UN must put Bush, Blair in their place

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 12:00am

The lessons of conflict resolution are clear - war is the final option, to be turned to only when all others have been tried without success. This is the view of a chorus of nations alarmed by the United States-led military build-up against Iraq.

China and Russia on Thursday joined France, Germany, Canada and Middle Eastern nations in opposing pre-emptive action to overthrow Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Growing protests are amplifying the sentiment - the world does not want an unjustified war.

Beijing's view is that only peaceful means should be used to resolve the issue of disarming Iraq. The United Nations Security Council, not one single nation or an alliance, must decide the action.

A legal process was put in place by UN resolution 1441. It stipulated that Iraq must provide full details of its suspected programmes for producing weapons of mass destruction and co-operate with and provide unfettered access to UN arms inspectors.

China, like the nations it has allied itself with, maintains that the inspectors must be given a proper chance to search Iraq and to interview scientists involved in weapons projects.

That process is under way and an initial report by the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, will be given to the Security Council on Monday. The report is a formality, not a trigger for war.

The weapons inspection process will take time, and for now is far from complete. It may take as long as a year.

If that process determines Mr Hussein has failed to fully comply with the Security Council's demands, further action must then be taken. Iraq cannot be allowed to possess weapons which are a threat to its neighbours. Only when this option has been exhausted can the discussion turn to military means.

Yet the US, Britain and now Australia have made up their minds that Mr Hussein is not co-operating and are applying pressure through emotional rhetoric and a military build-up in the Gulf. By mid-February, as many as 150,000 troops could be in place.

US President George W. Bush and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair are not obliged to listen to world opinion or even their citizens in military matters. They were chosen to make decisions on behalf of those who elected them.

Moving tens of thousands of military personnel to the Gulf does not mean they have eventually to be engaged in a war. The presence of such a formidable force also sends a message to Mr Hussein that he must honour his obligations to the UN.

Mr Bush is using the excuse of disarming Iraq to fulfil his goal of regime change. He insists military means are the only way that this can be achieved.

This is not a decision for Mr Bush or any other government, but for the Iraqi people. That Mr Bush is willing to make such a decision, knowing full well that possibly thousands of Iraqi civilians could be killed as a result, shows a callous disregard for life.

The issue before the UN is Iraq's illegal weapons programmes. It, not the US, Britain or any other country, must make a decision on behalf of the world.

For now, war is not one of its options and it must make this plain to Mr Bush and Mr Blair.