US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his case to the UN Security Council on February 5, claiming that the inspections of Iraq were not working. Powell made his case like a good prosecutor would make his case to a jury. He set forth allegations and evidence of Iraqi defiance, much of which is subject to proof and much of which is not provable. But unlike the situation of a prosecutor in a courtroom, Powell did not have any opposition and his evidence was not subjected to opposing views.

After hearing Powell, the question remains: Who is to decide whether there should be a war? Should the decision be made by the United States, the country that put forth the evidence? Or should the decision be made by the UN Security Council, which is the authorized decision making body according to international law as well as US law, under Article VI (2) of the US Constitution.

Members of the Security Council responded fairly clearly that their choice, at least for the time being, is to give Powell’s information to the UN inspectors and to give the inspectors more time. Additionally, there was discussion about increasing the size of the inspection force to make it more effective.

In response to Powell’s presentation, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China, all of which hold veto power in the Security Council, rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin stated, “Let us double, let us triple the number of inspectors. Let us open more regional offices. Let us go further than this.”

This Security Council’s position is in line with the UN Charter, which states that the UN can only authorize military action when there is imminent threat to the peace. This imminent threat has not been demonstrated in the case of Iraq, as there is no proof, nor even evidence, that Iraq has the intention of launching an offensive attack. US rhetoric in naming some members of the Security Council “old Europe” and US actions in forming “new alliances” with countries outside the Security Council will not alter the Council’s legal authority to determine when the use of force is necessary.

In general, the international community seemed to appreciate that Powell shared the evidence that he had. This evidence will now be examined to discover whether it is valid or invalid, and on the basis of that examination the UN inspectors will be helped in their work and the Security Council will be aided in making its decision on war or peace.

The US should continue to be forthcoming with its intelligence information on Iraq, as is requested in article 10 of UN Resolution 1441. Subsequent intelligence information should be provided by the US, not to disprove the effectiveness of the UN inspections, but to support them and increase their effectiveness. The willingness of the United States to fully cooperate with UN inspectors will reflect on whether the Bush administration is taking inspection process seriously or simply considers the inspections to be an unfortunate impediment to its seemingly unrelenting desire for war.
*David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. He is the co-editor with Richard Falk of The Iraq Crisis and International Law.