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Gareth Evans analyses Bush address on Lateline, ABC TV

One individual, well-known to Australians, who has been following these events with intense interest is the former foreign minister Gareth Evans. He now heads the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. In a comment piece published a few days ago in the International Herald Tribune Mr Evans welcomed the move by President Bush to put his case before the UN. But he signalled given the severity of what was being contemplated it would not be enough for the President to simply re-state Saddam's sorry record.

Reporter: Maxine McKew

MAXINE McKEW: Gareth Evans, you said in this piece that the speech had to be compelling. Do you think it was?

GARETH EVANS, CEO INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: I'm afraid there wasn't very much in the speech that was either compelling or comforting. It was comforting to the extent that President Bush committed himself to fully exploring the UN Security Council route before resorting to military action.

But what was quite discomforting was the clarity with which he made it clear that the US would go down the route of unilateral military action if the Security Council didn't perform fully to US specifications. And what was also discomforting, I think, in that context, was the very long shopping list that was laid out in the speech, going well beyond the removal of chemical, biological and nuclear capability that Saddam had to live up to, in particular stopping illicit trade, stopping support of terrorism very broadly defined, stopping persecuting or violating the rights of his own citizens.

Now, I think the world is prepared to go with the US as far as a very robust ultimatum is concerned, backed by potential enforcement action, for the removal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. But I don't think there is the support there -- and the rationale was certainly not offered nor any other grounds for confidence if the US wants to go beyond that and actually pursue this basic goal of regime change, which seems to lie behind the rest of that long shopping list.

MAXINE McKEW: Yes, that's the problem, isn't it? The double agenda.

When we look at Europe, where you're sitting, we see the whole spectrum of opinion, from full support from Tony Blair to complete opposition by Gerhard Schroeder. Is any of this likely to change in the wake of what the President has said?

GARETH EVANS: No, I don't think so.

I think the support is there for going down the removal of weapons of mass destruction path. But it's not there for going beyond that, because the case hasn't been made for going beyond that in terms of pursuing other objectives like regime change or for indeed getting to the primary objective by unilateral military force.

What we were looking for, I guess, was some kind of plausible rationale in terms of clear and present danger.

But if you're going to make the case that a country is a military threat to others, you have got to do more than just describe its capability, which President Bush did very well although not saying anything new.

You have got to demonstrate it has the intent to misbehave and here we heard nothing other than an extrapolation from past behaviour - no new evidence of current or future intentions.

And you've also got to have demonstrable proof that containment or deterrent policies won't hold the line.

And there's every reason, I think certainly in European thinking, to believe that Saddam Hussein can be kept in his box in the future, just as he's been in the past.

Perhaps not just with the existing armoury of responses: I think there is consensus that we have to go beyond that and do something very serious about his weapons of mass destruction capability.

But that again is very different from regime change as such -- and all the rest of the items on the US list.

MAXINE McKEW: Just in terms of what we're likely to see over the next couple of days Secretary of State Colin Powell is now set to begin talks with the four other permanent members on the specifics of a resolution.

How do you see the dynamics on the Security Council?

GARETH EVANS: Well I think provided that the US stops talking about regime change, you will get support, Powell will get support, for a very robust resolution, particularly one that's narrow in its focus and just concentrates on chemical, nuclear, biological weapons and getting the inspectors back in to prove that they've been destroyed.

If he starts going beyond that, then I think he loses pretty rapidly the Russians and, of course, Chinese and he'll find it very difficult to keep the Europeans sticking firm.

The problem is, if you make it clear that what you're about is getting rid of Saddam, you don't give Saddam any incentive at all to behave according to UN Security Council regime designed to destroy his weaponry - because he thinks if he cooperates on that he gets zapped anyway.

And that's been the big sort of conceptual problem in the way the US has handled this.

MAXINE McKEW: But assuming Colin Powell can navigate that for the moment, what would you imagine a robust resolution would look like? Being able to get, if you like, coercive inspectors back in and to a deadline?

GARETH EVANS: Yep.

I think that all of the above is necessary.

And the Europeans ought to swear up to that, ought to be prepared to put their money where their mouths are.

MAXINE McKEW: And that being the case, and Saddam, if you like, Saddam Hussein being a survivor, will he let them in?

GARETH EVANS: Well, I think this is the critical issue.

If he believes that that's the agenda - getting rid of the weapons and proving to the world that he has, with the prospect of being turned into toast if he doesn't - I think he will let them in.

If he believes that that's not the agenda and the US has another additional agenda going way beyond that, of the kind that was really mapped out in President Bush's speech yesterday, then there's real reason to doubt that he will be cooperative.

That opens up the prospect of full-scale war, indeterminable consequences throughout the region, a terrible precedent being set - I mean, all the ugliness and horror of war.

I think the critical thing is to concentrate everyone's mind - in the way that I'm sure Colin Powell wants to but there's always the question mark about others in the administration - on just this single agenda item.

After all, think of this: all year President Bush has been saying the big problem is the world's worst leader possessing the world's worst weapons.

Logically, if you can get rid of the weapons you don't also have to get rid of the leader, however ugly he is.

That's a different agenda.

And that's where the rest of the world gets edgy.

Because if you're going to go to war, you've got to have a very, very strong rationale for it and you've got to fully think through the consequences and that's what I think we've haven't been persuaded about.

MAXINE McKEW: Equally, just a final point, though.

Would you also see this, though, certainly as President Bush does and certainly as the Australian Government has, this is a real test for the UN to enforce its own resolutions.

GARETH EVANS: Well, if we apply that particular benchmark, we're in a bit of trouble with Israel and lots of other countries where resolutions have not been enforced.

The point is, there's always been a degree of selectivity about it and that's been unfortunate - resolutions that go unenforced go unrespected.

Of course the resolutions about the weapons of mass destruction in particular and the inspection regime should have been observed, and should be enforced.

I for one am very strongly in favour of very, very robust action, including serious threat of military action, to enforce those particular resolutions.

But other resolutions can be enforced in other ways than through military action.

You don't necessarily enforce human rights violations through military action except in the most extreme cases.

And I'm not sure for any of the other items on the shopping list, on the agenda, the case for going down the military route has been made.

If President Bush had kept his speech and presentation focused solely on the weapons of mass destruction issue, I think he would have had a full-scale international consensus by today.

But there's a tremendous amount of nervousness in Europe and beyond about what the agenda is.

That will make it very difficult to deliver this without all the ugliness and horror of a major conflict.

MAXINE McKEW: Alright for that Gareth Evans, thanks for much for joining us.

Thank you.



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