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The term coalition of the willing is a post-1990 political phrase used to describe military or military/humanitarian interventions for which the United Nations Security Council cannot agree to mount a full UN peacekeeping operation. It has existed in the political science/international relations literature at least since UN peacekeeping operations began to run into deep trouble in 1993-94, and alternatives began to be considered. One early documented use of the phrase was by President Bill Clinton in June 1994 in relation to possible operations against North Koreamarker, at the height of the 1994 stand-off with North Korea over nuclear weapons.

It has been applied to the Australian-led INTERFET operation in East Timor, and, in its most well-known example by George W. Bush, the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Usage over Iraq

In November 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush, visiting Europe for a NATOmarker summit, declared that "should Iraqi President Saddam Hussein choose not to disarm, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him."

Thereafter, the Bush administration briefly used the term "Coalition of the Willing" to refer to the countries who supported, militarily or verbally, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent military presence in post-invasion Iraq since 2003. The original list prepared in March 2003 included 49 members. Of those 49, only four besides the U.S. contributed troops to the invasion force (the United Kingdommarker, Australia, Polandmarker, and Denmarkmarker). 33 provided some number of troops to support the occupation after the invasion was complete. Six members have no military.

By late 2003, the official White Housemarker list of the coalition showed 48 member states; Costa Rica was removed from the list since the support given was annulated by the Constitutional Court in a suit filed by citizen Luis Roberto Zamora, the Ombudsman and the Costa Rican Bar Association against President Pacheco's decision. However, the relevance of several of the other nations that appear on the list has been questioned. For example, Turkeymarker remains on the list despite reneging on its support before the war began and denying U.S. forces passage to its border with Iraq during the invasion.

The original list of coalition members provided by the White House included several nations that did not intend to participate in the actual fighting. Some of them, such as Marshall Islandsmarker, Micronesia, Palaumarker and Solomon Islandsmarker, do not have standing armies. However, through the Compact of Free Association, the Marshall Islandsmarker, Palaumarker and the Federated States of Micronesiamarker, citizens of those countries are guaranteed US national status and therefore are allowed to serve in the US military. The members of these island nations have deployed in a combined Pacific force consisting of Guamanian, Hawaiian and American Samoan reserve units. They have been deployed twice to Iraq. The government of one country, the Solomon Islandsmarker, listed by the White House as a member of the coalition, was apparently unaware of any such membership and promptly denied it.

In December 2008 University of Illinois Professor Scott Althaus reported that he had learned that the White Housemarker was editing and back-dating revisions to the list of countries in the coalition.Althaus found that some documents had been entirely removed from the record, and that others contradicted one another.The process he expected was for the original documents to remain, and to be supplemented by later revisions and updates.

Criticism of use

Specific uses of the phrase in the context of disarming Iraq began appearing in mid-2001.

Iraq War critics such as John Pilger have pointed out that 98% of the military is from the U.S. and Britain and is therefore accurately described as a predominantly Anglo-American force rather than as a coalition. columnist Laura McClure, noting the large amounts of foreign aid money being offered in exchange for supporting the Iraq War, referred to Bush's coalition as the "Coalition of the billing".

In a 2004 U.S. presidential debate, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry questioned the size of the coalition participating in the initial invasion, saying, "...when we went in, there were three countries: Great Britainmarker, Australia and the United Statesmarker. That's not a grand coalition. We can do better". President Bush responded by saying, "Well, actually, he forgot Poland. And now there's 30 nations involved, standing side by side with our American troops". The phrase You forgot Poland subsequently became a sarcastic shorthand for the perception that most members of the coalition were not contributing much to the war effort compared to the main three allies. The majority of the population in most countries involved did not, according to surveys, support the endeavour or their nation's participation.

U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has referred to the coalition formed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the acronym COW, expressing his concern that the United States was being "milked" as a "cash cow." A Canadian MP, Carolyn Parrish, referred to the "Coalition of the Willing" as the "Coalition of the Idiots". She was reprimanded for these comments, and was eventually removed from the Liberal Party of Canada caucus following a long-standing dispute with Prime Minister Paul Martin over policy.

Michael Moore devoted one sub-chapter to the Coalition in his book Dude, Where's My Country?. He remarked that most countries in the Coalition did not really help and that several had no army. He dubbed it "The Coalition of the Coerced, Bribed, and Intimidated".


  1. (originally official White House release), Interview with the President by Sam Donaldson ABC, June 5, 1994.
  2. Members of the "Coalition of the willing"
  3. Perrott, A.: Coalition of the Willing? Not us, say Solomon islanders. The New Zealand Herald, March 27, 2003..
  4. mirror
  5. mirror

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