"The Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, said that it was not up to one member, but to the entire Security Council, to declare a 'material breach'."
--- The Washington Times, 12/20/02
"US allies, including Britain, have so far stopped short of declaring Iraq to be in material breach of UN resolutions, the penultimate step on the road to authorizing the use of force."
--- The Washington Post, 12/20/02
Actually, Ambassador Lavrov and the Washington Post are wrong, along with a host of other commentators. Iraq is unambiguously in "material breach" of U.N. Security Council resolutions — there can be no serious argument or confusion over this question.
The very first paragraph of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 clearly states that the entire Security Council "decides that Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations."
The second paragraph then goes on to give Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." So the issue is not whether Saddam Hussein is in material breach — the issue is whether he will take this last chance offered to him by the U.N. to cease to be in breach, to finally comply with his obligations to fully account for his weapons of mass destruction and turn them over to the U.N.
Taking that opportunity obviously is something Saddam decided not to do in the 12,200-page "declaration" he handed over to the U.N. Saddam has not revealed the whereabouts of any WMD, has not admitted that he has or is developing WMD, and he has not even accounted for the WMD he was known to possess in 1998.
Pace Lavrov, nowhere does Resolution 1441 state — or even imply — that the Security Council as a whole has sole authority to determine whether Iraq continues to be in material breach of its obligations or whether it has now complied.
Rather, 1441 plainly states that "false statements or omissions in the declaration … shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations and will be reported to the Council for assessment" (emphases added).
In other words, though the Security Council now has, under 1441, an opportunity to convene and assess — to "consider the situation and the need for full compliance" by Iraq, the United States has not ceded to the U.N. its authority to determine for itself whether Iraq has taken the opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations or whether Iraq remains in violation of its obligations, and continues to pose a threat to vital American national-security interests. (You'll recall that Iraq undertook those obligations in exchange for a ceasefire in the Gulf War in 1991. That war came about because Iraq launched a war of aggression against Kuwait the previous year.)
Secretary of State Colin Powell said Thursday afternoon that the U.S. will continue to "consult" with the Security Council and with the leaders of other nations, and will make every attempt to enlist their support for U.S. efforts to forcibly disarm Saddam.
Without question it would be preferable if members of the Security Council and others were to state with conviction that Saddam Hussein has never fulfilled the obligations he undertook to stop the Gulf War and save his regime. And it would be preferable if they would offer to participate in an American-led military campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein and, finally, secure regime change in Baghdad. Such U.S. allies as Britain, Australia, Turkey, Kuwait, Israel, Spain, and Italy are unlikely to say anything else.
But if Syria (a terrorist-sponsoring nation) or France (which has unilaterally deployed troops to the Ivory Coast, not having asked Security Council permission) or Russia (which has lucrative commercial relations with Iraq) should refuse to agree that the sky is blue, and one and one equals two, that can not be a reason for American inaction.
The stubborn facts are that Saddam Hussein has been in material breach for eleven years and has taken no serious steps to comply with the obligations he undertook to suspend the Gulf War and keep himself living in his palaces. The U.S. retains the right and the authority to act on those facts — and nothing in Resolution 1441 prevents such action.
When will such action occur? Hopefully, on the timetable most advantageous to the U.S. — in other words, whenever sufficient American forces are in position, fully supplied and acclimated, trained, rested, and ready. If Saddam Hussein wants to forestall such action, he still has the means to do so. He simply needs to fling open the doors to all the rooms containing his WMD.
But it's doubtful that he will do so, doubtful he will discard more than two decades of ambitions, doubtful he will admit that he has been wrong, that America is not a paper tiger that will always be restrained in the end by Saddam's de facto allies.
Were Saddam to suddenly throw in the towel, it would, of course, be a triumph for American foreign policy. It also would be a tragedy for the long-abused peoples of Iraq. But that's another discussion.