IISS/CEPS European Security Forum, Brussels, 9 September 2002

Chairman's Summing-Up

by François Heisbourg

The European Strategy Forum addressed the prospective war with Iraq three days before President Bush's speech at the UN General Assembly. The topic was introduced by Ambassador Edward Djerejian, Andrei Zagorski and Marta Dassù

All the three paper givers, in their oral as in their written presentations supported a referral of the issue to the UNSC: Edward Djerejian thus recommended a "festina lente" approach, while Andrei Zagorski noted that Russia had learned a lot from the Milosevic precedent, and Marta Dassù remarked that the absence of a UNSC resolution would lead to a complete disruption of the legality of the use of force: Kosovo was an exception, two exceptions would be too much.

In the debate, much consideration was naturally given to the role of the UN Security Council. In this regard, three types of resolution could be considered in rising order of robustness:

It was generally noted that what counted for the Europeans, and possibly for Russia, was the very existence of a UNSC sanctioned decision, and that they would go along with whatever was decided, even if it went beyond their preferences in terms of the use of force. Similarly, there was a widely shared view that the UNSC had to be involved: the absence of UNSC involvement would undermine the UN's credibility more surely than its engagement (although the point was made that the UNSC's authority could be damaged if a resolution were seen as authorising regime change). There appeared to be no dissent with the view that the despatching of inspection teams to Iraq should not be "made hostage" to the fear that Bagdad could take them as hostages to pre-empt US-led operations.

Generally, the view was expressed that a resolution should avoid escape clauses, with a view to ensuring a rapid outcome. This point was made particularly strongly in the Russian case: Moscow had no interest in seeing the matter drag into the next Russian presidential election. Indeed Russia's particular role was underscored: a strong containment policy backed by Russia would have a different meaning than one in which Moscow would be a weak link.

Turkey's place in the confrontation with Bagdad gave rise to a number of remarks which went beyond the traditional – and correct – observation that Ankara's position would be of great importance. Thus, it was noted that there would be considerable opposition in Turkey to a truly federal system in Iraq, which could exercise a centrifugal effect in South-Eastern Turkey.

Post-war issues were also raised. What would be the status of US (or coalition) forces in Iraq after the war? What were the prospects for democratisation in Iraq? A number of participants made the observation that neither of these questions could be considered in a short term perspective. Indeed, post-war reconstruction would be a long term endeavour, with Western forces in a "Mac Arthur mode" (albeit on a smaller scale) rather than delegating rapidly in an indirect rule "Sykes-Picot" mode. One participant styled the post-war force as a big ISAF, not confined to the capital. Europe's role would be substantial in any long haul reconstruction effort.

In terms of a possible war, differing views were held, with one American participant putting the question of alternatives (ranging from deterrence to intrusive inspections). If war did occur, some considered that it could happen as soon as December, possibly after the end of Ramadan (7 December).