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Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No. 40, March 1, 2003

The Iraqi Crisis: the Moment of Truth.
Russia Could Initiate a Principally New Approach in the Present Situation

By Alexei Arbatov

Alexei 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 international terrorism.

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?


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.


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 power engineering.

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?


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 export restrictions.

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 that long.

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.


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 these operations.

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 delivery vehicles.

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.


See also:

Situation Around Iraq

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, No. 40, March 1, 2003

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