Arbatov, a Yabloko parliamentary faction member, is Deputy
Chairman of the State Duma Defence Committee.
The situation around Iraq has entered a final pre-war stage.
For the whole world, the moment of truth is at hand. The outcome
of the crisis is set to determine both regional and global politics
for years to come, with repercussions ranging from relationships
among the leading powers to the prospects of global law and order,
to the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and fighting
Serious experts are convinced that the United States can rout Iraq's
army in a matter of weeks, paralyse its system of state leadership,
eliminate or oust Saddam Hussein and his cohorts and overrun Baghdad.
The problem lies elsewhere: What will be done in the aftermath of
the military operation and the fall of the ruling cabal? Who will
cater to the basic necessities for the population? Who will maintain
law and order and stability against the exacerbated political, ethnic
and religious strife, which is inevitable in the wake of the collapse
of a totalitarian regime? The US clearly prefers dramatic aerospace
operations to reconstruction, peacekeeping and law enforcement,
leaving it to others to clear up the mess on the ground, as was
the case in Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Afghanistan. Will many volunteer
to handle that in Iraq when America's chief allies, Muslim partners,
Russia and China are all opposed to Washington's war plans and a
powerful anti-war movement has overwhelmed Europe and the US for
the first time since the early 1980 protests against US missile
deployments in Europe?
ZONE OF LAW AND ZONE OF ARBITRARINESS
The military operation has the potential to defeat its officially
proclaimed objects. The socio-political chaos and an explosion
of Islamic fundamentalism would be the ideal breeding ground for
a new onslaught of international terrorism – while the cohesion
of the counter-terrorist coalition that emerged in the wake of
September 11, 2001 would have been compromised in the process.
Iraq might emerge as a veritable mecca for all terrorists, to
say nothing of terrorist acts against the US and its allies. The
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and missile
technologies would gain fresh impetus from reactions to the threat
of further US military action, perhaps against Iran or North Korea.
Neighbouring countries such as Israel, Pakistan, India, China,
Taiwan, South Korea or Japan will respond by creating or expanding
their own arsenals of similar weapons.
Iran's relative regional influence will see sharp growth, while
pro-American regimes in Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan,
Egypt and Turkey may be undermined.
It is common knowledge that Iraq is ruled by one of the most brutal
dictatorships of our time. That said, the vexed question is what
should the civilised world community do about this regime?
Destroy it just because it's generally "bad" or put value
judgements to one side and concentrate instead on preventing concrete
threats that it evokes?
If the former is chosen, what kind of international law mandates
that Iraq be punished? More generally, who is empowered to pass
judgements on bad judgements and mete out punishments and on what
criteria? In addition to Iraq, there are plenty more countries in
Asia, Africa and Latin America that could be held to account for
the kind of things Iraq is now facing. Does that mean that it is
necessary to embark on a crusade against them all and bring them
all down by force of arms? And subsequently, implant democracy and
a welfare state there? If anything, there are no grounds for everybody
to follow the zigzags of Washington's likes and dislikes – such
a strategy would require a serious transformation of international
law and the mechanisms for its implementation.
Going by the second alternative, however, UN Security Council resolutions
provide a strong legal basis for the matter. In keeping with this
alternative, military action against Iraq is by no means justified
under the present conditions. A shortage of convincing facts to
demonstrate Iraqi violations of UN sanctions cannot be regarded
as proof of concealment by Iraq of relevant activities, which warrant
the use of force against the country. One valid conclusion can be
drawn from this matter: continue weapons inspections without the
right to deny their access for Hussein.
Nothing short of sabotage of the inspections on Hussein's part or
an attack on neighbouring countries or foreign armed forces deployed
in the region could possibly constitute a warrant for the use of
force and regime change by the outside world. Even then, military
action against Iraq would have to be sanctioned by a specific UN
Security Council resolution.
If the United States were to strike at Iraq without convincing
and legitimate grounds, even a downfall of the Hussein regime
would have regional and global repercussions well beyond the level
of danger emanating from Baghdad right now. For that matter, under
the tough present regime of sanctions and inspections Iraq is
probably the least offensive nation regarding the threat of WMD
and their proliferation.
TACTICS OVERSHADOW STRATEGY
On balance it would appear that non-proliferation and counter-terrorism
are not the only concerns for the US in the Iraq issue. In addition
to domestic commitments and general global ambitions, Washington's
prime objective seems to consist in creating a pro-American regime
in Iraq as a major regional political and military counterbalance
to Iran. The latter still remains an insurmountable obstacle to
the assertion of US hegemony in the region. Iran grows stronger
year by year and US pressure, however intensive, has failed to
sever Tehran'scontracts with Moscow on arms deliveries and nuclear
Further, Washington will definitely bet that world oil prices
will fall after a change in the Baghdad regime and that Iraq's
oil valve will be opened. By the same token, the US hopes to weaken
OPEC and lessen its dependency on Saudi Arabia's petroleum.
But what do Russia's goals consist in - and what must they be?
Up until now Moscow has been engaged in fairly skilful multilateral
diplomacy, but the strategy and priorities behind the shrewd tactics
seemed rather obscure. It looks as if Russia is trying to simultaneously
preserve its good relations with the US, France and Germany, Iraq,
plus the nebulous future Baghdad leadership too, if ever it comes
to succeed the present one. Further developments, however, may
render Moscow's various interests incompatible, forcing it to
come down on one side of the fence or the other. For instance,
it is going to be partnership with the US or prevention of a military
strike against Iraq; a special relationship with Washington or
continued policy coordination with Paris and Berlin; maintaining
ties with Hussein or asserting Russia's interests after a likely
regime change; commitment to the ultimate goal of the lifting
of UN sanctions against Iraq and keeping world oil prices high.
Admittedly, managing the crisis politically rather than militarily,
strengthening the UN and global law and order, WMD non-proliferation
and rallying the anti-terrorist coalition are all noble goals of
a high order. Russia also has other, more pragmatic interests, such
as recovery of Iraq's debt, managing the impact of renewed Iraqi
crude exports on world oil prices and developing the West Qurna
field Hussein has promised. But how exactly do these goals affect
the situation in the Persian Gulf and the Security Council?
RUSSIAN INTERESTS VULNERABLE
Excluding the unpredictable contingencies of Hussein's voluntary
departure, self-imposed exile, a military coup in Baghdad, different
development scenarios are possible. One is already being enacted:
the US and Britain have distributed a draft of a new resolution
at the UN Security Council which effectively gives them carte
blanche to launch a military operation on the basis of existing
insufficient evidence of Iraqi violations. Understandably, Russia
can't vote in favour. Voting against, that is, vetoing the resolution
if France and the People's Republic of China (the other two veto-wielding
permanent Security Council members) abstain, would mean directly
defying the US and reviving confrontation with the US. Then clearly
unilateral military action against Iraq would be mounted, which
Russia would be in no position to forestall politically, let alone
militarily. Hussein would fall rapidly, while the new regime would
be loathe to honour either the debt, the oilfield pledge or crude
In the process, Washington would eventually reach a deal with its
allies, China would stand aside and Islamic countries would be confronted
individually, some with carrots, others with sticks. Russia would
lose everything it had gained in relations with the US since September
11, 2001, which would inevitably affect its relations with the West
as a whole.
In this case, Moscow would do well to abstain, although that
is a weak position that would be detrimental to Russia's prestige.
However, the negative consequences for relations with the US and
the new regime in Iraq would not be nearly as great, particularly
if the resolution did garner a majority in the Security Council.
Of course, it cannot be ruled out that France and/or China may decide
to veto the resolution irrespective of Russia. In that case, Russia's
relationship with the US would suffer less damage.
A unilateral launch of a military operation by the United States
and its allies without any additional UN Security Council resolution,
in one sense, offers an easier way out for Russia, as it would
be spared the vote dilemma. Officially, Moscow would condemn the
US military action, as it did when the US withdrew from the ABM
Treaty and took steps to expand NATO, but to all practical purposes,
Russia's immediate costs would be lower. If the war proved speedy,
Washington would be interested in Moscow's assistance in post-war
settlement and reconstruction. If the operation bogged down and
things span out of control, the US would be all the more anxious
for Russia's help and would be prepared to trade off other issues
in the relationship.
Russia's economic interests in Iraq should be explained in greater
detail. Here, it seems, the prospects are dim in any case. If sanctions
against Baghdad were lifted, whether under Hussein or after the
regime change, Iraqi oil exports would pick up and Russia's budget
would lose its main source for the budget surplus. If there were
a war, this would not happen until the oil wells had been rebuilt
in a few years, whereas if sanctions were ended, it wouldn't take
What is more, Iraq's foreign debt amounts to 62 billion dollars
and neither Hussein nor his successor would be in any particular
hurry to pay off the Russian share. The West could write that
much off Russia's own debt in exchange for the latter's support
on the Iranian issue, but the United States is not Russia's main
creditor and Germany and other major creditors are reluctant to
lose money to pay for dubious American campaigns. Anyway, Russia's
losses from lower oil prices would be much greater than the 7-billion-dollar
debt recovered. As to the oil field, Hussein's motivation for
its transfer to Russian companies was clearly political, rather
than economic, which is why the deal was broken off in late 2002.
No one can be convinced that he or another Baghdad leaders would
have preferred Russian firms to Western rivals in peacetime.
DIFFERENT TACK NEEDED
What, then, is Russia to do about this double bind? It would appear
that a more worthwhile solution would involve Moscow quitting its
diplomatic manoeuvring and taking instead the initiative (and the
responsibility) of a radically new approach to tackling the issue.
Namely, a special UN Security Council resolution is to sanction
an expansion of weapons inspections in Iraq, moving them to a long-term
footing, using every technical means available.
To ensure the inspectors' activities (including protection against
acts of terrorism), an appropriate international military force
would be stationed in Iraq (this idea has already been put forward
by France and Germany in general terms). To guarantee that Hussein
remains compliant, an international task force would be deployed
in the Gulf area on a long-term basis. If anything, the cost of
its upkeep would be less than the financial costs of war by an order
of magnitude. Insofar as possible, Russia should take part in all
Furthermore, the Iraqi army must be reduced drastically, limited
in terms of its composition and armaments and placed under international
control, as must the secret police. The same holds true for Iraq's
industry, which may be involved in the manufacture of WMD and its
In this kind of conditions, Iraq would not represent a threat even
after the lifting of sanctions. Hussein would not become a "hero"
and "martyr" in the eyes of the world's Muslims.
On such a basis the anti-terrorist coalition, including the moderate
Muslim states, could rally together, the international-legal and
institutional basis for counter-terrorism would be strengthened
and political, military and intelligence cooperation in this area
among nations would increase. This would reinforce the WMD non-proliferation
regime and prevent terrorist access to such weapons.