The Evening Standard          
24 February 1998                                                  
  The Gulf War of 1998 never happened, but precisely because it was a virtual war, it was a victory for the Western coalition

by Gerald Segal

Who won?
The United States and its allies were the clear winners. The allies wanted the UN inspectors (UNSCOM) to be free to investigate what they want, when they want. Saddam had refused all that, but now concedes it all. Iraq wanted promises that inspections would soon cease and that sanctions would soon be lifted. He was promised none of that. Saddam wanted to prove that the West did not have the stomach for a fight and that the UN Security Council was divided. As it turned out, he was the one who ducked and ran from a fight, in part because the Russians and French finally fell into line and told Saddam he had no choice but to accept UNSCOM's freedom of action. Iraq seems to have been granted a fig leaf in the form of diplomats to accompany (but not obstruct) some UNSCOM inspections. It is true that Saddam remains in power, but his removal was never a realistic goal of air-strikes. The allied coalition merely wanted to defend UNSCOM operations to uncover and destroy Saddam's deadly arsenal. To do so without loss of life and nerve is a triumph for the US and its allies. 

What happens next?
IN the short term one thing happens and another does not. Diplomats in the UN Security Council will now try to translate the Secretary General's agreement in Baghdad into a formal Resolution. If nerves hold, the Resolution will contain a clause authorising "all necessary means" to support UNSCOM. The US and its allies want a "standing order" to thump Iraq if it hinders UNSCOM in the future. The idea is to prevent Saddam from being able to drag out diplomacy as he did this time. Sadly, Russia, China and France are unlikely to sign such a standing order.

 What will not happen is the withdrawal of allied military forces. So far we only have Iraq's promise to capitulate - the proof is yet to come. Allied troops will stay in place until it turns out that UNSCOM really can do its job. If Iraq co-operates, at least for a while, then forces will gradually be thinned out. It is not especially costly to keep moving around troops that are paid and exercise anyway: that is one virtue of the US and UK having professional armed forces. The real costs, human and financial, would have risen if the million-dollar cruise missiles had to be fired. 

Will it happen again?
ALMOST certainly. The struggle to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction will continue. The war is being won, but it is far from won. Saddam's usual trick is to wait until attention wanders and he perceives division among the great powers in the UN. He will try to develop his weapons of mass destruction in secret and then test the West again. France, Russia and China will no doubt wobble yet again. The same voices in the Arab world and in Western democracies opposed to military action will be heard again. It will remain true that so long as Saddam is in power, Iraq will continue to be a major problem.

 The diplomatic challenge is to learn the lessons of the past few weeks. Those who counselled against threatening the use of force have been proven wrong. As the UN Secretary General said on Monday, diplomacy is good but diplomacy backed by force is even better. If the critics of Western policy in the past few weeks had got their way, Saddam would now be free to develop his weapons of mass destruction and UN credibility would have been shot to pieces. 

Saddam chances his hand when he sees a divided opposition so only when he consistently hears the same message is there a chance of his compliance. But it is only a chance. In truth, Saddam will continue to believe he can outlast his opponents and that the West is ultimately weak. There will always be voices in the Arab world and in Western democracies that will give Saddam confidence. The challenge for those who want to uphold international peace and security is to prove him wrong by holding firm, and by supporting forces in Iraq that will overthrow the regime. This is a long game requiring firm resolve and steady nerves.


Gerald Segal is the Director of Studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and co-author of Anticipating the Future (Simon & Schuster). 

© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 24 February 1998
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