Profile: Possible Consequences Of Iraqi War Without U.N. Support

Morning Edition: October 30, 2002

U.S. Military Concern for War Without U.N.


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Intensive negotiations continue at the United Nations today with American and British diplomats working hard to craft a Security Council resolution that would attempt to force the disarmament of Iraq. President Bush has warned repeatedly that the United States is ready to move independently against Iraq's president, Saddam Hussein, if the Security Council fails to endorse a tough stand. US military leaders hope the diplomatic efforts succeed. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports a war without UN approval could be a more challenging operation.

TOM GJELTEN reporting:

The Bush administration is essentially telling other Security Council members that they should either support the US- and British-led effort to go after Saddam Hussein or stand aside. Secretary of State Colin Powell drove that message home yesterday during a news conference at the State Department.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): If the United Nations chooses not to act, the president has what he believes is the authority needed, and frankly the obligation, to act with like-minded nations to disarm Iraq.

GJELTEN: But a UN-endorsed operation against Iraq would have broader support than one organized just by the United States and Britain, and US military commanders have made it known that in this case, broader is much better. A senior military officer in a key Pentagon position tells NPR that with respect to Iraq, the main concern of the uniformed military leadership has always been that the United States not go it alone. Even as Colin Powell was saying yesterday the United States could go after Iraq without Security Council support, the man who would lead the charge, Army General Tommy Franks, was saying he'd be more comfortable having that UN endorsement.

General TOMMY FRANKS (US Army): The best case for us is to be able to build our force list, our coalition, based on work by the Security Council within their charter.

GJELTEN: At stake here is whether other governments authorize US pilots to fly over their territory during bombing or refueling missions. The American military would also need, if possible, to have access to ports and bases and airfields in countries near Iraq. There are alternatives. Fighter jets can fly off aircraft carriers in the open sea and long-range bombers can come from bases thousands of miles away. But in the first Gulf War and in operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan, the United States worked hard to get other governments to cooperate. In an interview with NPR, General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, says he'd expect a similar effort if there's to be action against Iraq.

General JOHN JUMPER (US Air Force): It's easier for us access-wise, of course, if you do have fields that are in close proximity to where you're going to operate. And while we quite frankly have never had a problem with things up close when the coalition comes together, we've always been granted the access that we needed, it is desirable to have things closer.

GJELTEN: Without a United Nations resolution, it's not clear how much support the United States could count on. Retired Marine General Joseph Hoar worked with many Middle Eastern governments as head of the US military's Central Command in the mid-1990s. He lists three countries whose enthusiasm for an Iraq operation could depend heavily on the Security Council's action: Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

General JOSEPH HOAR (Retired, US Marines): Saudi Arabia has been an enormous coalition partner for us in the past, going back for some 50 years, and the Saudis need the top cover of a UN resolution. And so it's gonna be very difficult for them to provide wholehearted support without the UN resolution.

GJELTEN: The governments of Turkey and Jordan, Hoar argues, would also face political problems at home were they to support a war against Iraq without UN approval. Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar would be likely to help with or without a UN endorsement. Beyond that, it's not clear, not even to General Franks, the current head of the US Central Command.

Gen. FRANKS: In terms of how many nations would join the coalition, I don't know. I will say that my sense visiting the region--and I mentioned that I'd just come back--my sense is that we have a great many friends, partners and allies who see the situation the same way we do, and I'll leave it at that.

GJELTEN: In fact, with their carrier-based aircraft, their long-range bombers and the military bases to which they already have access, US military commanders almost certainly have what they need in the short run to carry out a successful mission in Iraq with or without more international support. But that still leaves the long-term mission. It's the aftermath of an Iraq operation, the stabilization and rebuilding work, that most concerns retired General Hoar.

Gen. HOAR: Without the UN, without the support really of the world community, I fear that we're going to be left to carry out the lion's share of the post-hostilities work. We can do the military victory on our own, but we cannot get the end state that we need on our own without huge expenditure of time and money and people.

GJELTEN: US military is already tied down with the demands of the war on terrorism and the need to defend the US homeland. A lengthy and costly mission in Iraq undertaken without broad, international support would undoubtedly strain the force even more, which is why US military leaders hope for success in the negotiations at UN headquarters. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, the Pentagon.

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