Baghdad's offer to withdraw from Kuwait on its own terms, and the scramble in Washington and Riyadh to figure out an appropriate response, highlight a gaping hole in the coalition's strategy: The U.N. Security Council resolutions that authorized the war were not designed to end it and they are insufficient for that purpose.
Our failure to spell out in advance the precise mechanics of how the fighting will stop and how terms of peace will be negotiated invited Iraq to lay out its own terms.Now Saddam Hussein can score propaganda points by trying to appear reasonable.
If we truly want the Iraqis to raise the white flag let's not let them tell us how they're going to do it. We need to get to work right now on delineating the terms of peace.
With the Potsdam Declaration in 1945 the United States, Britain and China did exactly this against Japan to end World War II.
The Allies had concluded that a physical conquest of the Japanese islands would be far too costly and therefore set as their goal to obtain a decision by the Japanese government to surrender.
At Potsdam they threatened Japan with "prompt and utter destruction" unless it agreed to surrender unconditionally and accept such demands as complete disarmament and Allied occupation.
But the Allies did not just threaten and demand, they also assured the Japanese that their soldiers would "be permitted to return to their homes with the opportunity to lead peaceful and productive lives," and that occupation forces would be withdrawn as soon as the declaration's objectives were accomplished.
"Unconditional surrender" did not mean "unconditional slaughter."
It is never easy for a government to surrender, and that decision is made even harder when the decisionmakers don't know what they're agreeing to.
A decision to surrender can be eased by reducing the uncertainty about what it means. Recognizing this, the allies at Potsdam carefully specified the consequences of surrender and framed those consequences harshly but not as the end of Japanese civilization.
Most importantly, the allies made a standing offer that could be accepted with a simple "yes" without the need to negotiate further details.
By making it easier for the Japanese to make this most difficult decision, the Potsdam Declaration hastened following the atomic-bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It may have saved tens of thousands of lives.
We ignore Harry S. Truman's and Winston Churchill's example at our own peril.
We need to script the war's ending as carefully as did the allies at Potsdam. It's not too late to begin.
What is needed is a new Security Council resolution to set the procedures and terms of a cease-fire and that outlines the major consequences of a decision to give in.
These might include:
- Establish a designated communications channel for formal acceptance of the Security Council resolutions and for requesting a cease-fire.
- A 48-hour cease-fire would begin at 7 a.m., local time the next day following Iraqi acceptance; if Iraq commences and continues withdrawal the cease-fire would last for up to 30 days.
- Following total withdrawal, the authorization to use military force against Iraq would cease; the blockade on non-military trade to and from Iraq would be lifted.
- Urge Arab mediation or arbitration to settle all remaining disputes between Iraq and Kuwait.
- Foreign military forces would be withdrawn upon the request of the local nations after stability in the Persian Gulf has been restored.
- Frozen Iraqi assets would be retained against claims for reparations, and fair procedures for awarding claims would be assured.
- The Security Council should reaffirm its interest in a peaceful resolution to other problems in the region, including the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At present, the Security Council demand is for "unconditional withdrawal" of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. But this does not mean "unconditional surrender" of the Iraqi regime in Baghdad, nor do we want Saddam to believe that it does.
Unless we expect physically to evict the half-million Iraqi troops from Kuwait through a protracted ground war, we will only secure their withdrawal via a political decision in Baghdad.
The sooner we provide Iraq a new Potsdam Declaration, the sooner we can expect peace.
(Wayne Davis is a consultant with Conflict Management Inc., a private consulting group. Paul Mayer is an assistant to the Harvard Negotiation Project.)