Hussein's Ploy Shows Sanctions Work

October 14, 1994|By JONATHAN POWER

LONDON — London. -- Sanctions do work, perhaps too well. Saddam Hussein's rush to point his troops at Kuwait was the stratagem of a very desperate man.

Sanctions have achieved far more than war did. They have led to the dismemberment of Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and long-range missile capability. They have destroyed the modern sector of Iraq's economy. They have led to the first serious internal challenges to Mr. Hussein's absolute power.

Sanctions have led, too, to a sharp rise in the infant-mortality rate and a chronic shortage of basic surgical materials in the hospitals. They have impaired the well-being of ordinary folk. Only two weeks ago, Mr. Hussein reduced the basic ration of rice, wheat, tea and sugar by half. Despite the smuggling through Jordan and Turkey, Iraq has been deprived of the most (( important essentials of the modern economy.

It would be even worse if U.N. sanctions policy did not allow food and humanitarian aid to vulnerable groups. And it would be even better if Mr. Hussein's pride permitted him to accept a deal the U.N. has long offered, to allow him to sell some of his oil to pay for more of this humanitarian aid.

Given the nature of Mr. Hussein's hollowed-out military establishment, his feint toward the Kuwaiti frontier seems designed more for effect than for action. Presumably, in his own peculiar way, Mr. Hussein thought that by raising the stakes he might force action on lifting the sanctions out of the cool deliberations of the U.N. Security Council and into the forum of world opinion.

He has miscalculated again. If Washington and London were ever open to argument about easing sanctions, this move has surely closed the door. Not even Moscow or Paris, which have been pushing for a loosening of sanctions, will waste much time defending Mr. Hussein now.

What to do next? Before Iraq's military mobilization there was a serious debate on the easing of sanctions. Rolf Ekeus, the

diligent Swedish chairman of the U.N.'s special disarmament commission, reported to the Security Council yesterday that the defanging of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and the factories that produced them is complete, and the monitoring equipment to make sure that Iraq doesn't engage in a new clandestine program is in place.

If this report had been made in an uneventful way, sandwiched between discussions on Haiti, Bosnia, Rwanda, Angola, Somalia and Tajikistan, there would have been pressure on the Security Council hard-liners, the U.S. and Britain, to bend a little on continuing sanctions, provided that Mr. Hussein agreed to recognize Kuwait and its borders and to pay reparations with its new oil money. America and Britain, alone on insisting on the removal of Mr.Hussein before sanctions were lifted, would have felt some heat.

Now the Iraqi dictator has made it clear that he cannot be trusted with any deal. While parole was being discussed, he decided to stage a break-out. The sentence cannot now be commuted. Sanctions must continue. But there is no formal mandate for them to continue. Nor for the American and British demand that Iraq remove all its armed forces from within easy reach of Kuwait.

These items need to be rectified. The Security Council must equip itself with more extensive powers than those authorized by Resolution 687, the cease-fire resolution, mistakenly labeled by insiders as the ''mother of all resolutions.''

Reasonable people may argue about whether Saddam Hussein should be blasted away or sanctioned to death: I clearly prefer the latter. But on the question of tightening the screws, it is difficult to see any grounds for further debate.

Jonathan Power writes a column on the Third World.

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