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Rebuilding relationships

Sir Timothy Garden examines the political impact of the Iraq campaign and ways forward for all institutions involved.


From war to peace: Even in victory, disagreements
remain over the role of international institutions in post-
war Iraq
( Crown Copyright)
The rapid military victory by American, Australian and British forces, with limited support from a few other nations, has left a wider reconstruction task than just rebuilding Iraq. The diplomatic damage in the run-up to the war has caused deep divisions between old allies. These rifts were reinforced as nations decided whether to give tangible support to the military operation. Now in the post-conflict phase, disagreements have simmered over the role of international institutions in nation-building in Iraq.

Yet the need for a coherent international approach has rarely been more important. The threat from al-Qaida-linked terrorism has not gone away. The Middle East is still an area of potential conflict. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction remains a problem, particularly as North Korea abandons international restraints to develop its own nuclear capability. In looking for paths to renewed cooperation between old allies, the European Union and the United Nations both have critical roles to play in helping mend fences. And NATO can take a lead in engaging the key national players as they seek greater security in the world.

United Nations

When historians look back at the past year, they may conclude that the tactical success in bringing the United Nations into the debate over a war in Iraq was a strategic mistake. The diplomatic process, which eventually achieved a unanimous Security Council vote for UNSCR 1441, encouraged many to believe that the United Nations was in the driving seat for policy towards Iraq. But US President George Bush had also made it clear that he believed: "The world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions. But the purposes of the United States should not be doubted."

The United States was impatient for decisive action; the United Kingdom wanted UN authority for military action; France and Germany led the call for more time for the inspection process. The attempt to achieve a further resolution to give explicit authority for military action was unsuccessful. Hard bargaining by the United States failed to achieve the necessary nine votes, and, in any event, France made it clear that, if necessary, it would exercise its veto. The United Kingdom and the United States opted to use UNSCR 1441, and previous resolutions on Iraq, as their authority for military action.

This failure of diplomacy has had a series of unfortunate consequences. In the United States, antipathy towards the United Nations has increased. In answer to President Bush's question on the future of the United Nations, many in his administration had their beliefs in its irrelevance confirmed. Although unexpectedly countries like Canada and Mexico had taken a tough stand in the Security Council, the anger was directed at France and Germany. Both American and British politicians chose to use anti-French feelings in the run-up to the conflict as a way to deflect public interest from the issue of whether military action was legitimate. Russia has also remained unconvinced by the rush to war. Moreover, questions about the legitimacy of the intervention refuse to go away as the search for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction has failed to yield the proverbial "smoking gun".

The United Nations, nevertheless, has a major role to play in legitimising whatever form of government emerges in Iraq. It must eventually verify that weapons of mass destruction are no longer there. It can draw on its expertise for dealing with humanitarian needs, making the battlefields safe, and encouraging the involvement of non-governmental organisations. Selling Iraqi oil to provide for the people will need UN endorsement. The near unanimous agreement by the Security Council on UNSCR 1483 on 22 May 2003 is perhaps the first sign that the international community is ready to move forward together in a more coherent way over Iraq, whatever the previous differences.

European Union

While world leaders were publicly falling out at the United Nations in New York, the dispute within the European Union was rather more refined. The Greek Presidency, Foreign Policy High Representative Javier Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten had all expressed the European Union's preference for a diplomatic rather than an early military solution to Iraq. Yet the embryonic common foreign and security policy mechanism could do little to paper over the wide division among EU members. Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom eagerly backed the US push for military action. At the end of January, their leaders, together with those of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, signed a joint letter published in The Wall Street Journal expressing that support. Belgium, France and Germany strongly opposed the rush to war.

In a more complex set of divisions, the prospective new members of the European Union were brought into the dispute. The declared coalition of 44 countries supporting military action comprised Afghanistan, Angola, Albania, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Uzbekistan. This gave rise to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's unfortunate characterisation of a division between "Old Europe", represented by France and Germany, and "New Europe" drawn from grateful Eastern European states. French President Jacques Chirac added fuel to the flames by suggesting that pro-US candidate countries were "badly brought up", and hinting that their EU membership applications might need reviewing.

EU optimists hope that the crisis over Iraq policy will promote a greater push towards coherent European foreign policy positions. Some small hopeful signs emerged even during this turbulent period. The European Union took over the modest but important stabilising mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* from NATO on 1 April 2003. If this goes well, there is an expectation in the longer term that the European Union will progressively take on greater responsibility for peacekeeping in the Balkans. Despite the megaphone diplomacy between London and Paris over Iraq, some reinforcement of their joint push for a more serious European defence capability could be seen during the meeting between UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Chirac at Le Touquet, France, in early February.

EU pessimists point to the lack of progress in providing the military capabilities which Europe needs. After initial enthusiasm to allocate standing forces to meet the Helsinki Headline Goal - that is to be able to deploy, within 60 days, a force of up to 60,000 troops for humanitarian, crisis-management, peacekeeping and peace-making operations - little seems to have happened to provide extra funds for the missing enabling capabilities. The latest agreement to proceed with procuring 180 A400M transport aircraft is but a small step. Iraq has also taken its toll in highlighting the divisions over a key foreign and security policy issue. At the end of April, Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg held an exclusive summit to look at how they might develop the EU defence capability. Their proposal for an independent planning headquarters deepened suspicions that this was an initiative designed to separate European countries from NATO.

It is too early to judge how important these different strands will be in the longer term. The European Union has an opportunity to use the Convention on the future of Europe to move defence and security policy forward. However, few analysts believe that progress will be rapid or coherent. Despite rhetorical support from many European countries for the US strategy in Iraq, only Poland and the United Kingdom provided any military capability of significance. For the operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, the overwhelming fighting capability was provided by the United States. There is a danger that many European nations may decide that they can get by in any future coalition operations with support on a level with Micronesia and the Solomon Islands. This will not be good for the future of the European Union.

NATO

The diplomatic machinations over Iraq were also bruising for NATO, even though the Alliance was not directly involved in the campaign. Divisions among Allies led to virtual paralysis within NATO on the issue of authorisation for planning for the defence of Turkey in the event of a conflict in Iraq. The diplomatic temperature rose as Belgium, France and Germany saw themselves being pressured into giving a stamp of approval for early US moves on Iraq. To general surprise, Turkey eventually chose not to allow ground operations to be launched against Iraq from its territory and, in the event, there were no attacks by Iraq on Turkey. Nevertheless, the concern in NATO was real and the public name-calling between members damaging.

While injured feelings will doubtless heal with time, Iraq reinforced questions about NATO's future. The Alliance has achieved remarkable successes during the past decade in ending conflict and helping bring stability to Southeastern Europe. And NATO enlargement has helped bring greater stability to Europe. Yet NATO is still working to its 1999 Strategic Concept, which appears increasingly dated in the light of recent events. The United States published a new national security strategy in September 2002 in the light of the new threats from terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But few relish the thought of the arguments that would arise in any attempt to update the Alliance's Strategic Concept.

At last year's Prague Summit, the commitments by member states to a new NATO Response Force seemed to be accepting that the Alliance needed to be able to spearhead high-intensity operations in distant parts at short notice. NATO is already working well beyond its traditional area of focus. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan has drawn on NATO support since Germany and the Netherlands took command of its operations. Despite differences over Iraq, NATO members have agreed that the Alliance should take responsibility for ISAF for the longer term. Afghanistan remains a problem and a force of 5,000 in Kabul is inadequate to promote the rule of law throughout the country. This could be a task for a much-enlarged NATO peacekeeping force in the longer term. As Poland looks for backers to join the United Kingdom and the United States in providing security within Iraq, the obvious solution is to draw on NATO capabilities and expertise. There is more than enough to do in post-conflict stabilisation tasks.

There remains a tension between the practice of deploying NATO on post-conflict tasks, and the rhetoric of successive Alliance summits, which look for the most modern war-fighting capabilities. Some analysts suspect that the United States sees NATO as a useful forum to encourage individual members to update capabilities. This then allows coalitions of the willing to be built through bilateral arrangements. The NATO role becomes little more than setting equipment standards and sharing military doctrine. Lessons drawn from the Iraq campaign itself will undoubtedly reinforce the importance of precision weaponry and network-centric warfare. Yet investment in these capabilities may be at the expense of the troops that are so vital to winning the peace after the fighting is over.

Future paths

As tempers cool, leaders will need to work at rebuilding key international institutions

As tempers cool, political leaders will need to work at rebuilding these key international institutions. The United Nations plays many roles and has survived previous quarrels among key members. It will have to become re-engaged in Iraq. The European Union also has more to bind it together than just foreign and security policy. It has much work to do on its own programme of enlargement. Yet it cannot put off forever the development of a coherent approach to international affairs. Only as a regional actor can it expect to be taken seriously by the United States. What the European Union still has to decide is whether it wants to work at the hard power end of the spectrum. At the meeting of EU foreign ministers on Rhodes, Greece, on 2 May 2003, the idea that High Representative Solana should begin developing a security doctrine received broad support.

Without new strategic thinking, collective EU defence efforts will at best remain focused on the so-called Petersberg Tasks, that is on humanitarian, rescue, peacekeeping and crisis-management tasks. Some nations will continue to want to be able to project military power independently or as contributors to transitory coalitions. NATO may then have greater difficulty with its own role. If it is not needed for intervention operations like Afghanistan or Iraq, then initiatives to generate modern war-fighting capabilities will seem less urgent. After its successes in Southeastern Europe, its future may come to be seen as more concerned with post-conflict security work than with the tasks appropriate to a NATO Response Force.

Many fear such a division of labour across the Atlantic, which would broadly find Europe cleaning up after US interventions. Without serious strategic thinking by the European Union and NATO, this may be the outcome. The United States with a few allies would produce the hard war-fighting capability when needed (and preferably when sanctioned by the United Nations); NATO would provide a peace-enforcement force for immediate post-conflict problems; and the European Union would be left to police and rebuild shattered societies. A more balanced sharing of global security responsibilities must be a better route. If the European Union develops its new strategic concept to include the use of hard power, then it can work with NATO to ensure that the United States is not left to police the world on its own.

Sir Timothy Garden is a visiting professor at the Centre for Defence Studies, King's College London.

 For more writing by Sir Timothy Garden, see Foreign and Security Policy by Tim Garden at http://www.tgarden.demon.co.uk

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* Turkey recognises the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.