Who’s who in the

Coalition of the Willing


Some 30 countries were part of the Coalition against Iraq in the first Gulf War.  The Coalition against Iraq is much larger this time. 


A White House statement of 21 March 2003 informed the world that:


“President Bush is assembling a Coalition that has already begun military operations to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction, and enforce 17 UNSC resolutions.”


and that already 48 countries, all of whom “understand the threat Saddam Hussein’s weapons pose to the world”, were “publicly committed to the Coalition”, including:


Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Colombia, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Rwanda, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Korea, Spain, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan


On 3 April 2003, the number of Coalition members rose to 49 with the addition of Tonga, and that’s where it stands at the time of writing.


The White House boasts that this Coalition is drawn from every corner of the world, with every major race, religion and ethnicity in the world represented in it, with a total population of around 1.23 billion and a combined GDP of approximately $22 trillion.  (It doesn’t mention that almost 50% of the latter is due to the US economy).


The next time you hear a Coalition spokesman from Qatar, remember s/he is speaking on behalf of all these 49 countries.  The fact that spokesmen for the Coalition have always been either American or British up to now is sheer coincidence: Palau will get its turn shortly.


What contribution?

Scanning through the list of Coalition countries, an obvious question springs to mind: what contribution does a country have to make in order to qualify for inclusion in the list?  The answer is: absolutely none.  When an initial list was announced by the State Department a few days earlier on 18 March 2003, spokesman Richard Boucher, admitted this (see here for press briefing):


“I’d have to say these are countries that we have gone to and said, ‘Do you want to be listed?’ and they have said, ‘Yes’”


This implies that around 140 countries said No.  Given the possible negative consequences of saying No to any request from the US (as Yemen found out to its cost in 1990 when it voted against Security Council resolution 678 authorising the use of force to expel Iraq from Kuwait), it is remarkable that so many said No – particularly since saying Yes didn’t involve doing anything.


Actual contribution

What did Coalition members actually contribute?  Australia was the only country, apart from the US/UK, to provide combat troops.  A few other countries, including Poland and Spain, provided non-combatant military personnel.


Kuwait and a couple of other Gulf states allowed the US/UK to use their territories as a launching pad for their aggression against Iraq; Turkey famously resisted enormous US pressure to do likewise.  Other US/UK Coalition “partners”, if they provided anything at all, provided overflying rights only; none of them was prepared to allow Iraq to be attacked by aircraft taking off from their territory (or if they did they kept very quiet about it).  On one occasion, Italy did allow US paratroops to embark in Vicenza en route to Iraqi Kurdistan, but to quieten public controversy the Italian government was at pains to re-emphasise that Italian airbases were not available for bombing Iraq.  The end result was that, apart from Kuwait, the US/UK had to rely on carrier-based aircraft, plus long range missions from Fairford in Gloucestershire and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.


(Ireland is not on the President’s list even though, by allowing Shannon to be used for refuelling military aircraft, it contributed more to the war effort than the vast majority of the countries on the list.  It obviously said No, when asked.)


Bizarre list

Why the US President should go to the trouble of assembling this bizarre list, let alone describe it as a Coalition and boast about it, is a mystery, since it shows a lack of support around the world for the US/UK aggression against Iraq.  (Although, like the Americans, the UK government always refers to what is going on in Iraq as Coalition action, it seems to be embarrassed by the makeup of the Coalition, since there is no mention of its membership on any UK government website.)


The makeup of the Coalition is a reflection of the remarkable difficulty that the US has had in browbeating states into doing its bidding about Iraq in the past six months.  This has been constantly demonstrated at the UN, where there have been four open meetings of the Security Council on Iraq since last autumn, and on each occasion there was little support for the US/UK position  (the proceedings of these meetings can be located from here).


At the first, on 16-17 October 2002 when the US/UK was trying to pressurise the Security Council into passing a resolution giving them a free hand to make war on Iraq, of the 65 states which spoke only two – Australia and Albania – were unequivocally on their side.  The vast majority sided with the other three permanent members of the Council, France, Russia and China.  On 18-19 February 2003 after the second Blix report, when the US/UK were demanding military action against Iraq rather than the continuation of inspections, they did a little better: Australia and Albania were joined by Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, the Marshall Islands, Georgia and Latvia, but around 50 states sided with France.  Two more meetings were held in March, one on 11-12 March the week before the US/UK attacked Iraq and the other on 26-27 March the week after, and again a large majority of states were opposed to the use of force.


Non-aligned movement

These open meetings took place at the request of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).  Not much is heard of it these days.  It was founded in 1961 as a grouping of “neutral” states during the Cold War and Tito was its principal architect (see here).  It has had a continuous existence since then, and held its 13th summit in Kuala Lumpur in late February.  It now has 116 member states out a total of 193 UN member states.  Nearly all states in Africa, Asia and Latin America are members.  All Arab states including Iraq are members.


Insofar as it functions as an organisation, it seems to be primarily as a lobby group at the UN. Thus, for example, there is a NAM caucus within the Security Council, through which NAM states on the Council attempt to reach a common position on issues before the Council.  Six out of the 10 current non-permanent members of the Security Council are NAM members – Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Pakistan, Syria – and they all sided with France throughout (although Angola ended up on the President’s list).


South Africa was the chair of NAM for five years up to February, and tried to make it into an organisation that speaks with one voice on world issues, most recently over Iraq, and this should continue under Malaysia’s leadership.  At its February summit, it passed a resolution against US/UK military action against Iraq.  However, not all NAM members held to that position, and 13 (out of 116) appear on the President’s list:


Afghanistan, Angola, Dominican Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Honduras, Kuwait, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Panama, Rwanda, Singapore, Uganda


But, apart from Kuwait, none of them contributed anything to the action in Iraq.


Afghanistan is the only Muslim member of the Coalition, apart from Kuwait.  This is hardly surprising, since the US is in a uniquely powerful position to influence Afghan affairs, providing as it does Hamid Karzai’s bodyguards, local Afghan bodyguards having proved to be untrustworthy.  For Karzai to oppose the US would be, literally, suicidal.


Latin America

In the past, the US could normally rely on Latin America for support in international affairs.  But on this occasion the major Latin American states, including Mexico and Chile who are on the Security Council, sided with France, as did Canada.  Only Colombia, which is heavily dependent on the US for military and economic aid, and six Central American states – Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama – are on the President’s list.


A striking feature of the list is how few Commonwealth countries are on it.  Of the 54 members of the Commonwealth, there are only 4 apart from the UK itself – Australia, Singapore, Solomon Islands and Uganda.  By contrast, all the Francophone countries in the world sided with France. 


There is a Francophone organisation, similar to the Commonwealth, called International Organization of la Francophonie, which like the Commonwealth has observer status at the UN.  It has over 50 members, mostly former French colonies in Africa, but also including Canada, Vietnam and Lebanon.  Its Secretary-General is Butros Butros-Ghali, whose tenure as UN Secretary-General was not renewed because he wasn’t sufficiently co-operative with the US.  Coincidentally, last autumn when a heated debate was going on in the Security Council over 1441, it held its 9th summit in Beirut, and unanimously supported the French position on Iraq.


France also holds regular France/Africa summits to consolidate its influence, most recently on 19-21 February 2003.  This one, the 22nd to be held, attracted the wrath of Britain because Robert Mugabe was invited.  Every African state apart from Somalia was represented, and here again there was near unanimous support for the French position on Iraq.  There are, however, 5 African states on the list – Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda.


Miserable failure

The plain fact is that Bush and Blair failed, to a remarkable degree, to get the support of the world’s governments for their use of force against Iraq, and failed miserably to get the support of the world’s people.  When they embarked upon it, there wasn’t a state in the world, not excepting the US and Israel, in which popular support for war exceeded that for the continuation of inspections.


In so far as Bush and Blair got support from countries for the war, it was contrary to the wishes of the people in those countries.  Much has been made of the difference between “old” Europe and “new” Europe on this issue, but in one respect there was no difference – popular opinion in both was overwhelmingly opposed to war.  In this respect, Poland was little different from Spain or Italy (or France): according to a Pew poll of opinion in eight European countries published on 18 March 2003, there was a majority of 73/21 against war in Poland, 81/13 in Spain, 81/17 in Italy (and 75/20 in France)


Commenting on its findings, the Pew organisation said:


“Anti-war sentiment and disapproval of President Bush's international policies continue to erode America's image among the publics of its allies. US favorability ratings have plummeted in the past six months in countries actively opposing war ­ France, Germany and Russia ­ as well as in countries that are part of the ‘coalition of the willing’. In Great Britain, favorable views of the US have declined from 75% to 48% since mid-2002.


“In Poland, positive views of the US have fallen to 50% from nearly 80% six months ago; in Italy, the proportion of respondents holding favourable views of the US has declined by half over the same period (from 70% to 34%). In Spain, fewer than one-in-five (14%) have a favorable opinion of the United States. Views of the US in Russia, which had taken a dramatically positive turn after Sept. 11, 2001, are now more negative than they were prior to the terrorist attacks.


“More generally, criticisms of US foreign policy are almost universal. Overwhelming majorities disapprove of President Bush's foreign policy and the small boost he received in the wake of Sept. 11 has disappeared. As a consequence, publics in seven of the eight nations surveyed believe that American policies have a negative effect on their country. Only the British are divided on the impact of American foreign policy on their country.”


British spin

The British spin on the road to war is that the international consensus on Iraq last autumn expressed in Security Council resolution 1441 was sabotaged by France, thereby making war unavoidable.  This ignores the fact that the consensus in the Security Council last November was not for war.  Quite the contrary: the unanimity was achieved because the US/UK backed down on their attempt to get the Council to vote for war.  The unanimity was for inspection, followed by assessment of inspection reports by the Council, on the basis of which the Council would decide on further action.


France has been demonised by the US/UK for refusing to vote for war, and a pretence is made that by so doing they reversed their position of last autumn.  In fact, France maintained a consistent position throughout, a consistent position with which a large majority of the Security Council, and the states of the world, agreed.


Chirac godsend

Of course, the story put about by the British Government was that France sabotaged support on the Council for a second resolution authorising war by stating that it would use its veto.  In that regard, President Chirac’s remarks in a TV interview on 10 March 2003 (English translation of interview here) were a godsend to the British Government.  What he actually said was:


“My position is that, regardless of the circumstances, France will vote ‘no’ because she considers this evening that there are no grounds for waging war in order to achieve the goal we have set ourselves, that is to say, to disarm Iraq.”


What he clearly meant was that, in the circumstances existing at that time France would use its veto.  But the use of the phrase “regardless of the circumstances” allowed the Government to pretend that he had ruled out force for all time – and by so doing had torpedoed a second resolution.


In fact, Blair and Bush didn’t come within an ass’s roar of convincing a majority on the Security Council to vote for war – and France’s opposition had little to do with it.  After Hans Blix’s report on 14 February only two non-permanent members – Bulgaria and Spain – were willing to vote for war and a month later on 17 March when Britain gave up trying to get a vote for war the US/UK still had only two supporters.


(Also, there is real doubt about the constitutional validity of Bulgaria’s support for war in the Council, and subsequently as part of the Coalition.  The Prime Minister, Simeon Saxecoburggotski, was responsible for this, but the President Georgi Parvanov opposed Bulgaria’s participation, and queried whether the decision to participate in the Coalition had proper parliamentary approval, as the Prime Minister asserted.)


Chirac’s remarks provided the basis for the remarkable proposition advanced by the British Government that France is responsible for the war, even though it was opposed to it and didn’t take part in it.  Repeated at nauseam wrapped in anti-French hysteria in the week up the Commons vote for war on 18 March 2003, this proposition kept the Labour rebellion in the Commons within bounds.  Blair and Straw are still advancing this proposition today.


Daft proposition

The proposition is, of course, daft.  It begins with the assumption that, had France voted to threaten imminent war if Iraq did not account for its “weapons of mass destruction” within a few days, there would have been a majority on the Security Council for it.  It continues with Iraq, faced with this united front in the Council, coughing up weapons that probably don’t exist, or in a few days proving to the satisfaction of the US/UK that they had been destroyed, something which Iraq has tried and failed to do for the past five years.


But let us suppose that this highly unlikely sequence of events did occur.  To believe that war could have been avoided, we have to believe that at this point George Bush would have reversed gear, and taken his troops home, leaving Saddam Hussein in power, having spent the past year telling the American people that he was a dangerous tyrant who had to be removed (and whom around 50% of the US electorate believe was responsible for 9/11).  That would not have been a sensible move for a President seeking re-election next year, and it’s an absolutely safe bet he would not have made it.


It is absurd to believe that, if France supported the US/UK in the Security Council, war could have been avoided.  Yet that is what Blair and Straw continue to tell us.



Labour & Trade Union Review

May 2003