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Consensus of the coerced

Published : Mar 28, 2003 00:00 IST



The United States is using brazen forms of bribery, coercion and outright bullying to recruit support for its war on Iraq, demolishing in the process its claim to a moral consensus.

IT has become increasingly apparent that the United States and Britain face an uphill task in constructing even a remotely persuasive case for invading Iraq. Iraq's recent actions (in particular, its serial destruction of Al-Samoud 2 missiles) and Unmovic chief Hans Blix's pronouncements have undermined the (always feeble) argument against giving the U.N. inspectors more time.

On March 6, Blix said that Iraq is now cooperating "a great deal more" in providing evidence about its weapons programmes and he would "welcome more time" for inspections. He added that Iraq had become "active, even proactive" in addressing disarmament issues, albeit under military pressure. Blix also said: "Everyone agrees that (the Iraqis) have a much, much smaller capability than they had in 1991" when they were last attacked by a U.S.-led force, and that Iraq is now involved in "real" and "very fine disarmament", he said.

Secondly, the Anglo-American powers have failed for weeks to muster support for their "second resolution", introduced in the Security Council, beyond the original four co-signatories (including Spain) and Bulgaria, a problem-ridden former Warsaw Pact state under a compromised leadership, which is extremely susceptible to external pressure because it is desperate to join NATO and the European Union. No one buys the U.S.-U.K. notion of "automaticity" - the rather preposterous view that Resolution 1441, passed in November, automatically mandates the use of force against Iraq.

And third, the force of global public opinion, which even The New York Times described as the world's "Second Superpower", has made itself felt in a variety of ways both among the decision-makers of the Coalition of War-Mongers, wrongly termed the Coalition of the Willing, and in states that oppose immediate recourse to war, as well as the "fence-sitters" or the "Middle Six" in the Security Council, comprising Angola, Cameroon and Guinea from Africa; Chile and Mexico from Latin America; and Pakistan from Asia.

It is a tribute to the immense moral power of global civil society, and the intensity of the continuing protests by hundreds of thousands since February 15 in countries as varied as Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines and New Zealand, that war on Iraq has become a source of acute unease and embarrassment for sections of the U.S. establishment and an object of derision and ridicule for millions of people all over the globe. Even the Pope opposes it strongly and has refused to dilute his stand despite "audiences" with Tony Blair and Jose Maria Aznar.

Opinion polls from different countries, including states that are ardent supporters of war (for instance Japan) confirm that an overwhelming majority of the population opposes it. If the U.S. still launches a military strike, it will inaugurate what will probably be the most unpopular and most protested-against war in history.

Recognition of this has encouraged the Russians to lend increasingly firm support to the Franco-German alternative proposal for inspections. On March 5, France, Russia and Germany issued a joint declaration affirming that they "will not allow" the passage of the "second resolution". A day earlier, the BBC reported that if any of the Permanent Five in the Security Council resorts to a veto, then not only France and Russia would use their veto power together, but even China would join them. Since then, Reuters has reported from Beijing, quoting Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, that "China endorses and supports [France and Russia's] joint statement."

This probably puts paid to U.S. plans to isolate France by persuading Russia and China not to block the "second resolution", formally or otherwise. Russia, with its diffident, pro-U.S. Putin leadership, and China, under a cautious policy of keeping a distance from globally contentious issues, may yet change their stand. But that would probably happen only if the U.S. and Britain were to offer a "compromise" of sorts.

Such a compromise seems to be very much in the making - despite Secretary of State Colin Powell's assertion on Russia's ORT television that "the U.S., with or without U.N. support, will lead the coalition... to disarm Iraq by force". Britain is reportedly considering amending the latest resolution. And U.N. sources have been quoted as saying that Britain and the U.S. will try to persuade other Council members that if they authorise military action, there would still be a "window" before force was actually used. The likely compromise would give Saddam Hussein "an ultimatum" with "a very short deadline" and set out "precise tasks" to "demonstrate his sincerity" in disarming.

Whether or not such a compromise is proposed, and irrespective of whether it succeeds in papering over Security Council fissures, the very fact that the issue has arisen shows how little, and how poorly, the world's sole Superpower is able to persuade the global public, indeed even states, to its position. The U.S. - and the U.K. - is increasingly shifting from the argument that Iraq's disarmament of mass-destruction weapons is imperative, to the even more unconvincing argument that what is required is "regime change" - because Saddam Hussein is a tyrant. This justification for war is deeply contradictory. It makes no sense to expect Hussein to disarm if war on Iraq is inevitable irrespective of what he does. (Thus, it is understandable that his Scientific Adviser warned that the Al-Samoud destruction process would be conditional upon the absence of active hostility).

This further intensifies Tony Blair's already acute dilemma. He has even less justification than George W. Bush, whether morally based or realpolitik-based, to go to war on Iraq. His disastrous popularity ratings - an unprecedented minus-20 - make him extremely vulnerable and his job very insecure. The vote of 122 Labour MPs against him in the Commons (along with nearly 80 others) only highlights the fact that he is becoming a liability for his party. Amidst growing popular opposition to war, Blair desperately needs a second resolution. But it increasingly appears that he will not get one. That is why the "compromise" effort is likely to get infused with much energy in the coming few, critical weeks.

However, the Anglo-American strategy is by no means limited to "compromise"-based diplomacy. It has an even stronger component, consisting of coaxing, coercion, bribery and straightforward arm-twisting and bullying. This has been superbly documented by the Washington-based radical think tank, Institute for Policy Studies, in a study entitled "Coalition of the Willing or Coalition of the Coerced", released at the end of February. By using its enormous economic, military and political clout, Washington is trying to recruit a total of 34 states into its coalition. These together represent just 10 per cent of the world's public. By contrast, states opposed to the U.S. on Iraq include Germany, France, Brazil, China and South Africa.

The U.S. is going all out to build its coalition. Says Phyllis Bennis, a West Asia expert, co-author of the IPS study, and also a Transnational Institute Fellow: "It's hardly a new phenomenon for the U.S. to use bribes and threats to get its way in the U.N. What's new this time around is the breathtaking scale of those pressures because this time around, global public opinion has weighed in, and every government leaning Washington's way faces massive opposition at home."

The 15 members of the Security Council have a range of positions on Iraq. Opposing the U.S.-led group are France, Germany, Syria, and now Russia. China is moving from a position favouring abstention to support for the opponents led by France. In between fall the six "fence-sitters". The Americans reckon they can avert the use of veto power by their opponents if the U.S.-U.K.-Spain resolution gets a total of nine votes by winning over five of the six "fence-sitters", all of whom are Third World states vulnerable to pressure. It is truly remarkable that the U.S. has not succeeded for over a month in getting even one of them to publicly declare support for its stand.

However, the U.S.' enormous leverage over the "fence-sitters" must not be underestimated. Take Mexico, 80 percent of whose exports America commands, and Chile, which is at an advanced point of integration into a slightly expanded North American Free Trade Agreement - pending U.S. Congressional approval, on which Washington is dragging its feet. They are both keen to work out agreements on (controlled) migration into the U.S. Yet, U.S. leverage has not yet resulted in a positive vote from Mexico and Chile.

Only slightly less vulnerable are Guinea and Cameroon. But they have long had close relations with France too. They both participated in the Franco-African summit in Paris on February 21. However, the U.S. is trying to beat the French by offering economic and military aid to which sub-Saharan states are eligible provided they do "not engage in activities that undermine the U.S.' national security or foreign policy."

As of now, the French seem to have the upper hand in this competition. But as far as war-evastated Angola goes, it is extremely dependent on the U.S. (its biggest donor) and on Spain and Italy (both war supporters). What is amazing is that Angola has not yet succumbed.

That leaves Pakistan. It is very vulnerable to U.S. pressure, not least via economic and military aid. After the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the U.S. is likely to turn up the heat. However, General Pervez Musharraf has to worry about the likely domestic reaction to voting for war, which will be extremely adverse - as the recent marches by both secular liberals and Islamists suggest. Pakistan stands to lose a great deal in its relations with the Arab world if it votes for war. It also risks jeopardising its recently improved relations with Russia.

Islamabad's predicament is real. But it has not yet capitulated. It continues to vacillate. And yet, its room for manoeuvre will expand if dissidence from the U.S. position grows inside and outside the Security Council.

THAT is where the U.S.' crudest pressure tactics come in. It has warned France that it risks inviting heavy political and economic penalties, as well as political isolation. The French, for their part, are also strongly motivated in their opposition not just by interests in the West Asia, including Iraq's oil, but what some policy-makers see as France's "last chance" to resist the U.S. juggernaut before the E.U.'s imminent expansion which will tilt its balance in America's favour.

Similarly, the U.S. has put Russia on notice. A senior, unnamed U.S. diplomat told The Moscow Times that Russia risks jeopardising its bid to join the World Trade Organisation if it vetoes the "second resolution". The U.S. could also retain Cold War-era trade restrictions against Russia and lock it out of a post-Saddam Iraq.

In addition, the U.S. has opened its "dirty tricks" department and authorised the National Security Agency to tap the telephones and e-mails of key Security Council members. The intercepts are meant to determine their voting intentions, with accurate up-to-the minute intelligence on "policies", "negotiating positions", "alliances" and "dependencies" - the "whole gamut... that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favourable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises." This is a first-rate scandal, and represents a seriously coercive tactic.

It is hard to predict which way the balance will tilt under such coercion in the coming weeks. But one thing is clear: a "consensus" for war in the Security Council will be a false, fraudulent and fabricated entity. This will pose a serious challenge to the fence-sitters outside the Security Council, no least India, which has been vacillating between opposition to war on Iraq, and a more cautious or timid position saying no war without a Security Council mandate. In recent days, going by the official statements of India's U.N. representative Vijay Nambiar, New Delhi has tilted towards the second position - perhaps not least because of hectic lobbying by U.S. Ambassador Robert Blackwill.

However, the real issue is not whether there is a "consensus" in the Security Council, but whether a war on Iraq is just and warranted. It is not just. It won't do to hide behind the U.N. to support an unjust war - with a hidden agenda of reaping possible benefits from post-war reconstruction and keeping on America's right side. The Indian public expects more from the government. If it fails the people, the government will forfeit its own legitimacy, and invite disgrace, ridicule and ignominy upon itself. It must be given this message through mass-level demonstrations for peace, involving unattached people, as well as the broadest spectrum of political and civil society organisations.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Mar 28, 2003.)



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