Reconstructing Iraq: Negotiating the Future

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What are the most critical issues involved in the reconstruction of Iraq? How will the various actors negotiate the complex humanitarian, security and political elements crucial to Iraq’s future? What role, if any, should the United Nations play in the reconstruction process? How could the United States government have constructed a more thorough post-conflict plan, and what legal and moral responsibilities does the U.S. have in future reconstruction?

A distinguished panel struggled with these complex questions in front of nearly 100 students, faculty and community members at Harvard Law School on Monday, May 5. The Program on Negotiation sponsored the public panel, which was moderated by Antonia Chayes, director of PON’s Project on International Institutions and Conflict Management.

Panelists focused on the need for greater international involvement in the reconstruction process, the importance of creating international legitimacy, a possible role for the United Nations in Iraq’s future, among other important issues. The panel included: William L. Nash (Major General, USA, Ret.), Senior Fellow and Director of the Council on Foreign Relations Center for Preventive Action; Bathsheba N. Crocker, International Affairs Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies International Security Program; Beat Schweizer, Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in Iraq (1999-2001); and Ian Johnstone, Assistant Professor of International Law at the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University.

As the first panelist to present, Bathsheba Crocker focused her opening remarks on issues of security, governance, justice and reconciliation. Crocker differentiated between what has happened in Iraq and what the United States should have planned based on other international experiences, particularly the situations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. In regard to security, she said that a post-conflict stabilization force should have been created to ensure post-conflict safety measures. On the issue of governance, Crocker stressed the United States’ responsibility to create “international legitimacy” and illustrate transparency as they seek to establish a transitional government. Finally, Crocker discussed the “failure to prioritize” the rule of law, calling for an “international justice package” to be deployed to restart the courts and fill the judicial vacuum during the interim period. In a co-authored CSIS report, “A Wiser Peace: An Action Strategy for A Post-Conflict Iraq,” Crocker outlined these ideas in January 2003, prior to the war in Iraq.

Ian Johnstone followed Crocker with remarks about the role of the United Nations, highlighting the UN Security Council negotiations and enduring divisions over the war in Iraq. Johnstone argued that the United Nations should be involved in the reconstruction process in some capacity, particularly because the international community cannot avoid recognizing existing UN mandates regarding Iraq. The sanctions — including the oil embargo, economic sanctions, the arms embargo and dual-use provisions — and the oil-for-food program are two examples of unavoidable UN mandates in Iraq, according to Johnstone. In addition, Johnstone discussed the UN’s role in the political sphere, concentrating on the questions of a UN involvement in establishing a transitional government or the option of a UN “Special Coordinator” for Iraq. In conclusion, Johnstone mentioned the two opposite points of view on the Security Council about future resolutions concerning Iraq, with the United States and Britain pushing for an all-encompassing resolution while France and Russia want to move forward incrementally with step-by-step resolutions.

William Nash, drawing on his extensive experience in peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo, followed Johnstone with his candid remarks about the structural situation for societal reconstruction. Nash called for a “walk back to greater international involvement” in Iraq. The former Army general said the United States has become an “occupying force by nature of reality” and must accept full responsibility to govern under international law. Nash stressed the need to focus on humanitarian care, restarting social services and creating jobs for Iraqi civilians. He summarized his remarks with the statement, “If you are going to do as well with peace as with war, you need to plan as well for peace as for war.”

Beat Schweizer concluded the panel’s opening comments with his perspective on the humanitarian situation. While Schweizer said the humanitarian crisis is not as severe as anticipated, he noted that the situation in Iraq was quite dire even before the war, as a result of the sanctions. Schweizer emphasized the need for coordination between the military, political and humanitarian actors. He also stressed the need to develop a strategic plan for the reconstruction of public infrastructure.

After the four panelists’ remarks, Chayes opened the discussion to a question and answer session. The lively and engaging conversation touched on issues of democratic elections, the interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, the role of NATO, the UN Charter, among other topics of interest. While presenting different perspectives and focusing on varying areas of reconstruction, the panelists continued to stress the overarching theme of the need to, as Nash articulated, “walk back to greater international involvement” in negotiating Iraq’s future.

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