A Coalition of Weakness

As U.S. officials look for political cover after losing the drive for a second UN Security Council resolution, the recently renamed “Coalition to Disarm Iraq” is the Bush administration’s only opportunity to salvage a semblance of international legitimacy for war. A closer look at the countries involved reveals that claims to multilateral action in the name of democracy are grossly exaggerated. In reality, the U.S. is isolated internationally, and a few of the countries signing on to “liberate” Iraq have human rights records that rival Saddam Hussein’s.

On Tuesday, March 18th, the State Department released a list of 30 countries willing to be named as part of the coalition, while President Bush raised the count to 35 in his speech on March 19th and this list was raised to 45 by March 21st. While the list keeps growing in number it has not increased the fighting strength of the coalition–only two countries have committed forces in any number: Great Britain (40,000) and Australia (2,000). The Czech Republic and Bulgaria have sent chemical and biological defense units of about 150 personnel each. Poland and Romania also have sent a handful of troops.

Furthermore, the coalition has not added any diplomatic strength to the mission. These 45 countries make up less than 20% of the world’s population and do not make up the moral equivalent of the United Nations. Despite joining the coalition, the level of support for the U.S. in many of these countries is extremely weak–in only two countries in the world, the U.S. and Israel, is popular support greater than 50%. Support is no greater in the global multilateral institutions. Only three members of the United Nations Security Council and slightly more than one-half of all NATO members support the United States’ mission.

Finally, the coalition brings little economic strength to the effort. The first Gulf War cost roughly $60 billion of which the coalition members paid almost the entire costs of the war. No nation to date has offered any sort of economic assistance to the U.S. to pay for the escalating costs estimated between $100 and $200 billion.

It is also unclear how one becomes a member of the coalition. Some countries were apparently drafted. According to the Washington Post, officials of at least one of these countries, Colombia, were apparently unaware that they had been designated as a coalition partner. It is not known how many other governments first learned of their membership in the coalition through the media. Other support is lukewarm at best. For example, a spokesman for the Eritrean Foreign Ministry said to AFP, “We are not having any kind of involvement.”

The lack of democratic credentials in the coalition is also startling. Human rights, democracy, and corruption ratings by Freedom House, Transparency International, and the U.S. State Department illustrate the disconnect between pro-democracy rhetoric and the undemocratic reality of some of the coalition partners. Seventeen of the countries were measured to have “not free” or “partially free” democracies; twenty-four were found to have significant levels of corruption, and the U.S. State Department concluded that in nine nations, “The overall human rights situation remained extremely poor.”

Before the American public starts applauding the administration’s newfound commitment to assembling an international coalition to attack Iraq, it should put the partners’ participation in perspective. The coalition that Bush claims has more relevance than the UN is not a large group of democratic allies providing substantial military support and backed by public opinion at home. To the contrary, the assembled coalition is evidence of the international community’s opposition to war and the administration’s lack of commitment to democracy and human rights.