Minister Cowen: Statement to Dáil Éireann on the situation regarding Iraq - 1
A Cheann Comhairle
On behalf of the Government, I am glad to have this opportunity to respond to the debate and to comment on the points which have been made by Deputies. Before that, however, I would like to place on the record once again the core elements of the Government's position, and to underline the factors which have led us to adopt the position we are taking on overflights and on the use of Shannon Airport by the United States.
That we stand on the verge of military conflict is both a tragedy and a failure. A tragedy, because any conflict, no matter who its protagonists may be, and no matter how worthy or unworthy its aims, brings suffering and death to combatants and to civilians. A failure, because for twelve years, and as restated by Resolution 1441, the objective of the international community has been the complete disarmament of Iraq by peaceful means.
Our failure has been a collective one, in that it is through the United Nations that the nations of the world seek to act together to maintain international peace, stability and security. The credibility and prestige of the United Nations has suffered a heavy blow through the inability of the Security Council, so impressively united in the autumn, to agree on an appropriate way forward.
The permanent members of the Security Council have a particular weight and authority within the United Nations. It is deeply regrettable, therefore, that they have been unable to work together to agree a path to the disarmament of Iraq without resort to force. It would be neither useful nor appropriate to speculate as to whether, if this or that had been done differently, it would have been possible for them to agree. But the absence of a common approach among the permanent members left the Security Council without a clear compass by which to navigate. The international machinery of the United Nations is only effective when there is clear leadership from those Member States entrusted with the heaviest responsibilities. The Secretary General has played a quite outstanding role in seeking to build and encourage this consensus, but his capacity to do so is ultimately defined by the willingness of the member states to facilitate his efforts.
It is a matter of the greatest regret to Ireland that the Iraqi crisis has now reached a point where military conflict has begun. This is exactly the outcome which we had worked to avoid during our time on the Security Council and since. The Government have consistently opposed the use of force, except as a last resort after all other possible means have been tried and failed.
A Cheann Comhairle
Ireland was a member of the Security Council when it unanimously adopted Resolution 1441. The Resolution states clearly that Iraq's non-compliance with Council Resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses a threat to international peace and security. Nevertheless, it offered Iraq a last opportunity to bring itself into compliance.
The Resolution then warned Iraq of serious consequences. Regrettably, Saddam Hussein made no genuine effort to convince the world of the seriousness of his intentions to disarm. Instead, he engaged in the games-playing and brinkmanship which have been his favoured tactics for more than a dozen years.
Ireland has repeatedly stated its view that if Iraq continued in its non-compliance, a second Security Council resolution should be adopted. We believe that this is what should have been done. The United States and Britain have long held the view that earlier Security Council Resolutions already mandate the use of force, and that no further authorisation is required. They are now acting on this belief. It is clear that there is no generally accepted view on the validity of the different interpretations and it is unlikely that agreement on this point can be reached.
The compelling political reality is that a second resolution would signal the unity and resolve of the international community, and the clear legitimacy of any subsequent military action. Ireland would have been prepared to support a Resolution of the Security Council to enforce its decisions, had that been agreed. I would recall that we urged the Member States of the Council to consider three questions. These were: What precisely did Iraq have to do to meet the demands of the Council? How long did it have to do it? And how would the Security Council discharge its responsibility if Iraq does not comply?
Today, at the end of all these long months of debate, these three questions remained unanswered. Unfortunately, by the time the Member States were ready to address them, the dye was cast in terms of the depth of disagreement within the Council for compromise to be possible between them.
This entire crisis has arisen as a result of Saddam Hussein=s persistent defiance which has continued over seventeen Security Council Resolutions and a period of twelve years and follows upon two wars and one million casualties.
We hope that this coming conflict will be short. The participants in the military action against Iraq must take every care to see to it that the use of force is as limited and proportional as possible.
We look to those engaged in the conflict to minimise casualties, in particular among civilians. They will be well aware of their responsibility to respect international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
The humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people was a major factor in the Government's approach to the issue of Iraq during Ireland's term on the Security Council.
The Government strived to bring about a situation where the Iraqi economy was normalised to the extent possible, given the need to ensure that Iraq did not rearm and that it met its disarmament obligations. That such a situation was not brought about in 2001 was primarily the fault of the Iraqi regime itself.
Nonetheless, Ireland as a Council member continued to work hard, with others, on this issue, and these efforts paid off with the adoption of resolution 1409 in May of 2002, which provided that all non-military goods – not just food and medicines - could be freely imported to Iraq, with the exception of potential dual-use goods.
The Government have expressed our views and used our influence on every occasion, in every forum and in all our meetings and contacts to urge the need for a peaceful outcome. We have stressed that all means short of force must be tried, and that force may be used only as a very last resort. We have repeatedly called attention to the dangers entailed in military conflict. We have pointed to the threat of large-scale loss of life, casualties and human suffering. . We have laid particular emphasis on humanitarian concerns. We have signalled the risk that conflict could destabilise an already volatile region. We have warned that extremists and terrorists would do all they could to exploit tensions between the Moslem world and Europe and the United States. We have spoken of the possible consequences for economic growth.