Blair on military action without UN authority
TONY BLAIR: Of course we want a second resolution and there is only one set of circumstances in which I’ve said that we would move without one. The idea that we’re indifferent to whether there’s a UN resolution or not is nonsense. We’re very focused on getting a UN resolution. There is one set of circumstances –
QUESTION: Just the one, you say.
TONY BLAIR: Just the one – and that is the circumstances where the UN inspectors say he’s not cooperating and he’s in breach of the resolution that was passed in November but the UN because someone, say, unreasonably exercises their veto and blocks a new resolution. Now in those circumstances you damage the UN if the inspectors say he’s not cooperating, he’s in breach, and the world does nothing about it. But I don’t believe that will happen. I think that if there is a finding by the inspectors and, you know, Monday’s report is just the first full report – there will be other reports – but if they find that he’s not cooperating then I believe that a second resolution will issue. But no one will take the UN seriously if, having faced with the challenge of Iraq, we’ve done nothing.
JEREMY PAXMAN: OK, so they report back next week. Will you give an undertaking to this audience, and indeed to the British people that before any military action you will seek another UN Resolution, specifically authorising the use of force.
TONY BLAIR: We’ve said that that’s what we want to do.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But you haven’t given an explicit commitment that those are the only circumstances under which British forces will be used.
TONY BLAIR: I haven’t but what I’ve said is this – those are the only circumstances in which we would agree to use force except for one caveat that I’ve entered.
And I’ll explain exactly why I’ve done this. If the inspectors do report that they can’t do their work properly because Iraq is not co-operating there’s no doubt that under the terms of the existing United Nations Resolution that that’s a breach of the Resolution. In those circumstances there should be a further Resolution. If, however, a country were to issue a veto because there has to be unanimity amongst the permanent members of the Security Council. If a country unreasonably in those circumstances put down a veto then I would consider action outside of that.
JEREMY PAXMAN: But Prime Minister, this is, you say, all about a man defying the wishes of the United Nations. You cannot have it both ways. If one of the permanent five members of the Security Council uses its veto and you, with your friend George Bush, decide somehow that this is unreasonable, you can’t then consider yourself absolutely free to defy the express will of the Security Council. What’s it for otherwise?
TONY BLAIR: First of all, let me make two points in relation to that. Firstly you can’t just do it with America, you have to get a majority in the Security Council. Secondly, because the issue of a veto doesn’t even arise unless you get a majority in the Security Council. Secondly, the choice that you’re then faced with is this. If the will of the UN is the thing that is most important and I agree that it is, if there is a breach of Resolution 1441 which is the one that we passed. If there is a breach and we do nothing then we have flouted the will of the UN.
JEREMY PAXMAN: We have flouted the will of the UN.
TONY BLAIR: If we don’t act in those circumstances. …
JEREMY PAXMAN: Are you saying there’s already an authorisation for war?
TONY BLAIR: No, what I’m saying is this. In the Resolution that we passed last November we said that Iraq, it’s actually interesting to look at the Resolution. Iraq had what was called a final opportunity to comply. The duty of compliance was defined as full co-operation with the UN Inspectors. The Resolution then goes on to say “any failure to co-operate fully is a breach of this Resolution and serious consequences i.e. action, would follow”. Now, we then also put in that Resolution that there will be a further discussion in the Security Council. But the clear understanding was that if the inspectors do say that Iraq is not complying and there is a breach of that resolution, then we have to act. Now if someone comes along and says, OK I accept there’s a breach of Resolution 1441 but I’m issuing a veto I think that would be unreasonable. Incidentally I don’t think that’s what will happen. I think that we will, if the inspectors do end up in a situation where they’re saying there is not compliance by Iraq then I think a second resolution will issue.
FEMALE: Do you not agree that most of Britain don’t want us to act alone without the United Nations, and do you not agree that it’s important to get France, Germany and Russia on board with support to help us?
TONY BLAIR: Yes I do. I agree with that. That’s what I’m trying to get.
JEREMY PAXMAN: Why not give an undertaking that you wouldn’t go to war without their agreement.
TONY BLAIR: Because supposing one of those countries – I’m not saying this will happen, I don’t believe it will incidentally. But supposing in circumstances where there plainly was a breach of Resolution 1441 and everyone else wished to take action, one of them put down a veto. In those circumstances it would be unreasonable. Then I think it would be wrong because otherwise you couldn’t uphold the UN. Because you’d have passed your Resolution and then you’d have failed to act on it.
JEREMY PAXMAN: And who are we to say it’s “unreasonable” as you put it?
TONY BLAIR: You say that, if in circumstances where the inspectors – not us – have come back to the UN and said we can’t do our job. Now look – I think it’s a perfectly simple way of putting this thing and incidentally, I don’t believe we’ll get to the stage of vetoes and so on. I think we’ll be in the position that you’re talking about. Now the reason I wanted this to go down the UN path last year. I mean, in the summer people were thinking you were about to start the war.
Myself and other people said, no, we’ve got to take this back to the United Nations and go through the UN route. And I think we will be in circumstances where the UN passed the second Resolution and I take it in the sense from what you’re saying I think this is where the majority of people are. Is that if the UN did pass a second Resolution people would support it. …. The point that I’m making is this. There are only one set of circumstances. I mean the reason I won’t give the absolute undertaking that Jeremy was asking me to give, is because of this one set of circumstances where Resolution 1441, the one that has been passed, where everyone’s agreed on. If that is breached and the inspectors say, no I’m sorry we can’t do our job and in those circumstances the Resolution 1441 effectively says well then a second Resolution issues. If someone then at that point vetoes wrongly, what do we do?
FEMALE: It’s only you that thinks it’s wrong, like George Bush thinks that they’re doing that unreasonably.
TONY BLAIR: No, no —
FEMALE: It’s the point of the veto, not that that can happen in that sort of situation.
TONY BLAIR: What happens is that there are 15 members of the Security Council, there’s five permanent members and the five permanent members have got the veto. The other ones don’t. Now, the issue of a veto only arises if we’ve got a majority of people on the Security Council with us, so there’s not – Britain and America that would be doing this on our own in any event.
Tony Blair, Independent on Sunday, 2 March 03
I passionately believe if we don’t ensure Saddam disarms, if we don’t stand up for the authority of the UN, the result will not be peace but more bloodshed and devastation: not just for the people of Iraq but, in the longer term, for those in neighbouring countries and the wider world, including this country. … If military action proves necessary, it will be to uphold the authority of the UN and to ensure Saddam is disarmed of his weapons of mass destruction… —