Legality of intervention against Iraq – Letter to the Times
The Times, April 16, 2002 Letters to the Editor
Legality of intervention against Iraq
From Sir Brian Barder
Sir, In the increasingly divisive argument about military action against Iraq (leading article, April 11), each side is turning a blind eye to a different essential point.
Opponents are reluctant to acknowledge that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, his programme for further developing them (including, at some stage, nuclear weapons) and his record of willingness to use them, pose a threat to his neighbours and to the wider world; the argument that a refusal to deal with the threat, or delay in dealing with it, may well be more dangerous than early pre-emptive action should not be dismissed. George Bush’s and Tony Blair’s mantra that “inaction is not an option” is a serious argument that deserves a serious response by dissenters.
Equally, advocates of early action are worryingly reticent about the need to comply with international law, and specifically with the UN Charter. The possible difficulties for the Americans of getting authority for the use of force in a Security Council resolution are obvious: it would entail convincing Russia, China and France (as well as the UK) that no less dangerous peaceful alternative is available, and, most importantly, working out with them and with other Council member governments an acceptable definition of the objectives of military action.
In practice, this would probably mean limiting its aims to Iraq’s implementation of existing Security Council resolutions: Washington would have to give up the additional objective of toppling Saddam. This would be a fair price to pay for legality and international backing.
Yet those in London and Washington who are evolving the new doctrine of the limited sovereignty of failed or terrorist states, and the right of stronger states to intervene in their affairs, increasingly imply that such interventions would be legal even if not authorised by the Security Council.
The dangers of giving carte blanche to any strong state to intervene in another country by force, without any form of international approval, whenever it deems itself to be even potentially threatened (or when it claims to see the makings of a “humanitarian disaster”) are, or should be, obvious. Bypassing the UN Charter’s mandatory safeguards in this way would mean returning to the law of the jungle.
The key to securing broad public support for action against Saddam, and to gaining general acceptance of the new interventionist doctrine, is for the US and UK Governments openly to acknowledge now that the use of force in these circumstances always requires the explicit authority of the Security Council, and to start working for it when the time comes, despite the compromises inevitably entailed. We should not repeat the expensive mistakes made in 1999 over Kosovo.
(HM Diplomatic Service, 1965-94),
10 Melrose Road, SW18 1NE.