UN and Iraq: Blair’s version of history
The Independent, 22 July 2004 Letters
Sir: Historians will be grateful to Clare Short for pressing the Prime Minister in the Iraq debate on Tuesday on why, having failed to get the Security Council’s agreement to a second resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq, he nevertheless committed Britain forthwith to joining the US in its attack on Iraq , thus preventing the UN inspectors from continuing their work for the few more weeks or months that Hans Blix had asked for.
Mr Blair asserted, surprisingly, that he would have preferred to give Blix more time, but that continued inspection could only have been effective if supported by a further UN resolution containing an ultimatum with a deadline for Iraqi compliance, failing which force would be used. But, said Mr Blair, “certain countries” (clearly meaning France) had opposed any ultimatum in any circumstances: and since there would have been no point in a resolution without an ultimatum, he had given up on the UN and concluded that there was no alternative to using force.
Ms Short correctly pointed out that this misrepresented what had happened: a majority in the Council, including France, Russia and Germany and most of the non-permanent members, wanted to give Blix more time, but were not prepared to leave it to the US and the UK to make the judgement on whether Iraq had failed to comply and to decide when force should be used, decisions that were for the Security Council in the future.
The issue was not whether there should be an ultimatum, as the Prime Minister claimed, but whether the Security Council should give Washington and London carte blanche, before Blix had had a chance to complete his inspection, to decide whether and when to launch an attack on Iraq, without a further opportunity for the Council to consider that decision in the light of Blix’s eventual findings.
That “automaticity” was what the US and UK were demanding, and it’s not at all surprising that the great majority of Council members wouldn’t agree. The transcript of the television interview with President Chirac on 10 March 2003 in which he set out France’s position, does not support the accusation later made by our ministers that France would have vetoed the use of force in any circumstances: France, like most of the other members of the Council, was not prepared to agree to authorise the use of force at that time, before Blix had had time to complete the inspection, nor to delegate that decision then and there to Washington and London.
It seems important that Mr Blair’s version of these crucial events, on which the illegality of the war largely hinges, should not be left uncorrected on the historical record.
Sir BRIAN BARDER
The writer was a member of HM Diplomatic Service, 1965-94