International law on humanitarian intervention
In a masterly (or mistressly?) article in the Guardian of 14 October 2004, Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the former Foreign & Commonwealth Office legal adviser who courageously resigned because she could not accept the government’s position on the question of the legality â€“ or otherwise â€“ of the Iraq war, surgically dissects and discards the claim that the US and UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, without a second Security Council resolution expressly authorising it, was nevertheless in accordance with international law. In doing so Ms Wilmshurst also demolishes the arguments for the legality of NATO’s attack on Yugoslavia over Kosovo. And she achieves all this in barely a thousand words, coolly and without rhetoric. A remarkable achievement! No wonder she couldn’t stomach staying on in the government legal service with the Attorney-General licensing the prime minister’s folly by asserting that in going to war against Iraq we would be acting legitimately to enforce the resolutions of the Security Council — when everybody knew that a sizeable majority of members of the Council adamantly refused to agree to it.
Ms Wilmshurst is now head of the international law programme at the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House). They are lucky to have her. Her article should be compulsory reading for everyone at No. 10 and the FCO, not to mention all members of parliament and media commentators on international affairs.
14 October 2004