The United Nations Security Council - Its Role in the Iraq Crisis: A Brief Overview

CRS Report for Congress
The United Nations Security Council — Its
Role in the Iraq Crisis: A Brief Overview
Marjorie Ann Browne
Specialist in International Relations
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
On September 12, 2002, President Bush in his address to the U.N. General
Assembly, focused on Iraq and its failure to comply with various resolutions adopted by
the U.N. Security Council. He urged the Council to act in the face of such repeated
violations. On November 8, 2002, the Council responded, adopting Resolution 1441
(2002) unanimously. This short report provides background information on what the
U.N. Security Council is and what it does, including the occasions when it has
authorized the use of force or its equivalent. As the U.N. organ having primary
responsibility for the maintenance of peace and security, the 15-member Security
Council set the major international response to the August 1990 Iraqi invasion of
Kuwait, authorizing the use of “force” to gain Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait in
compliance with the 11 resolutions previously passed in 1990. In 1991, after the war,
the Council adopted a series of 12 resolutions that assigned an extensive set of tasks to
the United Nations and imposed on Iraq an equally extensive series of obligations. As
hostilities became imminent, U.N. activities inside Iraq were suspended. After March
19, 2003, the Council met in late March to air U.N. member concerns over the
hostilities. This report ends with the start of hostilities and will not be updated.
What It Is and What It Does
The United Nations Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United
Nations.1 Its membership of 15 nations consists of 10 nonpermanent members and five
permanent members — China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and
the United States. Each of these five states has veto rights over adoption of Council
resolutions on substantive issues. This means that if a resolution receives the necessary
nine yes votes to be adopted, if even one of these five states votes no, the resolution will
not pass. The nonpermanent member nations are elected by the U.N. General Assembly
each fall, five annually, to two-year terms. In 2003, the nonpermanent members were

1 See U.N. Charter, Chapter V, and [] for more information.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Germany, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Spain, and the
Syrian Arab Republic.2 Under the U.N. Charter, the Council has primary responsibility
for the maintenance of international peace and security (Article 24).
In 1945, the drafters of the U.N. Charter created in Chapter VII a system of possible
Council responses relating to the maintenance of international peace that included
enforcement short of the use of force, and actions including the use of force. Chapter VII
sets forth steps the Council might take in response to “threats to the peace, breaches of the
peace, and acts of aggression.” The U.N. Security Council has authorized the use of
“force” or its equivalent on a number of occasions. Sometimes, it has specifically used
the word “force” while at others it has used such terms as “all means necessary”. Of the
18 resolutions authorizing the use of force directly or implicitly and passed by the Council
between 1945 and May 1999, we found that the word “force” was used five times. In
some instances, “All means necessary” did not really mean use of force. The text of each
was checked for content and context.
The four instances before 1990 when the Council authorized the use of force are (1)
Council Resolution 83 (1950), adopted June 27, 1950, to “furnish such
assistance...necessary to repel the armed attack and to restore...peace and security” at the
start of the Korean War; (2) Council Resolution 161A (1961), adopted February 21, 1961,
to “take...all appropriate measures to prevent ...civil war in the Congo, including...the use
of force, if necessary, in the last resort,” an authorization to the U.N. peacekeeping
operation in the Congo (ONUC); (3) Council Resolution 169 (1961), adopted November
24, 1961, “to take vigorous action, including the use of the requisite measure of force, if
necessary” to remove foreign military and other personnel not under the U.N. Command,
another authorization to ONUC in the Congo; and (4) Council Resolution 221 (1966),
adopted April 9, 1966, “calls on the... United Kingdom to prevent by the use of force if
necessary the arrival at Beira of vessels...believed to be carrying oil destined for
Rhodesia....” The Council did not cite the Charter in these four resolutions.
The Council cited Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter in all of the resolutions adopted
since 1990, including Resolution 678 (1990). Resolution 665 (1990) cited, in a
preambular paragraph, Resolution 661 (1990), which imposed economic sanctions acting
under Chapter VII. (See discussion of resolutions 665 and 678 in the next paragraph) The
Council gave four U.N.-commanded peacekeeping operations authority to use force or its
equivalent — ONUC (U.N. Operation in the Congo), UNOSOM II (U.N. Operation in
Somalia), UNPROFOR (U.N. Protection Force) in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and
UNPROFOR in Croatia. The Council authorized six non-U.N. commanded or so-called
coalition operations to use force or its equivalent — the Persian Gulf coalition of nations
assisting Kuwait and under U.S. command; the Unified Task Force in Somalia, under
U.S. command; the so-called Operation Turquoise, in Rwanda, under French command;
the Multinational Force in Haiti, under U.S. command; and the NATO commanded
operations in Bosnia to implement the Dayton accords — IFOR (Implementation Force)
and SFOR (Stabilization Force).
The U.N. Security Council and Iraq

2 On January 1, 2003, Angola, Chile, Germany, Pakistan, and Spain replaced Colombia, Ireland,
Mauritius, Norway, and Singapore whose terms ended on December 31, 2002.

Pre-War Actions. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 1-2, 1990, set into
motion a series of actions by U.N. member states that catapulted the United Nations
Security Council into the limelight. Between August 2 and December 31, 1990, the
Council adopted 12 resolutions that progressively applied elements of Chapter VII of the
Charter. (For the texts of the resolutions adopted in 1990, see CRS Report 90-513, Iraq-
Kuwait: U.N. Security Council Resolutions — Texts and Votes.) After condemning the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and demanding Iraq’s withdrawal in Resolution 660 (1990), the
Council decided in Resolution 661 (1990) to impose economic sanctions against Iraq and
occupied Kuwait as a means of securing compliance by Iraq with Resolution 660 (1990).
In Resolution 665 (1990), the Council authorized states with maritime forces in the area
to “use such measures as may be necessary” to ensure strict implementation of the
sanctions as related to shipping. Finally, in Resolution 678 (1990), the Council
authorized states “to use all necessary means” to implement previous Council resolutions.
Post-War Actions. In 1991, the U.N. Security Council adopted a series of 12
resolutions that assigned an extensive set of tasks to the United Nations and imposed on
Iraq an equally extensive series of obligations. The cease-fire resolution, Resolution 687
(1991), was the most comprehensive and longest resolution ever then adopted by the
Council and established the range of issues to be covered by the United Nations. They
included boundary demarcation, U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission, weapons of mass
destruction, return of Kuwaiti property, compensation (reparations), sanctions: general
and arms embargo, sanctions: oil exports/humanitarian imports program, and repatriation
of Kuwaiti and third country nationals. The Council also adopted Resolution 688 on
humanitarian intervention.
A major distinguishing feature of Resolutions 687 and 688 and at least four
subsequent resolutions was the extent to which the Council imposed obligations and
duties that directly infringed on Iraq’s internal affairs. Iraq was obliged to accept onto its
territory teams of inspectors in search of weapons of mass destruction that were to be
destroyed and/or removed. Iraq was obliged to accept international assistance for the
housing, protection, and feeding of the segments of its population that had been subjected
to and fled from gross human rights violations inflicted by the Iraqi government.
Although Iraq was still subject to the economic sanctions imposed in August 1990, it was
allowed to export a limited amount of its petroleum products under an explicit set of
provisions requiring tight U.N. control and monitoring.3 (For the texts of resolutions
adopted in 1991, see CRS Report 91-395, Iraq-Kuwait: U.N. Security Council
Resolutions, Texts and Votes — 1991.)
Over the past ten years, from 1992 through December 31, 2002, the Council
adopted 39 resolutions dealing with Iraq. (For the texts of resolutions adopted during this
period, see CRS Report RL31611, Iraq-Kuwait: United Nations Security Council
Resolutions. Texts — 1992-2002) A few resolutions dealt with such issues as the Iraq-
Kuwait boundary demarcation, the operation of the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation

3 This and the previous paragraph are taken from the Summary and Conclusions, p. vii, of the
following report: U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs. U.N. Security Council
Resolutions on Iraq: Compliance and Implementation. Report prepared for the Subcommittee
on Europe and the Middle East. March 1992. Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1992 (102d Congress, 2d Session. Committee Print), with contribution by this author.

Mission (UNIKOM), and reparations payments. Much of the Council’s attention was
directed at inspections and access issues and the establishment and operation of an oil for
food program. Among the significant resolutions adopted were Resolution 986 (1995),
setting up the oil for food program and Resolution 1409 (2002), further defining the oil
for food program and expediting the humanitarian distribution process. Resolution 1051
(1996) set up a mechanism for monitoring Iraqi imports and exports relating to weapons
of mass destruction, while Resolution 1194 (1998) stopped Council sanctions reviews
until inspections access difficulties were resolved. In 1999, the Council adopted
Resolution 1284 (1999), creating a new inspections mechanism, the U.N. Monitoring,
Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which, until 2002, had not been
able to operate within Iraq. During this time, the Council did not specifically authorize
the further use of force to ensure Iraqi compliance with Resolution 687 (1991) or any of
its subsequent resolutions. It did, however, refer to previously adopted resolutions,
including Resolution 678 (1990) and Resolution 687 (1991).
Iraq and the U.N. Security Council — 2002
On November 8, 2002, after nearly two months of consultation, negotiation, and
debate, the U.N. Security Council, by a vote of 15-0-0, adopted Resolution 1441 (2002).4
In this resolution, the Council decided (1) to give Iraq which “has been and remains in
material breach” of U.N. resolutions, “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament
obligations” and (2) to set up “an enhanced inspection regime.” It decided that Iraq
“shall provide...a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its
programs to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and
other delivery systems” by December 8.5 It decided that “false statements or omissions
in the declarations submitted” and “failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and
cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material
breach” and “will be reported to the Council for assessment.” The Council decided that
Iraq “shall provide...immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access to any
and all, including underground, areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records, and means
of transport which they wish to inspect, as well as immediate, unimpeded, unrestricted,
and private access to all officials and other persons whom UNMOVIC or the IAEA wish
to interview....” The Council directed UNMOVIC and IAEA to “report immediately to
the Council any interference by Iraq with inspection activities, as well as any failure by
Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations.” In addition, the Council decided that
it would “convene immediately upon receipt of a report” relating to Iraqi noncompliance
and recalled, “in that context, that it had repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious
consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations.”
On September 12, 2002, President Bush in his address to the U.N. General
Assembly, had focused on Iraq and its failure to comply with various resolutions adopted
by the U.N. Security Council. He urged the Security Council to act in the face of such
repeated violations:

4 The Security Council held an open debate on Iraq on October 16 and 17, 2002. During the four
meetings, the 15 members of the Council were joined by 51 U.N. members and three Permanent
Observers, in expressing their views on a number of issues related to Iraq and various options for
response to President Bush’s General Assembly speech.
5 Iraq submitted a 12,000 page declaration on December 7, 2002.

My nation will work with the U.N. Security Council to meet our common challenge.
If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold
Iraq to account. We will work with the U.N. Security Council for the necessary
resolutions. ...The Security Council resolutions will be enforced — the just demands
of peace and security will be met — or action will be unavoidable.
The question of the “Situation between Iraq and Kuwait” is still on the Council’s
agenda. The Council considers the situation under a number of topics, including a
biannual review of continuation of the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission
(UNIKOM); the annual report of the Resolution 661 Sanctions Committee; the Oil for
Food program (a report is required every 90 days); and the quarterly report of the U.N.
Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC).
Among the issues that faced Council members as they worked to draft what became
S/RES/1441 (2002) in response to President Bush’s request were the following:
!What inspection regime will apply? The pre-Resolution 1441 (2003) set
of Council resolutions included approval of the 1998 memorandum of
understanding on access to presidential palaces in Iraq and the 1999
establishment of UNMOVIC, that included an extensive, or some would
say expansive, timetable for the conduct of inspections. Iraq’s September
16, 2002 acceptance of inspectors without conditions and U.S. demands
for inspectors to “go anywhere, anytime, see anyone, inspect anything, at
the time and place of the inspector’s choosing” would seem to require an
additional resolution to revise inspection access. Some countries,
however, seemed to prefer that no additional Council resolution be
!Should a deadline for Iraqi compliance, either with Council resolutions
or with unconditional inspections, be set by the Council before
inspections start?
!When should the Council authorize actions that might be taken if Iraq did
not comply — before or after the inspections phase? Some nations,
including the United States, sought a “consequences” authorization as
part of a single resolution on inspections and Iraqi compliance while
others preferred a two-stage process, with a specific authorization of
force or its equivalence after inspections had been given a chance to
Iraq and the U.N. Security Council in 2003
During most of the first quarter of the year, members of the U.N. Security Council
continued to review the work of the UNMOVIC and IAEA, as briefed and reported by the
chief inspectors (see CRS Report RL31671, Iraq: U.N. Inspections for Weapons of Mass
Destruction, by Sharon A. Squassoni), and to consider what the Council’s next steps, if
any, might be. Considerable time was devoted to efforts by the United States and the
United Kingdom to get the Council to adopt a so-called second resolution that would
determine that Iraq had failed to comply with Council resolution 1441 (2002). On March

17, 2003, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan informed the Council that he had

authorized “the withdrawal of all remaining United Nations system personnel from Iraq.”
At a “press encounter,” he said that the “mandates” of the UNMOVIC and the IAEA
inspections, UNIKOM, the U.N. oil-for-food program, and the sale of oil under the
sanctions program were “suspended” because they will be “inoperable.” The Council
met on Wednesday, March 19, to review a report on “key remaining disarmament tasks.”
On March 19, 2003, a coalition of states, led by the United States and including the
United Kingdom, Spain, and Australia, initiated hostilities in Iraq. On March 20, 2003,
the United States sent a letter (S/2003/351) to the Council notifying it that coalition forces
had “commenced military operations in Iraq. These operations are necessary,” continued
the letter, “in view of Iraq’s continued material breaches of its disarmament obligations
under relevant Security Council resolutions, including resolution 1441 (2002).”
According to the letter, the “actions being taken are authorized under existing Council
resolutions, including its resolutions 678 (1990) and 687 (1991).” On March 26 and 27,
2003, the Security Council met, in response to requests from the League of Arab States
and the Non-Aligned Movement, to discuss the situation in Iraq. Sixty-eight U.N.
member states who were not Council members participated in the debate, which did not
result in a resolution or Presidential Statement by the President of the Council.