Subject: This analysis focuses on the potential role of Spain in the event of a war against Iraq. Being an advocator of military intervention comes with a set of responsibilities to the Iraqi population, particularly after a military intervention. The analysis points out some of the weaknesses for building sustainable peace after a military intervention, and indicates areas were Spain could play an important role in a post war Iraq. The analysis tries to assess both how Spain can reinforce its international role and at the same time appeal to the interest of Spanish public opinion.
Summary: The Spanish government has opted for supporting an armed intervention in Iraq and, in doing so, has revealed its ambition to participate in shaping international policy. Despite the government’s strategy, the Iraq crisis is often regarded as an Anglo-American initiative. Thus, the government is paying a very high price domestically for pursuing its strategic choices meanwhile it is not receiving the full recognition of its actions from the International Community. Spain has so far restricted its participation in the crisis to diplomacy. A more active role, whereby Spain commits human and other resources to support its foreign policy choices, is likely to give the government more room to influence the process to which it has committed itself, and possibly make the governments position more transparent as well as internationally recognized. The analysis indicates that Spain could play an important and active role in the reconstruction of a post-war Iraq, and help set the country on track for democracy. It also points out some of the risks attached to the reconstruction. Active participation in the reconstruction would centre the Spanish contribution on the humanitarian parts of the crisis, and possibly give it a central role in rebuilding US-European relationship deemed necessary to speed up and pay for the reconstruction works.
Analysis: War in Iraq is not unavoidable but nevertheless highly likely. The government of Spain has, by its open support for an armed intervention in Iraq, sided with both the US and the UK. By taking this controversial position from a European point of view, it has also signalled to the International Community that it is ready to take on a different and more active role in international and foreign politics, sizing up to France, Germany, Italy and the UK, as being one of the leading and most important nations in Europe.
However, Spain has so far not sized the full responsibility of a major political actor in this crisis. In contrast to the UK and US, Spain has so far committed neither troops nor economical resources to the military build-up. Nor has it started to consider what would happen after a potential war. It has not revealed its views on how democracy should be restored, and how to build sustainable peace in the country – issues that are now being discussed by both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. Its main contribution so far consists mainly of a 5 million euro donation to the UNHCR to be used for refugee assistance. As this crisis has shown, small and big countries alike can play the diplomatic game. However, in the end, a firm commitment beyond the diplomatic table matters, and it is not an accident that the advocators for a military intervention are often co-labelled as the Anglo-American initiative. Thus, to make a more credible claim for inclusion among the large European countries, Spain has to show that it is ready to go all the way in backing its political stance. This requires a certain amount of action and a significant amount of resources.
The question is how Spain should consider acting. Providing troops would be one option, but perhaps a more interesting one, and more in line with Spanish public opinion, would be to participate seriously in the reconstruction and peace building in Iraq after an intervention. This would focus Spain’s efforts on the humanitarian side of the conflict, which is a core concern of the Spanish anti-war movement. Opting for an active role in a post-intervention Iraq does not come free of risks, however. It is very likely that the interventionists, and all those who support a military intervention, would be held responsible for any interior instability in a post war Iraq. It is also likely that history will focus less on the military efforts in bringing down Saddam, and more on the process of restoring peace. Thus, failing in the post-war intervention would most likely come at a high price for those responsible, but successfully returning Iraq to its pre-Gulf War strength and terminate 13 years of humanitarian deterioration would be a major foreign policy achievement for those who contributed to this end.
In the case of Iraq, there are many factors pointing at an extremely complex and difficult post-war scenario. It cannot be excluded that these difficulties may threaten the reconstruction and the prospects for sustainable peace in the country.
Iraq has one of the world’s largest displaced populations. Estimates indicate that as many as 2-3 million Iraqis may have fled the country in one way or another from 1980 up to now. About 530 thousand people are recognized refugees, 0.8 to 1.2 million are internally displaced people, and the rest are undocumented refugees, emigrants, etc. A military intervention is likely to add to these numbers. The number of refugees a new conflict may produce depends ultimately on the nature of the conflict. UNHCR’s estimates oscillate between 1 and 1.5 million people. Many of displaced persons have been forced away from their properties, others have had their property destroyed or expropriated. While not all displaced Iraqis are likely to return to Iraq and their previous residence after the intervention, a large majority most likely will. Reclaims of properties and landholdings, as well as compensation issues, are likely to become a major source for civil contention in a post-Saddam Iraq.
Iraq is a multiethnic society. Bringing down the current regime may surface hidden ethnic conflicts. The experience in the Balkans is that stemming ethnic conflicts may be a key factor to sustainable peace in the country. No one really knows how the Kurds, the Shia Muslims, the Sunni Muslims and other minority groups are going to get along in the absence of the totalitarian regime. If ethnic conflicts are unleashed, it cannot be excluded that internal fights between ethnic communities may add substantially to the hardship of the Iraqi people. Ethnic conflicts would pose a severe threat to any effort in reconstructing civil society in Iraq. In addition, the large amount of firearms among the civil population, across all ethnic groups, underlines the potential danger of the situation.
The humanitarian situation is another source for unrest. Iraq has been under economic sanctions since 1990, and it has developed dependence to the Oil for Food programme since Saddam finally accepted it in 1996. It is believed that as much as 60% of the Iraqi population (14 million people) rely on the food rations from the Oil for Food programme. If the oil production capacity is not damaged during the intervention, it is possible to foresee a continuation of the Oil for Food programme. This could be insufficient in the short term, however. Current estimates indicate that as many as 1 million children under five years of age are suffering from serious malnourishment. Diseases related to malnourishment and other infectious diseases are widespread. Medical supply is also scarce, and maintenance of health-care facilities is greatly insufficient.
The military intervention may aggravate the current situation. A post-war intervention has to be prepared to accommodate a high number of wounded people requiring urgent aid. Diseases resulting from malnourishment may escalate if the food distribution suffers interruptions. Even if infrastructure is not destroyed by the military campaign, maintenance on electrical plants and water refineries has slowed down or stopped due to the Iraqi government’s reluctance to cooperate with the UN throughout the 1990s. Drinking water is probably the largest problem and the most relevant to public health. About 5 million Iraqis do not have access to drinking water and sanitation. Most data indicates that a post war intervention in Iraq implies one of the world’s largest humanitarian aid operations. Should oil production be destroyed or damaged, contingency planning for direct aid in the form of food supplies would become necessary until the oil production is resumed. The current situation, before a possible military intervention, is not satisfactory. The United Nations aid agencies face a huge funding shortfall. So far, UNHCR has received $ 17 million. Estimates based on the Balkan experience show that 1 million people subject to humanitarian aid would imply a cost of about $ 500 million a year. The total bill for refugee related activities from the Gulf War was $ 300 million.
Finally, bringing down the current government would lead to a collapse of the Iraqi administration, which would hamper the functioning of the judicial system, the police force and health authorities etc. Although, most people agree that Iraq has not exactly been a raw model for human rights and social justice, the current system has nevertheless provided some form of security and rule of law. Given the complexity of problems in a post-war Iraq, local security will be an important key to successful reconstruction. Any attempt to bring down the current regime would need to ensure the continuation of basic administration and services to be able to guarantee security and uphold the rule of law. At the same time, it would be necessary to re-educate the police force in human rights issues, and reform the legal system in conformity with basic human and civil rights. Failing to maintain and reform security could have far reaching consequences for a country that simultaneously have to deal with refugee return and ambiguous property claims, potential ethnical disputes and scarce supplies of food and medicine. The police force itself could be an additional problem to security – being a force with easy access to arms; not integrating them in the reconstruction of local security could be counterproductive. The same is true for the country’s armed forces.
A Spanish strategy to post-intervention activities
Successfully addressing all the problems in a post-intervention Iraq requires commitment, resources, and careful planning. Given the foreseeable problems, any strategy for post-intervention activities should consider dedicating ample resources to: 1) Maintaining Security, justice and the rule of law, 2) Providing direct aid.
Maintaining Security, Justice, and the Rule of law
Even if Spain is not contributing with any troops to the military intervention, it can play a decisive role in providing security during the post intervention. In addition, the country can also take on a responsibility in re-training Iraqi national police agencies. Spain could consider two partially overlapping activities in providing security. 1) Provide active security through its military troops and the Guardia Civil, by sending agents from these two bodies to Iraq to assist local police in maintaining security in selected parts of the country. 2) Security training. Iraq police forces are trained to serve the purpose of a dictatorship. It can be expected that the Iraqi local police lack substantive training in providing security in accordance to recognized humanitarian conventions and rules – capacity that the Spanish military forces and the Guardia Civil possess. The primary focus of such a mission would be to assist the Iraqi police in dealing with refugee returns, ethnical disputes, petty crimes and violence, and to prevent the local police from violating human rights in the process. Spain has recent experience in peace building and local security from the conflict in Kosovo. This experience could facilitate this work substantially.
Restoring the judicial system and the rule of law is more complicated and involves the creation of a democratic government. President Bush has pledged to help Iraqis to build a representative government. How this is going to happen, is less clear however. The US seem to lean towards putting a US General in charge of the country for an interim period; Mr Blair has advocated for a UN civilian administrator; Spain, Italy and Bulgaria have been silent. The issue of how to build a representative government is yet to be solved. One thing is sure, however. It is likely to take some time, maybe years, and so is the reconstruction of the country. Thus, if Spain seriously considers participating with human and financial resources to the post-intervention works in Iraq, it should also consider very carefully the possibilities for how to rebuild the country.
A US lead initiative would most likely refrain countries such as France and Germany from considering a serious participation in the reconstruction works. This would mean a very high-price tag on participation. A multilateral solution is preferable. Reconstruction under a UN initiative would have a broader support, and the cost for reconstruction would be shared among several countries. A UN lead operation would have more benefits since it is more likely that the Spanish public opinion would favour a UN lead democratization process over a US General lead exercise. Siding with Mr Blair on this issue would most likely be a good investment. This would imply a new Security Council resolution regulating the post-intervention activities. A British and Spanish joint initiative in bringing about such a resolution would position them in the front seat when negotiating the involvement of both the UN and the European Union in the reconstruction of Iraq.
While being a vast task, providing direct aid is most likely less complicated than most other post intervention activities. Direct aid such as foodstuff and medical supply involves foremost a substantial financial commitment from the government. It is not necessary for the government to create new structures for administrating the aid. There are several existing aid organizations that have long experience of aid work in the field, including Iraq. These bodies are better equipped to deal with aid work than politicians.
In any event, whatever the sum the government decides to put on the table, it is not going to be enough. The government’s role would therefore be to coordinate the distribution of its resources so as to maximize the output. This work would imply inviting the representatives of aid organizations that intend to work in solving issues of humanitarian aid in a post-intervention Iraq and, in consultation with these bodies, make priorities to ensure that Spanish direct aid is used as effectively as possible. Apart from a unilateral aid initiative, Spain, in its capacity of EU member, could also consider taking on a lead role in the rising of financial support from Community funds. After all, Iraq is bordering to one of the applicants for membership to the EU –Turkey. Using EU funds in from EU’s agency for reconstruction may prove to be an important investment for future stability of an enlarged Union including Turkey. Such an initiative would be welcomed in so far that it would diversify the financial burden in the reconstruction works as well as involve the EU in shaping a new Iraq, which very well might become an important partner for the EU in the Arab world.
Conclusions: Why should Spain consider active participation in a post war Iraq? Spanish direct involvement in the Iraq crisis has been seriously impeded by Spanish domestic policy. Faced with an almost overwhelming majority of the electorate marching against a military intervention, the government has nevertheless remained faithful to its initial position favouring an intervention. Nobody doubts that the government may pay for its position in coming elections. However, much may change before then. A successful military intervention will centre the debate on the situation inside Iraq and on how to turn the country back to normality. If Spain supports an armed intervention it becomes co-responsible for the reconstruction and peace building in Iraq. Bad management of the post-war intervention will have far reaching political consequences both abroad and domestically, and ultimately be conceived as a partial government failure regardless whether Spain is active or passive in this phase.
However, without active involvement, the Spanish government may be accused for its incapacity to deal with large crisis in the field, as happened after the recent Prestige accident. The reluctance on behalf of Spanish leaders in dealing with the consequences of the Prestige accident made headline news across the world, meanwhile the government were busy passing EU regulations to prevent future sea transport accidents that at best reached the teleprompters in the news agents offices. At the end of the most turbulent parts of the Prestige crisis, Spanish political leaders were broadly judged as being inactive and lacking in their capacity to deal with the crisis fieldwork. Direct involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq will give the Spanish government a tool to influence any post-war activity, and if used properly, show that the government possess the skill to master an international crisis.
The Spanish government needs to strike a balance between its diplomatic efforts and its direct involvement in a crisis situation. This is not only important from an electoral point of view. It is not enough to support its allies at the conference table to gain influence in high stake foreign policy maters – any country can play the diplomatic game. Spain will ultimately have to build a reputation as a being capable of sacrificing significant resources in pursuing its foreign policy objectives if it aspires to a leading role in the international arena.
Senior Analyst, Demography and Migrations
Real Instituto Elcano