Generally speaking, anti-war activists address war in Iraq in human terms, emphasizing the mass destruction of homes and terrible carnage inflicted on the Iraqi civilian population by U.S. military force. Images of mangled bodies are accompanied by ominous estimates of the ultimate costs of rebuilding Iraq. Activists also offer the simple answer that war in Iraq goes against the will of the “international community” and for that reason alone is unjustified.
For their part, war supporters often cite evidence of an Iraqi regime that is responsible for mass rapes, torture, and the gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq. “Regime change” is desirable, because Iraq could one day be a pillar of emerging democracy for the Middle East.
Emotional arguments are well suited for barroom brawls, but they are not justification for or against a war with thousands of lives at stake. As oppressive as Saddam’s regime may be, I’m afraid the United States has little reason for attacking Iraq and is probably in direct violation of international law.
Under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, member states have the “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs.” It has also become customary to recognize that states have the right to preemptive self-defense, but only in the case of imminent attack.
First, there is to this date no credible evidence that Iraq played any role in the 9/11 attacks or in the 2002 anthrax scare. Nor is there any indication that Iraq has the will or the means to attack the United States in the near future. So neither one of these provisions can be used to justify war in Iraq.
How does the U.S. justify its invasion of Iraq? Some suggest that we can go all the way back to U.N. Resolution 678 in 1990, which was used to authorize the 1991 Gulf War. Resolution 678 authorized the use of force by member states by “all necessary means” to reverse the occupation of Kuwait. The problem with this is that Resolution 687 of 1991 enacted a cease-fire and implied that future developments would again be decided upon by the Security Council. Moreover, it is simply illogical to rely on security resolutions from thirteen years prior.
The other main argument is that Resolution 1441 of 2002, which referred to “serious consequences” in the event of a “material breach” of past resolutions, can be used to justify force in Iraq. However, in the euphemisms of U.N. diplomacy, the phrase “serious consequences” is not enough to justify war. It is generally accepted that the euphemism “all necessary means” is the necessary phrase to trigger war.
.A new U.N. resolution would have given the Bush administration its justification, but on March 17th the United States abandoned this effort, as it became clear that the resolution wouldn’t gain enough votes. If the resolution had gained enough votes, permanent Security Council members France or Russia would certainly have vetoed it.
Many Americans take the attitude that international law is unimportant. We should use our overwhelming economic and military resources to shape a New World Order in our image. But what are the ultimate consequences of this strategy? If we can unilaterally attack Iraq without provocation, what safeguards prevent India from attacking Pakistan or China from attacking Taiwan?
What concerns me most is how life will be affected in the United States. There is speculation that Iraq is just one of many countries the United States would like to take down, including Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and others. The dangerous ideology that we can prevent future attacks against the U.S., or its strategic ally Israel, through pre-emption will likely lead to more terrorist attacks and further curtailing of our freedoms. After all, we can’t safeguard every Greyhound bus, every crowded movie theatre, and every shopping mall food court. The question we have to ask ourselves it, do we really want to?
For a review of the legality of war in Iraq see the following report, published in March of 2003: Breaking the rules: the illegality of invading Iraq.
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- George W. Bush: A Uniter, Not A Divider
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