Global Policy Forum

Suspend Sanctions Against Iraq


By David Cortright and George A. Lopez

Los Angeles Times
August 27, 1999

Goshen, Indiana - Economic sanctions were put in place first in response to the invasion of Kuwait and then to end Iraq's weapons development program. It is time to suspend them. Accomplishments under Security Council Resolutions 661 and 687 have been achieved by now, and the costs of sanctions to the Iraqi people and the United Nations itself far outweigh the current gains. Resolution 687, passed at the end of the Gulf War, specified eight criteria 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 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 UN 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 UN Special Commission, 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 little help from the Iraqis. Baghdad accepted the findings of the UN Boundary Demarcation Commission and declared its irrevocable and unqualified recognition of the sovereignty of Kuwait and of the redrawn borders. 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 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, UN 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. The exact extent of disease and death attributable to sanctions and the proportion attributable to conscious policies of the Iraqi regime are the subject of substantial debate, but there can be no denying 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 United Nations and its members beyond repairing this humanitarian disaster. The United Nations 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 United Nations 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. The trade sanctions portion of the sanctions should be suspended, thus permitting the Iraqis to import oil production and refining material, food and medicines. An ''outer wall'' of sanctions on military materials and major dual use technologies and goods should be strictly maintained.

Mr. Cortright is president of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana, and Mr. Lopez is a fellow at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies of the University of Notre Dame.

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