International Law And Building Iraq

International Law and the Building Iraq Campaign

It is a mistake to believe that multilateralists accept “rhetoric, promises, and declarations (especially with regard to Iran and Iraq).”

I know of few informed persons who would like to see the Saddam Hussein regime continue in power. I am not, however, the international community, and I am not comfortable with allowing Mssrs. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to substitute themselves for it.

The key point is that in the wake of the two World Wars, the first of which cost 8.5 million soldiers’ lives, and the second of which cost 61 million lives altogether, an international community did come into existence. The United Nations Charter, the Security Council, and NATO were all set up as institutions in hopes of introducing some law and order into the jungle of unbridled state sovereignty. The United States is signatory to the UN Charter and to several other instruments of international law.

As a result, the United States may not unilaterally go to war against another state in the absence of a recognized casus belli without betraying the very ideals it championed in 1945. Everything alleged of Iraq with regard to WMD programs can also be alleged of India, Pakistan, France, China, Russia, Israel, and perhaps Kazakhstan. NATO has not invoked Article 5, indicating that Iraq is so much a threat to any NATO member that it may be regarded as a threat to all; and the Security Council likewise has not authorized military action against Iraq. The European Union seems likely to oppose a war on Iraq. With regard to the remark, “The flip side of the coin to criticism of unilateralism is, of course, allowing policy to be diluted to the lowest common denominator,” it is not clear that our NATO allies (Gerhard Schroeder? Jacques Chirac?) are “the lowest common denominator” in world affairs, nor that the Security Council members are. Schroeder has already backed off his post-September 11 stance of “unlimited solidarity” with the US over the Iraq issue.

As an army brat myself, I am proud of the achievements of our men and women in the armed services, who have saved us from dire threats to our liberty. I strongly support our military effort in Afghanistan. I must also admit that the Pentagon itself has not always been the highest common denominator in adherence to international legal and ethical norms. I am in particular critical of the role it played in Latin America through much of the twentieth century, and would not wish to see it unrestrained on the world stage.

One question is whether a military doctrine that allows the US simply to fall upon any country it does not like the looks of, will over the long run contribute to international security or detract from it. US leaders are often insufficiently aware of the power of their example. India justified very nearly going to war with Pakistan this past winter by appealing to something very like a Pentagon version of the Bush doctrine. Do we really want other countries (especially nuclear powers) behaving with their enemies (especially other nuclear powers) without reference to international law or consensus?

Another question is whether a campaign against Iraq at this time is wise given the continued existence of al-Qaida and our failure to capture its leadership. The US is already unpopular in the Middle East, and projecting the appearance of an aggressor cannot help its image. Yemen has begun balking at close cooperation with the US military in tracking al-Qaida agents in Maarib, because of dissatisfaction with US policy in the region. Saudi Arabia is not being as cooperative as it could be, apparently in part for similar reasons. The US embassy in Bahrain, our naval base in the Persian Gulf, was almost stormed by angry crowds not long ago. Major demonstrations, tens of thousands strong, have already sent tremors through the governments of Egypt and Jordan. Being militarily powerful is not the same as having political legitimacy, and the latter is more important than is often realized.

The first Gulf War and the war in Afghanistan were done right. International consensus was built, and collective security was invoked. The planned war against Iraq is not being done right so far. If the Security Council and the European Union get aboard with it, then I will be all for it. To say that a major war should not be launched in the contemporary world without the authorization of international law is not the same as being gullible or abject, and it is unfortunate that our discourse here should be sullied with any such suggestion.


Juan Cole

U of Michigan

– Juan, 1:52 PM

Posted in Uncategorized | No Responses | Print |