A response to
the motion 'Is this war justified?' by Milan Rai
The motion asks, 'Is war with Iraq justified'. Currently, the
British people and the international community are overwhelmingly
of the belief that war with Iraq, in the present circumstances,
would not be justified.
In the present circumstances, war would be not only unjustified,
it would be immoral - in its devastating consequences for the
23 million people of Iraq, as Christian Aid and other aid agencies
it would be illegal - in its defiance of international restraints
on the use of force, as government lawyers have warned;
it would be undemocratic - for ignoring the wishes of the British
people and for refusing to allow the British parliament a decisive
role in decision-making;
and it would be counter-productive - in stimulating the forces
of terrorism, and risking 'turning the Middle East into an inexhaustible
recruiting ground for anti-western terrorism,' as we have been
warned by Douglas Hurd, who was of course Foreign Secretary for
the Conservative Party under Margaret Thatcher between 1989 and
As things stand, the argument is too easy. Let us make things
more difficult for the anti- war movement. What if weapons of
mass destruction are uncovered in Iraq? There is no evidence to
suggest this, but for the sake of argument, let us suppose they
Furthermore, what if the United Nations Security Council passes
a new resolution explicitly authorising the use of force by the
United States, Britain, and the rest of the threadbare 'coalition'?
Would war be justified? For an answer, let us turn to the Charter
of the United Nations, which opens with these words: 'We, the
peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations
from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought
untold sorrow to mankind...'
Article 39 of the Charter says that the UN Security Council can
take action - either military or non- military - after it has
detected a 'threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of
Article 41 empowers the Security Council to impose 'measures not
involving the use of armed force'.
Article 42 states that, 'Should the Security Council consider
that measures provided for in Article 41 [economic and other non-military
sanctions] would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate,
it may take such action by air, sea or land forces as may be necessary
to maintain or restore international peace and security'.
Two critical questions then. Firstly, does Iraq pose a grave and
imminent 'threat to the peace' requiring the use of force (clearly
Baghdad has not committed either a 'breach of the peace' and or
an 'act of aggression')? Secondly, have nonviolent measures to
deal with the 'threat' failed, or are they doomed to failure?
In order to determine whether there is a threat or not, it is
not sufficient to merely find weapons, of whatever sort, in a
country. It also has to be shown that the country possessing these
weapons intends to use them in an illegal and aggressive manner
to 'breach the peace'. No such evidence of intent exists with
regard to Iraq.
British Vice-Admiral Sir James Jungius KBE observed recently in
a letter to The Times on 1 January:
Even if the weapons do exist, where is the evidence of intent
to use them? War is too important and unpleasant a business to
be undertaken on the basis of a hunch, however good that hunch
Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Douglas Hogg made the same
point on 12 January on BBC Radio 4s The World This Weekend:
The real question is not whether hes got weapons of mass destruction,
but rather whether - if he has got those weapons - he is a grave
and imminent threat to the rest of us.
There are lots of other countries in the world that do have weapons
of mass destruction, or are likely to acquire them, but we dont
necessarily conclude that they are a grave and imminent threat
sufficient to justify war.
So even if he had these things, unless hes a grave and imminent
threat there isnt a moral basis for war, because the doctrine
of self-defence isnt properly invoked.
So if there is a second resolution authorising the use of force,
it will be an abuse of the UN Charter - because the Security Council
can only mandate military action when there is an act of aggression,
a breach of the peace, or a threat to the peace - and Iraq is
guilty of none of these things. There is no evidence of an aggressive
intention, whether or not weapons of mass destruction are found.
Let us turn to the second element, the question of whether nonviolent
means have been exhausted.
The majority of American citizens, according to recent polls,
virtually the entire international community, the UN weapons inspectors
themselves, and a UN Security Council Resolution all demand months
not weeks for the inspectors to do their work.
Paragraph 7 of UN Security Council Resolution 1284, from December
1999, says: 'not later than 60 days after they have both started
work in Iraq', the UN weapons inspection agencies UNMOVIC and
the IAEA should draw up a 'work programme' including 'the key
remaining disarmament tasks to be completed by Iraq'.
The Resolution says, 'what is required of Iraq for the implementation
of each task shall be clearly defined and precise'.
The only thing that has been clearly defined and precise is the
determination of the United States to scupper the inspection timetable
that it used to trumpet as 'the only way forward'.
On 27 January, two months after weapons inspectors re-started
their work in Iraq, the Security Council should have heard and
approved the definition of Iraq's disarmament tasks - should have
STARTED the process of verified disarmament in Iraq.
Instead, the United States - with British support - has effectively
broken up Resolution 1284.
So if there is a second resolution authorising the use of force,
it will also be in breach of the UN Charter, of Article 42, which
says that military action can only take place if nonviolent measures
'would be inadequate or have proved to be inadequate'.
This is not simply a matter of 'picking and choosing our Resolutions'.
There are objective standards embedded in the UN Charter: Is there
a threat to peace? Have nonviolent alternatives been exhausted?
The answer to both questions is no, war is not justified.
I don't believe that there will be a second Resolution authorising
the use of force. I believe a second UN Resolution will be passed,
but that it will wave around a threatening phrase such as 'material
breach' or 'serious consequences' or 'all necessary means'.
We must uphold the UN Charter, even if it means opposing a UN
Security Council Resolution. We must oppose this unjustified,
immoral, illegal, undemocratic and counter- productive war. There
is no evidence that Baghdad intends to use whatever weapons it
does possess in an unlawful or aggressive fashion. Iraq is not
a grave or imminent threat. There is no evidence that the inspection
process has failed or is futile.
Inspectors have searched sites alleged by Washington and London
to be involved in prohibited activities (though without finding
any evidence of such activities). Inspectors have found weapons-related
documents and warheads (though they were empty), and they have
set up monitoring equipment to ensure that 'dual-use' equipment
in Iraq cannot be used to produce weapons of mass destruction
without alerting the international community.
Give the inspectors time to do their work in peace, according
to the schedule laid out in Resolution 1284. War is unjustified.
Inaction is not an option, invasion is not an option, inspection
is an option.
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