Baker Presses Security Council Members


By James A. Baker III

The following text is an excerpt from James A. Baker III, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992
(New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995).

James Baker was US Secretary of State in the administration of George H.W. Bush during the first Gulf War. In this excerpt, he writes about his efforts to line up votes in the United Nations Security Council for a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq in November 1990. Resolution 678, which authorized action by "all necessary means," was eventually adopted by the Security Council on November 29, just one day short of Baker's deadline. The text is from pp. 304-05.

All Necessary Means

Our diplomatic timetable was driven by a simple, unyielding reality. By sheer coincidence and under a long-standing arrangement, the United States would char the Security Council in the month of November. Thereafter, the rotating chairmanship would pass to Yemen, an ally of Iraq unalterably opposed to the coalition. As a practical matter, any vote on a use-of-force resolution would need to occur no later than November 30.

In October, well before the force augmentation decision, I had asked the interagency Deputies' Committee to draw up some proposed language for a resolution. I wanted the resolution to include a clean, unambiguous statement that authorized the use of force but didn't mandate it. My suggested language was "all necessary means, including the use of force." Skillful diplomacy, however, is grounded in the art of the possible. So we had a backup position. At my request, Bob Kimmitt had researched the legalities and concluded that if the Soviets and other allies objected to such specificity, the simple phrase, "all necessary means" conferred sufficient authority to wage war. I was much less interested in grammatical purity, however, than in overwhelming numerical superiority in the Security Council. With Yemen and Cuba on the Council in November, a unanimous vote was quite unlikely. But a sharply divided vote in the Council would make it easier for Saddam to argue that he was the victim of an American-Zionist vendetta, and thus undermine the credibility of the military operations.

I was determined to meet personally with the head of state or foreign minister of every Council member in the weeks before the vote. U.N. ambassadors are notorious for their freelancing. Negotiating directly with their superiors would make it less likely for an agreement to be undone in New York. I also wanted the foreign ministers from each of the Council's fifteen member states to be there for the vote. We were asking the Council to authorize the use of force for the first time since Korea. It was simply too momentous a decision to be handled at anything less than the highest levels.

A Thirty-seven-Hour Day

I left Washington on November 3 [1990]. In the next three weeks, I spent eighteen days traveling to twelve countries on three continents. On the day after Thanksgiving, my Air Force crew told me I had set a personal record with a thirty-seven-hour day that took me from Jeddah, Saudi Arabic, to Bogotá, Columbia, to Los Angeles, then home to Houston. Working against an end-of-the-month deadline, I met personally with all my Security Council counterparts in an intricate process of cajoling, extracting, threatening, and occasionally buying votes . [emphasis added] Such are the politics of diplomacy.

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