted on 8th November 2002, it stated that Iraq had breached the ceasefire terms of UNSC Resolution 687, referred to constructing, purchasing and importing forbidden missiles and armaments. The resolution urged Iraq to comply with the inspections carried out by UNMOVIC and IAEA. It constituted a ”final opportunity to comply with (the UNs) disarmament obligations” and, if not, “serious consequences” would follow.
UNSC Resolutions concerning the Iraq invasion: Post-war
In an effort to stabilize the situation in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, the UNSC adopted a series of resolutions, the most important of which include:
– UNSC Resolution 1483: The UNSC concludes that the situation in Iraq consists of a threat to international peace and security. Therefore, the UN appoints a Special Representative in Iraq (Sergio Vieira de Mello), tasked with the coordination of humanitarian, economic and general reconstruction activities, side by side with the US and the UK. It also refers to the establishment of a representative government in Iraq, while recognizing the US and the UK as occupying powers of Iraq, who must abide by the obligations of occupying forces under the Geneva Conventions (1949) and the Hague Regulations (1907). UNSC Res. 1483 falls under Chapter VIII of the UN Charter, making it binding to all UN member states.
– UNSC Resolution 1500: Reaffirmed UNSC Res. 1483 by establishing the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), as well as the Iraqi governing council, that served under Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), led by the US. UNSC Res. 1500 reasserted the sovereignty of Iraq and the importance of the UN, as a service of humanitarian aid in the country.
– UNSC Resolution 1502: The attacks on the UN, allied and humanitarian personnel in Iraq, sparked concern, therefore the UNSC Res. 1502 emphasized on the existence of prohibitions on attacks against the UN personnel, as they are considered to be war crimes. The main goal of the Resolution was to ensure adherence to international humanitarian law for the benefit of the UN staff, but also reminded to UN workers the need to respect the laws of the country of operation.
– UNSC Resolution 1511: Upholded previous resolutions, such as SC/R/1483 and SC/R/1500, in demanding Iraqi sovereignty to be restored as rapidly feasible. Member states were tasked to decide whether the best course of action was the end of the occupation or its prolongation, in a temporary way. The latter was chosen, meaning an international presence in Iraq would now be authorized. The Iraqi governing council prepared for the drafting of a constitution, while the UNSC reassured the international audience about the CPA‘s temporary nature.
UN Conflict Management in Iraq: a hand of help or a push to further destabilization?
After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the UN was mobilized in order to restore peace and stability in the region, an aim solidified in its post-war resolutions. Indeed, despite the fact that the UN had no political involvement in the coalition provisional authority, it has played a major role as a humanitarian assistance factor. Its agencies supplied the Iraqi people with million tons of food and gallons of fresh water, following the invasion. Many UN networks have been utilized in the supply of medicine, school supplies, food and clean water, including the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), UNICEF, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). After the invasion, a fundraising organized by the UN and numerous countries, collected 870 million dollars for Iraqi humanitarian relief. The UN has also significantly contributed to peace restoration processes, through staff stationed in Iraq tasked with economic, humanitarian, and infrastructural rebuilding of the country.
On the other hand, the UN has been heavily criticized for UNSC Resolution 1441, which was used by the US as a tool of legitimacy for its 2003 Iraq invasion. The US and UK, based on internal intelligence evidence that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction, supported by US Foreign Minister Colin Powell in a presentation at the UNSC, declared that Iraq was in material breach of Resolution 1441 and commenced the invasion of the country. However, the evidence upon which the US and UK based their legitimacy have proven to be inexistent. Hans Blix, the head of UNMOVIC, complained that, even nowadays, the alleged evidence of WMDs in Iraq are yet to be presented to him. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, reported in 2004 that he was not in accordance with the invasion, stating that “(the invasion) was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal”. Colin Powell revealed in 2004 and 2005 that most of his presentation in front of the Security Council in 2003 was inaccurate.
Therefore, it is to the detriment of the UN and its principles that the situation was not deescalated correctly, and all the steps in the process of conflict resolution were not gradually utilized. The result led to a costly and lengthy conflict that inflicted deaths on both sides and destabilized the Gulf area, essentially resetting all previous UNSC resolutions calling for peace and stability in the region.
Borger, J. (2021). Colin Powell’s UN speech: a decisive moment in undermining US credibility. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.
MacAskill, E. & Borger, J. (2021). Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan. The Guardian. Retrieved from here.
MacAskill, E. (2021). Blix insists there was no firm weapons evidence. The Guardian. Retrieved from here .
Otterman, S. (2021). Iraq: The U.N. Role. Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from here.
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