about icg 
  Latin America 
  Middle East 
  by region 
  by date 
  by keyword 
  media releases 
  articles/op. eds 
  media contacts 
contact us 
donate to icg 

 home  programs  middle east  iraq/iran/gulf
Click here to view the full report as a PDF file in A4 format.
For more information about viewing PDF documents, please click here.

Iraq Policy Briefing: Is There An Alternative To War?


The policy dilemmas posed by the Iraqi crisis are much more acute, and the issues much more finely balanced, than most of those publicly supporting or opposing war are prepared to acknowledge. There is still broad international agreement about the objectives to be pursued: ensuring that Iraq does not constitute a threat, disarming it of the weapons of mass destruction it still retains (as demanded by Security Council Resolution 1441), and improving the condition of the Iraqi people (as demanded both by common decency and the Iraqi people themselves). But following the inspectors' reports to the UN Security Council on 14 February 2003 and the extraordinary scale of the worldwide anti-war demonstrations over the following days, achieving international consensus on how to achieve these objectives appears as difficult as ever.

This policy briefing does not offer clear conclusions and recommendations – not least because views within the ICG Board are as sharply divided as those within the international community. We hope, nonetheless, that it will clarify the issues and contribute some useful ideas to this difficult debate. The report is divided into four sections, each addressing a distinct course of action and identifying its pros and cons:

  • War options: This section analyses the three principal rationales that have been put forward to justify a war at this point, corresponding to the three broad objectives of the international community just stated (to meet the threat the Iraqi regime presents to the international community; to disarm Iraq; and to meet the threat the Iraqi regime presents to its own people). It examines in each case the criteria that may be thought to be required to be satisfied and whether they have been.

  • A deadline for disarmament: This section explores the option of imposing a final deadline for Iraq to comply with a set of clearly defined benchmarks or face the certainty of war. It considers the four possible outcomes of this approach: full compliance and disarmament; non-compliance and exile for the Iraqi leadership; non-compliance and an internal coup that overthrows Saddam; or non-compliance leading to war.

  • More time for inspections: Several nations have argued that additional time (and means) need to be given to the inspectors before any final decision can be made about a possible war; some have also argued in this context that inspectors ought to be accompanied by an armed force. This section discusses this approach and the two rationales that have been offered: more time to establish that inspections can actually disarm Iraq, and more time to establish that inspections can at least contain Iraq.

  • The CDD-Plus alternative: stronger containment, deterrence and diplomacy: The final section looks at an alternative to further pursuing war as an option (assuming that there is no change in the state of evidence regarding the nature or extent of the Iraqi threat) and explores whether a strengthened regime of containment, deterrence and diplomacy can viably and in a sustained manner address such threat as currently exists.

There are situations, and this may be one of them, where there is no alternative but to resort to war to achieve legitimate international objectives. At the same time, everyone acknowledges that war in the current situation should be the last resort. The case for looking for an honourable and defensible alternative to war is always strong, even more so when the transatlantic alliance is under unprecedented stress, when the case for war is clearly struggling to win international support in the Security Council and elsewhere, and when the risk of wider adverse consequences from war may well be greater than usual. What can be stated unequivocally is that the alternative to war, if there is one, is not to do nothing. Something substantial must be done to advance all three of the basic international objectives identified above. And it would obviously be helpful, if at all possible, that what is done were done in a way that maximises the chances of reuniting rather than further dividing the international community.

Amman/Brussels, 24 February 2003


copyright privacy sitemap