THE preamble to the United Nations Charter – the shared law of our planet – states: “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”
COLLATERAL DAMAGE FROM AN ILLEGAL WAR
By IGNACIO RAMONET
THE preamble to the United Nations Charter – the shared law of our planet – states: “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, and to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.” The first article of the Charter says that the purpose of the UN is to “maintain international peace and security” and to suppress “acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace”.
So, when the United States and its British allies launched their “preventive war” on Iraq at dawn on Thursday 20 March, in invading that country without a UN mandate and without the authorisation of any other international body they were violating international legality, wiping their feet on the most basic principles of the UN, and behaving as aggressors.
Faced with this crime against peace the world community finds itself in an unprecedented position. Never since the creation of the UN in 1945 have we seen two countries that are founder members of that organisation, permanent members of the Security Council, among the world’s oldest democracies, so brutally flouting international law and thereby making themselves, under the terms of that law, into delinquent states.
World order has been inverted. Not the hierarchy of power, because US power remains incontestable. But in political values. The protests of millions of people around the world, even within the US and Britain, against this war were motivated by the feeling that it is immoral. People may not have many illusions, but they do expect the most powerful country in the world to be guided by ethics, to champion respect for the process of law and to be a model of obedience to the law. At the very least they don’t expect it to turn its back on the basic principles of political morality.
However, it seems that since the attacks of 11 September 2001 the US, under the administration of President George Bush, has arrived at a cynical definition of proper behaviour by governments. Perhaps with an eye on Machiavelli – “to maintain his state a prince is often forced to act in defiance of good faith, of charity, of kindness, of religion” (1) – Bush and the hawks surrounding him decided to take action which is against morality, human rights and international law.
After an unprecedented diplomatic disaster in which the US hyperpower was incapable of rallying support within the Security Council from countries that have long been within its sphere of influence (Mexico, Chile and Pakistan), the US had another big setback when Turkey, an ally of long standing, refused to allow US troops to cross through its territory. Regardless, Bush maintained his project of aggression against Iraq and claimed the support of a “coalition” of 40 in which former communist countries figure largely, including Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, two of the most sinister neo-totalitarian states. Saddam Hussein may be odious and tyrannical, but Bush and his entourage have hardly distinguished themselves for their morality. Their contempt for international law and the arrogance engendered by the force of their military power have caused the biggest wave of anti-Americanism since the Vietnam war (1961-75).
The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, a consultative body within the UN, warned on 18 March 2003 against attacking Iraq without a UN mandate, referring to an “outright illegal invasion of Iraq, which amounts to a war of aggression” (2). (These words had been preceded by similar warnings from lawyers’ associations in Britain, France, Belgium and Spain.) It said there was no possible juridical basis for such an intervention. In the absence of authorisation from the Security Council, no state may have recourse to force against another state except in legitimate defence, in response to an armed attack.
The US has invoked legitimate defence to justify its attack on Iraq, but for domestic public consumption – trying to link the 11 September attacks to the Baghdad regime (an unproven case) – and not for the Security Council. The view of the Council, up to 20 March, was that Iraq was not an immediate threat of the kind that would justify an immediate war. Moreover the legitimate defence argument presupposes the existence of a prior armed aggression, which Iraq has not committed. And legitimate preventive defence is not admitted under international law.
Bush has also justified his invasion of Iraq by the need for regime change, getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Admirable as such an intention may be, it is not enough under the UN Charter to justify a unilateral recourse to force. As to the US claim that it is installing democracy in Iraq, this has no status as a legal justification for aggression. In the 17th century the jurist Grotius,founding father of human rights, wrote that “wanting to govern others against their will, under the pretext that it is good for them” was the most frequent justification for unjust wars.
(1) Machiavelli, The Prince, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1982.
Translated by Ed Emery
Text to be found and read in: mondediplo.com
April issue of Le Monde diplomatique