The UN Security Council and the Iraq war

From Academic Kids

This article is about the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. For more information on this particular part of the topic, see Support and opposition for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In March 2003 the US government announced that "diplomacy has failed" and that it would proceed with a "coalition of the willing" to rid Iraq of its alleged "weapons of mass destruction". The 2003 Iraq war officially started a few days later.

Prior to this decision, there had been a good deal of diplomacy and debate amongst the members of the UN Security Council over whether there should be a war in Iraq. This article examines the positions of these states as they changed over the period 2002-2003.

Prior to 2002, the UN Security Council had passed sixteen resolutions on Iraq. In 2002, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1441 on Iraq unanimously. In 2003, the US, UK, and Spanish governments proposed another resolution on Iraq, which they called the "eighteenth resolution" and others called the "second resolution". This proposed resolution was subsequently withdrawn given not enough countries would have supported it. If it had been passed it would have become Resolution 1442.

On September 16, 2004 Kofi Annan the Secretary General of the United Nations called the invasion of Iraq illegal. He cited the lack of a Security Council resolution explicitly authorizing the war. [1] (


Positions of Security Council members

  • United States - The US maintained that Iraq was not cooperating with UN inspectors and had not met its obligations to 17 UN resolutions. The US felt that resolution 1441 called for the immediate, total disarmament of Iraq and continued to show frustration at the fact that months after the resolution was passed Iraq was still not disarming.
  • United Kingdom - Within the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom was the primary supporter of the U.S. plan to invade Iraq. Tony Blair, the British prime minister, publicly and vigorously supported American policy on Iraq, but was perceived by some to exert a moderating influence on the American president George W. Bush. British public opinion polls in late January showed that the public support for the war had fallen to about 30%, although by March it had risen above 50%. Britain supported the proposed UN resolution on Iraq.
  • France - On January 20, 2003, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said, "We think that military intervention would be the worst possible solution," although France believed that Iraq may have had an ongoing chemical and nuclear weapons program. Villepin went on to say that he believed the presence of UN weapons inspectors had frozen Iraq's weapons programs. France also suggested that it would veto any resolution allowing military intervention offered by the U.S. or Britain, even if a majority of the U.N. Security Council members voted for it. Britain and the U.S. sharply criticized France for this position in March, 2003. De Villepin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov garnered unusual applause inside the chamber with their speeches against the war.
  • Germany - On January 22, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder at a meeting with French president Jacques Chirac said that he and Mr. Chirac would do all they could to avert war. At the time, Germany was presiding over the Security council.
  • Russia - On the same day, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that "Russia deems that there is no evidence that would justify a war in Iraq." On January 28, however, Russia's opinion had begun to shift following a report the previous day by UN inspectors which stated that Iraq had cooperated on a practical level with monitors, but had not demonstrated a "genuine acceptance" of the need to disarm. Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that he would support a US led war if things did not change and Iraq continued to show a reluctance to completely cooperate with inspection teams. However, Putin continued to stress that the US must not go alone in any such military endeavor, but instead must work through the UN Security Council. He also stressed the need for giving the UN inspectors more time.
  • China - The People's Republic of China supported continued weapons inspections. On January 23, the Washington Post reported that the Chinese position was "extremely close" to France's.
  • Angola - Angola supported continued inspections, but had not taken a stand on disarmament by military action.
  • Bulgaria - Bulgaria suggested that it would support the use of military force to disarm Iraq, even without UN backing.
  • Cameroon - Cameroon encouraged the continued inspections, but had not taken a firm stand on whether or not the country would support a US led strike to invade Iraq.
  • Chile - Chile indicated that it would like inspections to continue, but had not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.
  • Guinea - Guinea supported further inspections, but had not taken a position on the use of military force to disarm Iraq.
  • Mexico - Mexico supported further inspections, and indicated that it would support a US led military campaign if it was backed by the UN. The country hinted that it might consider supporting a military campaign without UN backing as well. President Vicente Fox heavily criticized the war when it started.
  • Pakistan - Pakistan supported continued inspections.
  • Syria - Syria seemed to feel that Iraq was cooperating and meeting its obligations under UN resolutions. Syria would have liked to see UN sanctions on Iraq lifted.
  • Spain - Spain supported the US's position on Iraq and supported the use of force to disarm Iraq, even without UN approval.


According to Britain, a majority of the U.N. Security Council members supported its proposed 18th resolution which gave Iraq a deadline to comply with previous resolutions, until France announced that they would veto any new resolution that gave Iraq a deadline. However, for a resolution to pass a supermajority of 9 out of 15 votes are needed. Only four countries announced they would support a resolution backing the war.

In the mid 1990s, France, Russia and other members of the U.N. Security Council asked for sanctions on Iraq to be lifted. The sanction were criticized for making the people suffer and being the cause of a humanitarian catastrophe [2] (

Many people also felt that many of the governments that had aligned themselves with the US, despite strong opposition among their constituencies, did so because of their own economic ties to the United States. The United States used strong pressure and threats against other nations to attempt to coerce nations on the Security Council to support them. For example, Mexican diplomats complained that talks with American officials had been "hostile in tone", and had shown little concern for the Mexican government's need to accommodate the overwhelmingly antiwar sentiment of its people. One Mexican diplomat reported that the US told them that "any country that doesn't go along with us will be paying a very heavy price." [3] (

The Institute for Policy Studies published a report [4] ( analyzing what it called the "arm-twisting offensive" by the United States government to get nations to support it. Although President Bush described nations supporting him as the "coalition of the willing", the report concluded that it was more accurately described as a "coalition of the coerced." According to the report, most nations supporting Bush "were recruited through coercion, bullying, and bribery." The techniques used to pressure nations to support the United States included a variety of incentives including:

  • Promises of aid and loan guarantees to nations who support the U.S.
  • Promises of military assistance to nations who support the U.S.
  • Threats to veto NATO membership applications for countries who don't do what the U.S. asks
  • Leveraging the size of the U.S. export market and the U.S. influence over financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
  • Deciding which countries receive trade benefits under such laws as the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which, as one of its conditions for eligibility for such benefits, requires that a country does "not engage in activities that undermine United States national security interests".
  • Deciding what countries it should buy oil from in stocking its strategic reserves. The U.S. has exerted such pressure on several oil-exporting nations, such as Mexico.

At a press conference, the White House press corps broke out in laughter when Ari Fleischer denied that "the leaders of other nations are buyable".

In addition to the above tactics, the British newspaper The Observer published an investigative report revealing that the National Security Agency of the United States was conducting a secret surveillance operation directed at intercepting the telephone and email communications of several Security Council diplomats, both in their offices and in their homes. This campaign, the result of a directive by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, was aimed primarily at the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan. The investigative report cited an NSA memo which advised senior agency officials that it was "'mounting a surge' aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies' - the 'whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to US goals or to head off surprises'."

The authenticity of this memo has been called into question by many in the US and it is still unclear as to whether or not it is legitimate. [5] (,6903,905899,00.html) The story was carried by the European and Australian press, and served as a further embarrassment to the Bush Administration's efforts to rally support for his war. Wayne Madsen, who was a communications security analyst with the NSA in the 1980s, believes that the memo is authentic, and believes that this memo was aimed at other nations who are part of the Echelon intelligence network, namely Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Additionally, a member or Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Katharine Gun was charged under the official secrets Act in connection with the leaking of the memo. She stated her intention to plead not guilty on the grounds that her actions were justified to prevent an illegal war. The prosecution declined to present any evidence at her trial.

Clare Short, a UK cabinet minister who resigned in May 2003 over the war, stated in media interviews that British intelligence regularly spied on UN officials. She stated that she had read transcripts of Kofi Annans conversations.

Colin Powell's presentation

On February 5, 2003, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell presented a case for military intervention in Iraq to the UN Security Council. Here follows an overview of Mr. Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council.

Missing image
Computer-generated image of an alleged mobile production facility for chemical weapons. Absence of more substantial proofs undermined the credibility of the speech on the international scene. Russian experts have always questioned the likelihood of such mobile facilities, which are extremely dangerous and difficult to manage.

Mr. Powell presented an array of evidence from satellite images to (alleged) intercepted military communications and computer-generated images depicting mobile chemical weapon production systems (the likelihood of these mobile systems have been questioned by experts, notably Hans Blix). By the United States government's own judgement, the evidence did not amount to a "smoking gun." US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld argued that if the US waited for a smoking gun, it would be too late.

The Iraqi government continued to claim that they had no weapons of mass destruction and were fully cooperating with UN Resolution 1441.

Mr. Powell also sought to draw links between Iraqi officials and the Al-Qaida terrorist network, particularly terrorist interest in Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

After Powell's speech, polls showed increased support for war against Iraq in the US. See American popular opinion of war on Iraq. Governments of other countries showed they were not convinced by Powell's speech and argued that when the US documents were made available to UN weapons inspectors those would be able to confirm the accusations. Shortly afterwards a document allegedly proving Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger was proven to be a forgery, cf. September Dossier. See also Operation Rockingham.

The complete text of the presentation is available at the U.S. Department of State (

Report of Hans Blix on February 14

See for a detailed report. UN Chief Inspector Hans Blix presented on February 14 a report to the UN Security council. Mr. Blix gave an update of the situation in Iraq, and he stated that the Iraqis were now more proactive in their cooperation. He also rebutted some of the arguments proposed by Mr. Powell. Mr. Blix questioned the interpretations of the satellite images put forward by Powell, and stated that alternate interpretations of the satellite images were in fact credible. He also stated that the Iraqis have in fact never received early warning of the inspectors visiting any sites (an allegation made by Mr. Powell during his presentation.) International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohammed ElBaradei also said that he does not believe the Iraqis have a nuclear weapons program, in disagreement with Mr. Powell.

This report of February 14 and the protests of February 15 appear to have created reluctance in some of the members of the Security Council over the war on Iraq. A second resolution was being drafted with the intention that it would find Iraq in "material breach" and the "serious consequences" of resolution 1441 should be implemented.

UN weapons inspector Blix expressed skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent in Time magazine. Blix said he found it "a bit odd" that Iraq, with "one of the best-organized regimes in the Arab world," would claim to have no records of the destruction of these illegal substances. "I don't see that they have acquired any credibility," Blix said. "There has to be solid evidence of everything, and if there is not evidence, or you can't find it, I simply say, 'Sorry, I don't find any evidence,' and I cannot guarantee or recommend any confidence."

Report of Hans Blix on March 7

The transcription of his oral report in front of the Security Council can be found at there is also a Real Video file of the report.

Eventually the war started without a further resolution, which was seen by many governments throughout the world as a breaking of international law. A similar event had taken place once before when Russia had vetoed the intervention in former Yugoslavia. However, that intervention was later justified by a UN Security Council resolution.

See also

External links


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