Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 236

The UN Security Council approved a resolution on December 17 which, in principle, dissolves the council’s long stalemate over policy toward Baghdad and could also return UN arms inspectors to Iraq. But, despite claims of a triumph in Washington and London, the fact that four Security Council members–Russia, China, France and Malaysia–chose to abstain from the vote appeared to weaken the authority of the resolution and the likelihood of its conditions being observed by Baghdad. The lack of unanimity on the council, some vague wording contained in the resolution’s text and problems sure to accompany the process of establishing the administrative mechanisms set out in the resolution also suggest that UN policy toward Iraq will remain hotly contested in the weeks and months to come. If so, that could mean that the tensions over Iraq which have riven Security Council members for a year now–ever since last December’s U.S. and British airstrikes on Iraq–will continue unabated, albeit perhaps in a different form, despite the approval of the December 17 resolution.

Russia, not surprisingly, remained at the center of last week’s contentious vote, though it was France’s unexpected and last minute shift in position which probably did the most to weaken the December 17 resolution. Moscow has long been Baghdad’s most fervent supporter on the Security Council. But its unwillingness to back a British-Dutch draft resolution–one which Washington supported and which was winning increasing support among Security Council members–appeared to put Moscow on the hotseat as pressure built for the council to at last end its long deadlock over Iraq. The pressure was increased by the fact that France, which together with China had consistently lined up behind Iraq, was reported to have shifted its position and agreed to back the British-Dutch draft. Even if it had done so, Russia and China would most likely still have abstained from the December 17 vote. But, among the five permanent UN Security Council members, they would have been in the minority and their abstention would have strengthened the authority of the resolution ultimately approved in the council vote. As it is, the United States and Britain are in the minority, and face the difficult task of making the resolution stick.

At least some Security Council members were reported to have been angered by France’s last minute change of position and by the more general decision of it, Russia, China and Malaysia to abstain from the vote. The Dutch ambassador to the UN, Peter van Walsum, criticized the four countries for having dragged out negotiations over the original resolution and then for having failed to vote in favor of one much weakened precisely in order to accommodate their objections. “Rarely have so many concessions gone so unrewarded,” he was quoted as telling the council (Reuters, December 18).