Statement by Minister Cowen to Dail Eireann Part 2
A Cheann Comhairle
It is now nearly twelve years since the Security Council adopted Resolution 687 in April 1991 ordering Iraq to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. A series of Resolutions has followed. Economic sanctions have been imposed. Great hardship has been inflicted upon the Iraqi people. But there has still been no satisfactory response from the Iraqi leadership to the totally justified demands of the international community.
The result is that we now stand on the brink of a third Gulf War. The consequences of this war, if it takes place against all our wishes, could be very grave. Quite apart from the horrific human suffering likely accompany the outbreak of war, there is, of course, the risk of destabilising an already volatile region., support for terrorism could grow, and economies would suffer.
The Irish Government does not wish to see war take place. We have raised our voice and used our influence in every forum available to us to urge the need for a peaceful solution. We are determined to discharge our international obligations, both in trying to avert conflict and in carrying out the decisions of the Security Council.
Ireland's approach to this crisis is based on our long-standing commitment to international peace, justice, security and stability upheld by the rule of law, peaceful settlement of disputes, and respect for human rights. These are the principles which have informed Irish foreign policy under successive Governments ever since the foundation of the State.
Ireland is a strong supporter of the system of collective international security set forth in the United Nations Charter. We regard the United Nations as the centre of this system of collective security. We attach particular importance to the role of the Security Council as having primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. In carrying out its duties under this responsibility, the Council is acting on behalf of the entire membership of the United Nations. Under Article 25 all Members agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Council. This is a clear obligation on all States.
Iraq's continued defiance of the lawful decisions of the Security Council is a challenge to the authority of the Council and the legitimacy of the post-war international order. It undermines confidence in the rule of law and the efficacy of international arms control regimes. This defiance is ultimately as much a threat to international security as is the possession of weapons of mass destruction.
But the possession of these dreadful weapons is the immediate threat which must be dealt with. There should be no doubt that possession alone, regardless of whether there is a proven intent to use these arms, is a real and intolerable threat, as well as being banned by international treaties. There is nothing abstract about this. The Iraqi regime has initiated two major wars and used chemical weapons against both enemy soldiers and its own people.
Iraq has done all in its power to thwart the efforts of arms inspectors and to conceal its weapons holdings and programmes. The regime has spent vast sums of money, diverted a great part of its national effort, and subjected its people to severe deprivation, rather than cooperate sufficiently with inspectors.
The people of Iraq have suffered as a consequence of UN sanctions. Some countries, including Ireland have striven, with some limited success, to reduce the impact of these sanctions on the most vulnerable elements of society. The Iraqi authorities could have ensured the lifting of sanctions by cooperating with the inspectors. Instead, they sought to use the sanctions as a propaganda tool, disrupting revenue flows to the Oil for Food programme and failing to concentrate contracts on areas of greatest humanitarian need. They blatantly sought to buy political support for the ending of the sanctions by offering contracts for foreign oil companies. They sought the dismantling of the sanctions regime without complying with the resolutions of the Security Council.
What is the purpose of this determined and reckless stand, if not to intimidate and, perhaps once again, to coerce their neighbours and those who stand against them?
The authority of the Security Council must be upheld. Kofi Annan has said: “All countries have a clear interest as well as a clear responsibility to uphold international law and to maintain international order.” He could not have been more direct when he said, last September: “If Iraqi defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities.”
This has been clear from the beginning. In the debate which took place in this House on 24 July 1946 when Ireland decided to apply for membership of the United Nations, Eamon de Valera stressed that Article 25 contains a serious obligation and went on to say that Awe should be bound to take whatever action the Security Council should decide upon and to participate in the enforcement measures.” He then commented on the difficulties which would be created for the effectiveness of the UN where “nations want to have it both ways. They want to have the advantages of collective security and of avoiding obligations.”
Ireland long ago reached the decision that it would live up to its responsibilities as a country proud to be a member of the United Nations. We took this decision on grounds of principle, acting on the belief that nations can order the conduct of international relations so as deter aggression and remove threats to international peace and security. We also adopted this course on the grounds of national self-interest, knowing that the safety and prosperity of small countries in particular require an international order based on justice and law and respect for the less powerful.
The United Nations is a body committed to the maintenance of international peace and security, but it is not a pacifist organisation. The Security Council is empowered under Chapter VII of the Charter to determine the existence of any threat to the peace and to decide what measures are necessary to restore international peace and security. These measures may include the use of force, where sanctions and other means of pressure have failed.
No-one is under any illusion that military action provides a desirable solution. On the contrary, force must be used only as a last resort when all other means have been exhausted. Ireland very much wants to see a peaceful solution to this crisis. This is why Ireland together with our fellow members of the Security Council made such an effort to agree Resolution 1441 on 8 November last. This Resolution was adopted unanimously by all fifteen members of the Council, including Syria, an Arab State and Iraq's neighbour.
The Resolution brings the entire issue of the use of military force back within the framework of the United Nations. The Resolution gives Iraq a final opportunity to demonstrate that it has rid itself of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as it is required to do by successive Security Council resolutions. It is designed to avert war. However, the Resolution makes it clear that Iraq will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations. In other words, the risk of war can be avoided if Iraq complies fully with the terms of the Resolution. The decision is in Iraq's hands.
The Resolution sent the arms inspectors back into Iraq with a strengthened mandate to complete their task. It requires Iraq to make a complete and accurate declaration of all holdings of prohibited weapons or programmes to develop them and to cooperate fully in the implementation of the Resolution and with the arms inspectors. If Iraq should fail to meet these conditions, then the Security Council is to convene immediately to assess any alleged material breach of Iraq's obligations, to consider the situation arising, and to decide upon any further steps necessary to bring about full compliance with its Resolutions.
The Resolution does not specify that a further resolution is required to authorise the use of force. This would simply not have been acceptable to either Britain or America, both of whom hold veto power on the Council, and was 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. There is no international legal consensus on the validity of the different interpretations. There is no definitive position of the international community on what is still a hypothetical question. Regardless of the legal arguments which have been advanced on both sides, Ireland considers that there is an overriding political need for the Security Council to determine whether its Resolutions have been breached and to take a further decision on what measures should be adopted in response.
Resolution 1441 makes clear that any material breach of Iraq's obligations will come before the Security Council for consideration. We would hope that this would inhibit the use of force without a further decision of the Council. Deputies will recall that in the months before this Resolution was adopted, there was a widespread expectation of unilateral use of force by the United States. Today the issue is still before the Security Council and efforts continue in the Council to secure a peaceful solution in line with the terms set out in the resolutions. War can be averted and is not inevitable if Iraq finally divests itself of its weapons of mass destruction now.
Nevertheless, the Government's amendments to the motion before the House make clear that, in the event of military action being initiated against Iraq, either with or without further UN sanction, the Government, having reviewed the situation, will initiate a debate in this House on the position to be adopted by Ireland.
All of us in this House hope that military conflict can be avoided. It has to be said, however, that there is still some considerable way to go before this danger can be averted. On 7 December the Iraqi Government submitted their declaration on weapons of mass destruction to the Security Council. Two days ago, the arms inspectors made a report updating the Council on the progress of inspections. The report delivered by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Dr. Al Baradei, was fairly positive and took the view that Iraq does not have any current nuclear weapons programme. However, he did cite the need for more active Iraqi cooperation with the inspectors.
The report delivered by Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the main weapons inspection body, was far less positive and raised a number of serious questions. He pointed out that Resolution 1441 required Iraqi cooperation to be immediate, unconditional and active. He then made it clear that such cooperation had not been forthcoming. Dr. Blix reported that, in his own words, AIraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance - not even today - of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.” He went on to say that “Iraq has decided in principle to provide cooperation on process, notably access” but that “a similar decision is indispensable to provide cooperation on substance.”
He then listed a whole series of areas where the Iraqi declaration is incomplete or Iraq has failed to produce evidence to support its claims that it has destroyed weapons or that they are absent. He pointed out that it was for Iraq to produce credible evidence to this effect and not for the inspectors to prove the contrary. Among the discrepancies he listed were 6,500 chemical bombs containing 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent, holdings of VX nerve gas precursors, quantities of anthrax and 650 kilograms of bacterial growth media sufficient to produce 5,000 litres of concentrated anthrax, as well as numbers of Scud missiles and further missile development.
Iraq's account so far is simply not believable. And that is not acceptable. The arms inspectors are not in Iraq to play hide-and-seek with the authorities. They are there to verify that Iraq's claims to have disarmed are true and can be demonstrated. It is not the inspectors' job to search for evidence of Iraqi wrong-doing and deception. It is for the Iraqis to prove that they have in fact done what they claim to have done. The Iraqis were known to be in possession of well-documented quantities of weapons. Where are those weapons now? The sums have to add up. Dr Blix has made it clear that, as of now, they do not add up. Instead, there are glaring discrepancies.
The Iraqis are not being asked to do the impossible. They are being asked for normal documentary proof or, failing that, simple human testimony that they have actually destroyed these weapons. They cannot expect the rest of the world just to accept their word without a shred of evidence that these weapons have been destroyed. Nothing Iraq has done merits such trust.
It is deeply worrying that Iraq is not prepared to cooperate actively with the inspectors as it is required to do under Resolution 1441. But this is not new. Regrettably, the record shows that the regime in Baghdad responds only to the threat of military action in the face of further non-compliance. For that threat to be credible, it has to be real and visible. Kofi Annan himself, the Secretary General of the United Nations, who has done more than any other individual to prevent war, has made the same point. Only two weeks ago, he said: “I would want to make a distinction between pressure and the threat of use of force and the actual use of force .......... I think there is no doubt in anyone's mind that the pressure has been effective, that it has worked. Without that pressure, I don't think the inspectors would be back in Iraq today.” The military buildup in the Gulf has to be seen in that context.
We have all heard what the President of the United States had to say in Washington yesterday. Even those who disagree with him should be able to recognise his determination. War is avoidable. But the plain fact, evident it seems to everyone except the leadership in Baghdad, is that Iraq will no longer be allowed to evade its disarmament obligations. Anyone, however well intentioned or motivated, whose positions have the effect of encouraging the Iraqi leadership to believe that it can evade its disarmament obligations serves only to increase the likelihood of war.
I expect the arms inspectors to be given more time to test the willingness of the Iraqi authorities to cooperate fully and proactively with them. We consider that they should be given as much time as they reasonably claim to be both necessary and useful. It is also clear that the inspections will not go on for ever in the absence of progress and this was never envisaged. It should be for the Security Council to make a determination as to whether the exercise continues to be worthwhile. It is for Iraq to respond truthfully, effectively and promptly.
A Cheann Comhairle,
The Iraqi leadership pretends it can do nothing to stop an attack. This is not true. Saddam Hussein still has time to defuse this conflict, by accepting the rule of law and accounting for the extraordinary discrepancies in the record of Iraq's weapon holdings. It is time for him to end the evasion and special pleading; if not for the sake of the United Nations, then for the future and well-being of his own people.