Global Policy Forum

End UN Sanctions Against Iraq


By David Cortright and George A. Lopez

Los Angeles Times
August 20, 1999

This month marks the beginning of the 10th year of U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq. Sanctions were put in place first in response to the invasion of Kuwait and then to end Iraq's weapons development program, but it is time to suspend them. Whatever accomplishments that occurred under U.N. Security Council Resolutions 661 and 687 have been achieved by now, and the costs of sanctions to the Iraqi people and the U.N. itself far outweigh the current gains.

Resolution 687, passed at the end of the Gulf War, specified eight criteria that had to be met by the Iraqi government in order to have sanctions lifted. No sanctions-enabling resolution since then has had such specific and varied specifications, and no country has been as ostracized from the international community by sanctions as has Iraq. A sober assessment of Resolution 687 reveals that much has been accomplished, and almost all of it within the first half of this decade. In November 1993, Baghdad accepted the creation of permanent U.N. monitoring facilities on Iraqi territory to verify the destruction of weapons of mass destruction. The equipment and personnel were installed in early 1994 and the U.N. Special Commossion, or UNSCOM, was able to establish baseline data on Iraq's weapons capabilities and monitor future compliance with the weapons elimination program. UNSCOM succeeded in eliminating much of Iraq's nuclear, ballistic missile and chemical weapons capability, albeit with very little help from the Iraqis.

Baghdad also accepted the findings of the U.N. Boundary Demarcation Commission and declared its irrevocable and unqualified recognition of the sovereignty of Kuwait and the redrawn international borders. As is widely known, the inspection teams had good reason to doubt Iraqi compliance in the area of production of biological and germ agents. This led to the late-1998 crisis, the end of UNSCOM's missions and the December bombings undertaken by the United States and Britain. But maintaining sanctions will not lead to the return of an UNSCOM-like inspection team. Whatever Iraqi threat exists, U.N. members will need to rely on what all states do about worrisome neighbors: a system of general military deterrence.

As successful as Resolution 687 has been in securing Kuwaiti borders and stifling much of Iraqi weapons production, its humanitarian costs have been severe. Although the exact extent of disease and death attributable to sanctions and the proportion to conscious policies of the Iraqi regime is the subject of substantial debate, there can be no argument that sanctions have generated a major humanitarian crisis. For the West and the Security Council not to end them now appears increasingly punitive and discriminatory. But there is much at stake for the U.N. and its members beyond repairing this tragic humanitarian disaster. The U.N. is charged with a dual mandate: to guarantee peace and security and to enhance the human condition. Never before have those two goals been at such odds as in the case of Iraqi sanctions. The tension has created a sanctions fatigue within the U.N. and has nearly destroyed the fragile Security Council consensus regarding sanctions that opened the decade.

Acknowledging what has been accomplished, recognizing the need to respond to the humanitarian crisis by restoring Iraq to the trading group of nations, and being secure in a system of working deterrence of Iraqi weapons and ambitions all point to the utility of suspending the general trade sanctions. While various options have been discussed, two key components would comprise the foundation for a suspension: The trade sanctions portion of the sanctions would be suspended, thus permitting the Iraqis to import oil production and refining technologies, food and medicines. And an "outer wall" of sanctions on military materials and major dual use technologies and goods would be strictly maintained.

A U.N. commission would be created to negotiate the issues of Kuwaiti property. The same moral high ground that rightly argued for U.N. sanctions against Iraq in 1990 now demands their suspension. Where Iraq's actions in 1990 warranted being ostracized from the international community via sanctions, the need now is to create the conditions necessary for responding to the tragedies that sanctions have wrought, and to engage Iraq again with the international community.

David Cortright is President of the Fourth Freedom Forum. George A. Lopez is a Fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame.

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