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Success worth noting in Iraq

The Bush administration offered two reasons to wage unilateral war in Iraq – Saddam Hussein was stockpiling vast quantities of weapons, and efforts to contain him through sanctions and inspections were hopeless. The more time passes, the more it appears that both arguments were wrong. Not only are the weapons probably not there, but a decade of international import restrictions, UN arms inspections and US military deterrence look far more effective than once thought. That is a crucial lesson for Americans to digest at a time when other countries dream of building biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and when the risks of waging preventive war on the basis of faulty intelligence have become so starkly evident.

In response to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and its defeat the next year by an American-led military coalition, the UN Security Council imposed oil export restrictions, a ban on the import of weapons and potential weapons ingredients, and a series of disarmament requirements to be monitored by aggressive international inspections.

None of the measures worked exactly as intended. All were met with Iraqi deceptions and resistance. Oil export sanctions were evaded with increasing success. UN inspectors were repeatedly obstructed and often felt threatened. They were withdrawn in advance of American bombing strikes in 1998, and not permitted to return until 2002. Yet the totality of these measures, particularly the prohibitions on importing weapons and their ingredients, now appears to have worked surprisingly well, apparently persuading Saddam that he would never be able to rebuild his weapons programs so long as sanctions remained in effect. That was exactly the message Washington wanted to send.

The most crucial sanction banned the import of all prohibited weapons and of any ingredient that could conceivably be used to make them, including many items that also had consumer and medical uses. To reinforce this arms embargo, Iraqi oil exports were initially banned. Then, under the oil-for-food program, oil revenues were channeled through a UN bank account, so that Saddam could not use them to purchase prohibited weapons material on the black market.

The case of Libya also illustrates the effectiveness of sanctions. Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s renunciation of his weapons programs was not simply – perhaps not even principally – a reaction to the American invasion of Iraq. It came in response to years of painful economic pressure through sanctions, along with diplomatic assurances that changed Libyan behaviour could bring relief. President Bush emphasised this point after Libya announced its decision, telling other pariah countries that they too could rejoin the world economy and international community if they gave up their unconventional weapons programs. Clearly spelling out the steps needed to win relief from sanctions can motivate at least some countries to change their offending behaviour.
Sanctions are hardly a perfect tool. They hurt innocent civilians, require broad international enforcement and work best when backed up by effective inspection arrangements. – New York Times


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