The war in Iraq was announced in advance - late in the winter of 2002 experts were already discussing in earnest how soon the Americans would strike. But a post-war peace settlement, too, was started well ahead of March 20, 2003.
Throughout the winter numerous international negotiations were held, including between Russian and American representatives, openly or confidentially, to discuss peace options - should the war begin.
And early in April we see an avalanche of comments. Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Russia will be doing its best to get the Iraqi issue back to the UN platform". Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov: "The plan /for peace settlement/ is before the Security Council". Costas Simitis, foreign minister of Greece, which is holding the EU rotating chairmanship: "Iraqis and all Arab countries will mistrust an Iraqi leadership if it consists of men who started the war". British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "After the war representatives of other countries will be able to take part in the political process in Iraq only as advisers. A government of the country must consist of Iraqis." Positions are different, but all deal with peace. A certain shift is discernible in Washington's attitude. According to Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer, who has recently been there, the US wants to hand over power in Iraq as soon as possible to a provisional government which will be helped by a UN envoy acting as an adviser to or mediator for the Iraqi administration.
At the outset of the war the Bush administration was exclusively for direct military administration of Iraq by an American general, and that the UN must be kept well away from Iraqi affairs.
These remarks and comments are just the tip of an iceberg of consultations on what to do in and with Iraq further. A technology for passing from war to peace has been the same for thousands of years - peace is concluded when combatants get weary. The beginnings - or signs of them - are already in evidence.
Plans for a rapid operation /Saddam Hussein's expected assassination or escape and mass surrenders of Iraqi troops/ have not worked. The price of continuing the war - in the direct sense of the word - is also known. It is an additional 74 billion dollars requested by the US administration. This is to cover five months of troop stay in the Gulf, with or without military operations. This compares with 80 billion dollars that cost the entire first Iraqi war, in current prices, with 71 billion paid by US allies.
Incidentally, prior to the administration's new request, the US budget deficit for 2003 was projected at 316 billion dollars.
To be sure, with the war barely in its second week, no one in Washington even mentions getting out, but there is plenty of food for thought and some attempts are already being made to think at least theoretically about peace options.
The peace plan, which according to Ivanov is "before the Security Council", is a very rough sketch consisting of self-evident things. For psychological reasons it makes no sense to table detailed "road maps" - they are certain to be rejected. But warring and other sides might be invited to discuss together what to do first and later.
Understandably, the first thing to do is to arrange a cease-fire, which is to be negotiated long and in advance by both parties. Usually a cease-fire follows when there is a common idea of what is to come next. And one more minor particular - such accords take two sides, rather than one facing a sporadic guerilla movement.
A cease-fire can of course be negotiated in a "narrow format", directly or via one intermediary. But later, whatever the outcome, the question must be taken back to the Security Council. That is simpler for everybody, because any agreements endorsed by the Security Council are binding on all states, and other options are not so dependable. And this regardless of the war's outcome, regardless of who will rule in Baghdad.
It only seems to be a simple business to create a package of legal documents for a post-war Iraq paralleling that of the UN. Any expert on international law would be horrified at the prospect. The US and other sponsors of the war have not abolished international law in its entirety: it exists and will continue to exist in hosts of future court rulings of legal force, including those dealing with commercial contracts.
The UN has accumulated an array of procedures relating to post-war settlement. Over the past few years it has amassed both bitter and rewarding experience. Recall Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Timor, or Cambodia. If, as troops are pulled out, security guarantees are required, the Security Council can send in Iraq an international security assistance force, as it did in Afghanistan. It also has experience of dealing with humanitarian procedures and economic rehabilitation. The mechanics are long known, and will cause no doubts anywhere.
But Iraq has a special problem, too, which has been somehow forgotten - Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programmes. We also have a statement by the UN secretary-general that only international UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors can pass judgement on the presence or otherwise of weapons of mass destruction. And if now Americans find or "uncover" such weapons in Iraq, only UN inspectors may record the fact officially. Without their vetting any such find will have a question mark hanging over them perpetually.
For Russia and not only for it there are some sensitive points concerning Iraqi settlement, and these are above all its legitimate economic interests in Iraq. Russia cooperated with Iraq in strict conformity with UN sanctions. And so did some more countries.
But no deals presupposing "recognition of reality in Iraq in exchange for some contracts" have been or are being discussed, and there are weighty reasons for that. No one denies that peace settlement will call for compromises and serious concessions from all parties to the process. The issue is where compromises are possible at all. Apparently in international law. For example, it ought to be noted that Russian government officials are careful not to use the word "aggression" to describe the attack by the US and Britain on Iraq, using instead a string of synonyms and saying that legal definitions are the prerogative of the Security Council. Here, compromises are not ruled out. But it has been said more than once that Moscow will not help legitimize in the UN the unlawful campaign in Iraq.
It may be recalled that an emergency session of the UN General Assembly has been demanded to de-paralyse the Security Council. Scope for maneuver exists, but is not extensive.
On balance, sooner or later, in a hard or softer version, the war will end, and peace achieved. And then all countries will have to draw conclusions from what happened and to build up a world order, international legal cooperation, and legal basics that would be hard to violate even by such a powerful nation as the US. Because neither Russia, nor, say, France, Germany or China needs a world divided anew into opposing blocs no one knows of what kind. And the general feeling of these countries is to involve all states, including those bogged down in the war, in creating a safer world.
To help the US to get out of the existing situation is a factor of global security and stability for Europe, Asia and the rest of the world. So lying ahead is hard and long work for the sake of compromise, rather than confrontation.