US and Kuwait undermine
the UN by entering the
demilitarised zone on the
Perhaps it is not the most well-known peace mission of
the UN, but you will be sure to hear more about it soon
as it is situated on the border between Iraq and Kuwait.
Its name is UNIKOM (UN Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission),
It was established by Security Council Resolution 687 in
1991. During TFF's fact-finding mission to Iraq in
January this year, we visited the UN mission there.
Reports from the last few days tell that armed US
Marines and vehicles have entered this demilitarised
zone, DMZ, between Iraq and Kuwait. On the Kuwaiti side,
they have cut down fences and set up 7 gates, presumably
in preparation of an invasion and occupation of Iraq.
We, the authors, are not experts in international law
and shall not judge whether this is a breach of the
Security Council Resolution and/or other parts of
international law, or whether there is some fine print
somewhere that makes this legitimate under certain
circumstances. However, we doubt it. It is hard to
understand that a UN demilitarised zone can be entered by
armed personnel in preparation for an attack on a UN
member state and that it would be legal.
But, more importantly, this is undoubtedly a serious
political and normative blow to the authority and
integrity of the United Nations as such. It undermines
both the Security Council and the vitally important,
highly competent UNIKOM mission on the ground. It further
destabilises the region and signals to the government of
Iraq that it will be attacked no matter what it does to
It is striking that this unilateral action has not
caused a stir and that there has been virtually no
international debate about it.
Questions that should be
We believe these developments raise a series of
important questions pertaining to international
1. Did the United States seek permission from the
United Nations before entering into the zone? If
so, on what grounds was the US given permission to enter
the zone with weapons?
2. When the UN has informed the Security Council about
this breach, what will it be able to do when one of its
own permanent members ignores a decision made by that
very same Council?
3. Can it be morally acceptable and in accordance with
the letter and spirit of international law as well as the
UN Charter that one member of the UN unilaterally
militarises a UN demilitarised zone? If done in
preparation for an attack on another member state, can
this be legitimate under any circumstances?
4. Is Iraq - a UN member that has, naturally, never
signed an SC decision - legally or politically obliged to
comply with SC decisions if a Permanent SC Member that
has signed SC decisions does not respect them?
5. It would seem that a member state, by entering a UN
demilitarised zone with weapons and with the purpose of
invading another member constitutes a threat to
international peace and security. If so, the
Secretary-General can choose to "bring to the attention
of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion
may threaten the maintenance of international peace and
security." (Article 99 of the UN Charter). What is the
Secretary-General's opinion in this case when a member
state makes a force-based incursion into a zone set up by
the organisation he leads?
6. What obligations does UN member Kuwait have as
party to the UNIKOM mission? By letting US troops enter
its side of the demilitarised zone, does it constitute a
breach of the SC decision and the UNIKOM mandate? If so,
should Kuwait continue to receive 25% of all Iraq's oil
revenue in war reparations if it, as it seems,
contributed to preparing an international aggression on
7. What if Baghdad perceives the incursion into the
zone as a further increase of the threat against it and,
with reference to the inherent right to self-defence (UN
Charter Article 51), finds it necessary to enter the UN
demilitarised zone from its side?
Why has nobody raised these questions? Has the
arrogance of the Bush regime and its systematic defiance
of international consultations, norms and laws and its
might-make-right policies been so pervasive that they no
longer provoke debate?
The U.S. repeatedly points out that Iraq has
repeatedly violated Security Council decisions. It argues
that the credibility of the Council is at stake when its
decisions are not backed up with determination, with
force if necessary. In this case it looks as if the
United States doesn't care a damn about its own signature
under an SC decision, doesn't it?
The following are excerpts from UNIKOM's website:
The Council gave UNIKOM a mandate to monitor
the DMZ and the Khawr 'Abd Allah waterway between Iraq
and Kuwait, to deter violations of the boundary, and
to observe any hostile action mounted from the
territory of one state against the other.
The military observers of UNIKOM are unarmed.
Responsibility for the maintenance of law and order in
the DMZ rests with the Governments of Iraq and Kuwait,
which maintain police posts in their respective parts
of the zone. Police are only allowed side arms.
In 1993, the Security Council, by its resolution
806 (1993), expanded the tasks of UNIKOM to include
the capacity to take physical action to prevent or
redress: (a) small-scale violations of the DMZ; (b)
violations of the boundary between Iraq and Kuwait,
for example by civilians or police; and (c) problems
that might arise from the presence of Iraqi
installations and Iraqi citizens and their assets in
the DMZ on the Kuwaiti side of the newly demarcated
boundary. The Council increased the authorised
strength of the mission to 3,645 (three mechanised
infantry battalions including support elements) and
requested the Secretary-General to execute a phased
deployment of the additional elements.
By acting under Chapter VII, the Council
demonstrated that the international community would
act decisively should Iraq attempt to attack Kuwait
again. To further strengthen this, all five permanent
members of the Security Council, for the first time in
a peacekeeping operation, agreed to provide military
As of 31 December 2002, there were 1,105 total
uniformed personnel, comprised of 193 military
observers and 912 troops, supported by 63
international civilian personnel and 164 local
civilian staff. They came from 32 countries, among
them the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark
This is a short report from the Washington
Post, March 7, 2003, p A16.
Breach by U.S. Troops Reported
Kuwait-Iraq Zone Crossed, U.N. Says
UNITED NATIONS, March 6 -- The United Nations has
informed the Security Council that armed U.S. Marines
have repeatedly breached a U.N.-monitored
demilitarized zone along the Kuwait-Iraq border,
potentially violating a 1991 resolution ending the
Persian Gulf War.
U.N. peacekeepers monitoring the border "reported
numerous violations of the demilitarized zone" since
Tuesday by individuals in civilian dress and driving
four-by-four vehicles, said chief U.N. spokesman Fred
Eckhard. He said some of the individuals "were armed
and identified themselves as U.S. Marines."
The U.N. force also reported seeing three spots
that had been cut along an electric fence erected near
the Iraqi border by Kuwait. The United Nations raised
the matter with the Kuwaiti government and asked to be
informed of similar activities.
A Kuwaiti official said the United Nations has no
right to report any activities to the council beyond
the fact of an armed incursion of the demilitarized
zone. "Whether or not we cut or move a fence is
nobody's business," the official said.
It remained unclear whether the alleged activities
were part of preparations for a U.S. incursion into
Iraq. But the council notification raised questions
about whether a U.S.-led invasion through the
demilitarized zone would violate a Security Council
An official at the U.S. mission to the United
Nations declined to comment.
-- Colum Lynch
Here is a short report from The Miami Herald
that gives a good impression of the military situation on
the Iraqi side: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/world/5116262.htm.
© TFF 2003
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