February 24, 2003
The events of the past three weeks have brought us closer to war in Iraq but they also signal a whole set of conflicts that could confront the international community. US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation at the Security Council, the testimony of Hans Blix as well as the head of the IAEA on Iraq’s cooperation with the inspections as well as the status of its weapons programmes, and the efforts of the French and Germans in particular to head off war indicate that the international community is faced with the prospect of not one but rather several crises. What should India do in these circumstances?
The first crisis clearly is over war in Iraq. The United States seems set to go to war. War can only be avoided if Iraq does a turnaround and cooperates “Grade A”, South Africa-like, with the inspectors or if Saddam Hussein goes into exile or is ousted. Indeed, both might be necessary in order for George W. Bush to hold back the dogs of war.
Neither seems likely to happen. Grade A cooperation means that Iraq should positively — not grudgingly — lead the inspectors to the offending items or prove that it has destroyed them. It apparently does not want to or cannot do either. Saddam’s exile or ouster is a tad more likely, but even here the signs are not encouraging. Either the Iraqi leader has made up his mind to go down with his ship or he still thinks that war can be averted, perhaps because the international community will split over war and will therefore be paralysed. No one in Iraq seems capable of showing Saddam the door.
The second crisis that is brewing is over the fate of the United Nations. The US and other key members of the Security Council have fallen out badly over Iraq. The tone of the US administration and press indicates that there is an alarming disenchantment over the UN and a willingness to go it alone in Iraq. The acrimony is being reciprocated, particularly in France and Germany. Bush has warned that the UN may slip into “irrelevance”. If the US pulls out of the UN, it will more or less collapse. This cannot be in anyone’s interest, yet it increasingly looks like a possibility.
The third crisis that is brewing is within the West — in NATO and within the European Union. The crevasse that is opening up between the UK and the new European powers, on one side, and “old Europe” represented by France, Germany, and Belgium, on the other side, as they line up for and against US policy threatens to break both NATO and the EU.
This too is not in anyone’s interest. The continued existence of NATO and EU is important. The two organisations bring together former Cold War adversaries and contribute to the economic development and therefore stabilisation of the former communist countries of eastern Europe. They also embed Germany in Europe, which is vital. There are many, still, who do not want to see a powerful Germany outside of an institutional framework for Europe.
The fourth crisis is over the issue of inspections and disarmament. If there is ever to be global disarmament, then something like the inspection system in Iraq may well be required. The experience with that country suggests, though, that there are rather serious impediments to carrying forward a thoroughgoing verification process.
If we think that this is a non-problem because there are no serious efforts at disarmament, we should think again. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) prohibit the production and stocking of both types of weapons of mass destruction. How shall we be sure that states have truly divested themselves of these weapons if not by inspections? If Iraq cannot be made to live up to its obligations, there are those who will conclude that they too can get away with it. This also is not in the international community’s long-term interest.
Fifth, there is a humanitarians crisis brewing, which concerns the ordinary people of Iraq who will be innocent victims in any war — victims of wayward bombing and victims of Saddam’s obduracy. Whether the occupation that follows will bring them relief is unsure as well. There may be serious social and economic problems in the wake of war.
India’s positioning, pronouncements and policies on the situation over Iraq have not been terribly impressive. We should not be party to supporting everything the US does, but it does not make sense to drive the US into a corner. Let’s also not be too quick to identify France and Germany as the good guys when they are making matters worse by some singularly foolish diplomacy. Finally, there is no point repeating, ad nauseam, that every state is entitled to do whatever it wants in respect of its security (that is, Saddam has a right to his weapons of choice) and that everything must be done by the book (that is, the UN must sanction force against Iraq and nothing else will do).
In the light of the five crises identified here, New Delhi should have taken a more active role. It could, even now, lead an initiative to bridge differences and to avoid war. Instead of sitting placidly on the sidelines watching the fun, India, first of all, should be urging its American and European friends to stop squabbling in public and risking the future of international institutions such as the UN, NATO and EU. We must urge constructive discussions between them and a greater emphasis on private diplomacy so that neither side is locked into unyielding positions.
Secondly, New Delhi should lead or be part of a group that frankly and firmly urges Saddam to abdicate along with his family. This group must, in addition, unequivocally demand that Iraq immediately and under a new ruler provide Grade A inspections access and cooperation. Saddam’s departure and a comprehensive inspection process will save the Iraqi people from further misery and may go some way to protecting the future of disarmament.
India cannot be content to lie low when there is so much at stake. We are disowning a legitimate role in the international community if we think that some tactical sidestepping will suffice.
(The author is professor of international politics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
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