Would intervention be legal?

A number of very interesting speeches and articles in the US and Britain in recent weeks signal the gradual emergence of a new doctrine of limitations on national sovereignty, the asserted right of intervention in failed states or states which may pose a threat to others from terrorism or weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or both, and the question of unilateral versus collective international action, either in the name of self-defence or to forestall or terminate gross breaches of human rights in other countries. Some of these issues were discussed by Tony Blair in his Chicago speech in 1999 and his speech to the Labour Party Conference on 2 October 2001, but in both the doctrine was in early embryonic form. Now an article by a senior serving British diplomat, Robert Cooper, made public with official authority (and so by implication reflecting British government thinking) in a collection of essays published by the New Labour-leaning Foreign Policy Centre puts more flesh on these bones: and echoes in many respects the new ideas voiced by Richard Haass, Colin Powell’s director of policy planning, in an interview in the New Yorker of 1 April 2002 about future policy against global terrorism, in which (to quote a seminal Guardian article of 2 April by Hugo Young) "he articulates a new doctrine of the limits of national sovereignty, to justify the interventions the US is currently contemplating." Before we have had a chance to absorb all these alarming (or stimulating, according to taste) new ideas, along comes Tony Blair’s speech in Texas on 7 April at the George Bush Senior Presidential Library, warmly praised (although not actually reported) by the Guardian as important, brave and in many ways reassuring. The salient points made by Haass are quoted in his article by Hugo Young, mentioned above, but the whole New Yorker interview repays study, as do some of the other essays, such as those by Tony Blair and Jack Straw, in the Foreign Policy Centre’s collection. This promises to be a fascinating debate with very significant implications for the future of international relations: the title of the collection of essays is "Reordering the World: the long term implications of September 11", which gives an idea of their ambition and scope. More later on these complex issues.  Meanwhile, apologies for this blizzard of hyperlinks: but they’re all worth clicking on.  Honest.  (But don’t forget to use the Back button to get back to here.)

Meanwhile the debate on the rights and wrongs of an eventual military intervention in Iraq to compel compliance with UN resolutions on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) continues to rage. Tony Blair has been repeating in speeches, articles and interviews his reminder that no such action is imminent and that indeed no decision to intervene militarily has even been taken. But it seems impossible to dispute his warning that Iraqi WMD programmes and ambitions, and defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, pose a real and growing threat to its neighbours and to the wider world: and that in the face of this threat, inaction can’t be an option. The use of force to remove the threat must certainly be a genuinely last resort, but it’s hard to devise an argument for saying that it can safely be ruled out. It begins to look as if the really divisive issue will be whether or not the use of force against Iraq would be illegal under international law unless expressly authorised by the Security Council. It would be nice to think that this time Washington and London will pay more attention to keeping the Russians and Chinese on board at every stage than they did in 1999 when they resorted to bombing Serbia before every possibility of a diplomatic solution had been exhausted. But in practical terms, it seems unlikely that there’ll be much appetite for a military campaign against Iraq as long as the crisis in Israel and Palestine remains at boiling point.

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