chapter  6
20 Pages

The ‘crisis’ of the transatlantic alliance: Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iraq

As the US-led coalition began its intervention in Afghanistan in October 2001, US and British officials submitted a draft resolution to the United Nations stating that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of UN Resolution 687, passed in 1990, requiring the declaration and destruction of all of Iraq’s WMD and providing for inspections to verify such action. The new draft resolution, Resolution 1441, called upon the Iraqi government to prove it no longer possessed WMD and to cooperate with a new round of UN inspections, failing which, ‘serious consequences’ would follow (UN 2002). When the US and Britain decided in December 2002 that Iraq was in ‘material breach’ of Resolution 1441, a rift in transatlantic relations emerged as serious as any since the end of the Cold War, if not more so. Between December 2002 and March 2003, the transatlantic community became locked in a titanic diplomatic struggle, not only with Saddam Hussein, but also within itself, as the US sought to lead the charge to war only to find itself facing significant opposition from many of its traditional NATO allies. Many commentators described the transatlantic debates and disagreements as a ‘crisis’ of profound proportions, one that threatened to tear apart the very fabric of the alliance. Although the war in Iraq did result in an often dramatic heightening of transatlantic tensions, it did not result in the irrevocable fracturing of the alliance. As in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration found itself in the position of having conducted a successful military operation but facing the prospect of a challenging post-combat environment. The US decision to turn to NATO for help and support, alliance members’ contributions to the US-led coalition and NATO’s mission to train Iraqi forces – at the same time as carrying out its ISAF operation – suggested that far from lying in the ‘rubble of Baghdad’ as some suggested (Kupchan 2003a), the alliance was alive and well and beginning to reorient itself to the new strategic landscape.