Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Brian Cowen TD, on Iraq, Dáil Éireann, 11 February 2003
Last Saturday Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, focussed everyone's thinking. He said: “War is always a human catastrophe - a course that should only be considered when all other possibilities have been exhausted, and when it is obvious that the alternative is worse.” He went on to say: “We all - and first and foremost the leaders of Iraq itself - have a duty to prevent it if we possibly can.”
In the course of the same address, Kofi Annan stated that there is no substitute for the unique legitimacy provided by the Security Council. He emphasised, as he had said when the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441 last November, that “if Iraq fails to make use of this last chance and continues its defiance, the Council will have to make another grim choice. The Council must face up to its responsibilities.” He then stressed that the Security Council “always does so best and most effectively when its members work in unison.”
The position set out by Kofi Annan is entirely consistent with the position taken by the Government from the outset of the current standoff. In a few days' time, the Security Council will hear a report from the chief weapons inspectors on steps Iraq has taken to disarm. In considering these reports, the Council may need to take deep and serious decisions if they show that this response falls short of what is required.
Resolution 1441 decided that Iraq was already in material breach of its obligations under earlier resolutions. Despite this, it afforded Iraq a final opportunity to come into compliance. Iraq was required to provide an accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects of its weapons programmes. Any false statement or omission, together with failure to cooperate, would constitute a further material breach and would be reported to the Council for assessment.
The resolution also decided that Iraq should provide the arms inspectors with unconditional access to sites and persons. It directed the Heads of the arms inspection teams to report immediately any interference or failure to comply. The Council was to convene immediately upon receipt of such a report. The resolution then recalled that the Council had repeatedly warned Iraq that it would face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations. The resolution did not, however, provide automatic authorisation for military action; rather, did it deliberately place the threat of serious consequences in the context of the circumstances surrounding the reconvening of the Council.
At the same time, it did not specify that a further resolution was required to authorise the use of force. This would simply not have been acceptable to either Britain or America; given their veto powers, it was simply not attainable. These two countries have long held the view that earlier Security Council resolutions already mandate the use of force, and that no further authorisation is required.
Last Summer, there were those who said that a unilateral military strike against Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom without reference to the United Nations was imminent. This did not happen. Instead, President Bush brought the issue back to the United Nations. I warmly welcomed this step, for which the great majority of Members on the Security Council, including Ireland, strongly argued.
After lengthy and intensive debate, in which Ireland took an active and constructive part, agreement was reached on resolution 1441. This left the issue firmly within the framework of the Security Council. This is where Ireland wants to see the issue dealt with, and where any further decisions should be taken.
Resolution 1441 also offered the best prospect of achieving our three principal objectives. These are to obtain Iraq's voluntary compliance with its disarmament obligations, to avoid a military conflict, and to uphold the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.
The first objective is disarmament. This is the key to peace. If this is done, there will be no cause for war. In April 1991, the Security Council adopted resolution 687 requiring Iraq to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. Twelve years passed during which Iraq made no effort to comply. On the contrary, Iraq has used every means at its disposal to conceal its weapons, to obstruct the arms inspectors, and to thwart the will of the international community. This is a regime which launched two wars in the past, and has used poison gas against its neighbour and its own people.
The second objective is to avoid a military conflict. We absolutely believe that force should be used only as a last resort, when every other possibility has been tried and failed. No one can have any illusions about the consequences of conflict. Nobody in this Dáil or in this country wants to see a war take place. As firm advocates of the United Nations, we all want to see Iraq comply as required by Security Council resolutions so that this matter can be settled peacefully.
The overriding purpose of the United Nations is to prevent conflict. But the United Nations also faces up to the reality that the use of force may sometimes be necessary. As Kofi Annan consistently points out, the UN founders were not pacifists. Chapter Seven of the Charter empowers the Security Council to decide on the measures needed to remove any threat to the peace.
We have made very clear our hope that the Security Council would not be placed in a position where it would have to contemplate such a decision. But Iraq must realise that it cannot repeat its mistakes of January 1991, when it tried to deceive and outwit the United Nations.
The third objective is to preserve the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. Ireland has always been a totally committed supporter of the system of collective security, with the United Nations and the Security Council at its very centre.
It is now up to Iraq to discharge its obligation under Article 25 of the Charter, whereby all UN Members agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.
As the Secretary-General has emphasised: “All countries have a clear interest as well as a clear responsibility to uphold international law and to maintain international order.” Ireland accepted this commitment as long ago as 1946 when we applied for UN membership.
The Government have spoken out and used our influence at every opportunity, in every forum and in all our meetings and contacts to urge the need for a peaceful solution. We have insisted that all means short of force must be tried, and that force may be used only as a very last resort. We have repeatedly warned of the dangers which would inevitably result from military conflict. We have called attention to the threat of large-scale loss of life, casualties and human suffering. We have pointed to the risk that conflict could destabilise a region which is already volatile. We have pointed out that extremists and terrorists would seek to exploit growing tensions between the Moslem world and Europe and the United States. We have spoken of the possible disruption of economic growth. We have laid particular emphasis on humanitarian concerns, as we always have in such circumstances. We have sought and obtained confidential briefing from the UN Secretariat on the extensive plans they are making to deal with a possible humanitarian crisis. We maintain regular contact with the key UN relief agencies, and we are ready to take part in a Humanitarian Conference on Iraq to be held in Geneva on 15-16 February at the initiative of the Swiss Government.
Most recently last week, I conveyed these views to President Bush's special envoy on Northern Ireland, Ambassador Richard Haass.
It is our strong view that the inspections should continue as long as the inspectors themselves and the Security Council consider that they serve a useful purpose. At the same time, we recognise that the inspections cannot continue for ever. The question of increasing the number of inspectors has been raised. But, as Hans Blix has pointed out, the real issue is not the number of inspectors, but whether Iraq is willing to cooperate actively with them.
The report delivered by Dr. Blix to the Security Council on 27 January was disturbing and raised a number of serious questions. In particular, he conveyed that Iraq had not come to a genuine acceptance of disarmament, and was not cooperating satisfactorily on substance.
Dr. Blix set out a whole series of areas where the Iraqi declaration on its weapons programmes was incomplete or unsubstantiated. The Iraqis, for instance, were known to be in possession of well-documented quantities of weapons. It is clearly up to Iraq to produce evidence to back its claim that it has destroyed these weapons, and not for the inspectors to prove the contrary. Among the many discrepancies Dr Blix listed were 6,500 chemical bombs, holdings of VX nerve gas precursors, and quantities of anthrax.
It is deeply worrying that Dr. Blix has reported that Iraq is not prepared to cooperate sufficiently on the substance of the issues with the inspectors. Regrettably, the regime in Baghdad seems to respond only to the threat of military action. For that threat to be credible, it has to be real and visible. Kofi Annan reinforced this point when he distinguished between pressure and the actual use of force - as he put it, “ there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the pressure has been effective. Without that pressure, I don't think the inspectors would be back in Iraq today.” This thought was also voiced by Hans Blix when he said “ that diplomacy needs to be echoed by force sometimes, and inspections need to be backed by pressure.” The military buildup in the Gulf has to be seen in that context.
Dr Blix and Dr El Baradei were in Baghdad over the weekend. They report that some progress was made, which is welcome, but that much more is needed. We all hope that there will be further major progress in the remaining days.
Ireland has repeatedly stated its view that if Iraq continues in its non-compliance, a second Security Council resolution should be adopted. The arguments as to whether a second resolution is a legal necessity are a distraction from the real point. 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.
The report which Dr. Blix and Dr. El Baradei will make to the Security Council on Friday will be crucial to all further consideration in that forum. It will be equally central to our consideration at EU level on Monday. This will start with a meeting of Foreign Ministers, and continue that evening at Head of State and Government level. We, as a Union, will have by Monday individually and collectively to weigh up the chief inspectors' statement. This will be a difficult and an awesome challenge. No assessment of the way forward can or should be made until the facts are available. It is not a question of avoiding our responsibilities, but of treating with the utmost seriousness one of the most important documents to come before the Security Council of the United Nations.
On Friday, and over the weekend, the Government will be engaged in studying the chief inspectors' report, and will be in active contact with our EU partners. The objective of our meeting on Monday is to try and form a common position on the way forward, based on the chief inspectors' report. But it will not be easy, and may well not be possible. There are, unfortunately, openly different positions at this stage, including between the EU representatives on the Security Council. And I am equally concerned about the space that has opened up between many in Europe and the United States, which is in nobody's interests.
But there is also much that unites us. We must not forget that during our term on the Security Council, all members, including Syria, voted unanimously in favour of resolution 1441. There is total agreement on what Iraq has to do to meet its obligations. It must disarm, and it must do so proactively. A united Security Council has conveyed this message. The Arab League has done so, as have Iraq's neighbours.
And it has been clear that in the absence of compliance the Security Council will have to, as Kofi Annan has put it, assume its responsibilities.
And finally, and crucially, to quote again from the Secretary General's address in Williamsburg on the 8th February, "there is also universal confidence in the two chief inspectors, Dr. Blix and Dr. ElBaradei." It is around their report next Friday that a consensus should be crafted. This inevitably, as with any fine political judgement, will require a degree of compromise and flexibility all round, while being anchored in the reality that resolution 1441 was not, and cannot be a mandate for endless excuses and prevarications.
After the inspectors again report, the Security Council, in particular, carries an immense burden of responsibility. It must in the immediate future seek to reach a common understanding on the answers to three questions:
(i) What precisely does Iraq now have to do to meet the demands of the Council?
(ii) How long does it have to do it?
(iii) And how will the Security Council discharge its responsibility if Iraq does not comply?
It is in all our interests - those of Ireland, those of Europe, those of the United States and those of the United Nations itself - that a consensus on these points be reached following Friday's report.
As we did during our own term on the Council, the Government will play its full part in the effort to forge that consensus , both in Brussels on Monday and thereafter. Top