France and Germany may be working on a new proposal to block military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. While the U.S. government has not been given the details, European news reports suggest France will propose a tripling in the number of inspectors, and the deployment of as many as 1,000 U.N. troops to expand the game of hide and seek.
On the Sunday TV talk shows, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice both termed such a plan “a diversion” from the real issue of Iraq’s noncompliance with its obligation to disarm.
But the idea of sending U.N. troops to Iraq is far more dangerous than a “diversion.” It must be considered within the framework of France and Germany’s main objective, which is to prevent the U.S. from imposing a regime change in Iraq that would remove Saddam from power. Both European states have financial ties to Saddam’s regime which would be jeopardized if Iraq were liberated. Business interests which had collaborated with the brutal dictatorship would not be in the good graces of a new government representing those who had been oppressed. France has the larger exposure involving oil, but Germany has been a major trading partner to Iraq and is thought to have provided goods used by Baghdad in its weapons programs. A thorough postwar examination of Iraq’s dealings with Paris and Berlin could be very embarrassing.
U.N. troops deployed to support the arms inspectors would never have a mandate to overthrow Saddam. At best, they might help in finding a few more small caches of illegal weapons, but they would pose no threat to the regime. Thus, they are not a substitute for the troops of an American-led coalition. Instead, they would be a barrier to the employment of effective outside military pressure. As “peacekeepers” they would form a “thin blue line” standing between the coalition forces and Saddam. For all practical purposes, the U.N. troops would be serving as Saddam’s bodyguards.
Besides fulfilling the narrow interests of Paris and Berlin in protecting Baghdad, the deployment of U.N. troops to block American action would leverage French and German power. Neither country has the means to play the role they once did on the world stage. Their sluggish economies and atrophied military forces are no match for the United States, and they know it. But, if they can manipulate the United Nations in a way that contains Washington, then they will have shifted the balance of power in their favor despite inferior positions.
The Bush administration must keep focused on the need to change the regime in Iraq as the only sure way to end Baghdad’s threat to the region. The U.N. will never explicitly endorse such a course of action, even if there is a new resolution authorizing the use of force. Washington will inevitably be required to do the job on its own volition, with a coalition of states operating outside the formal U.N. process. The U.S. aim must be to move the U.N. out of the way, and deny France and Germany a platform for further machinations.
— William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national-security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council, Washington, D.C.