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How to Respond Lawfully to Iraq

22 January 2003

Until George W. Bush became President in January 2001, official US policy to counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction had been centred on an internationally agreed diplomatic approach through the UN, underpinned by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions. A major weakness was that, in the case of nuclear weapons, all five permanent members of the UN Security Council have them, and see them as indispensable for their security and prestige, despite giving an "unequivocal undertaking" in May 2002 to get rid of them. Worse, the US has turned a blind eye to Israel's covert acquisition of some 200 nuclear weapons.

On 11 December 2002, the Bush administration announced a new strategy to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Despite the rhetoric, this effectively abandons diplomacy and deterrence, and instead adopts a range of military responses from seizing weapon components to removing recalcitrant regimes and destroying their delivery systems.

In the case of Iraq, the US has clearly decided on invasion and regime change, allegedly in order to neutralise what seems to be an exaggerated WMD threat, without waiting for the UN inspectors to complete their task. Paradoxically, such a strategy encourages accelerated proliferation and risks actual use of such weapons. This could include the first use of nuclear weapons by the US since Nagasaki in 1945 if Saddam Hussein is given the pretext to use chemical or biological weapons against US allied invasion forces.

By contrast, the US has so far adopted a diplomatic response to North Korea involving economic sticks and carrots, despite the fact that North Korea has been more provocative than Iraq by admitting trying to acquire a nuclear arsenal, withdrawing from the NPT, and evicting International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and monitoring systems.

If there is to be hope of international peace and security, it is essential that a consistent response is adopted towards any attempt to acquire WMD. Above all, international pressure must be increased to expose the lack of compliance by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, China, UK and France - with their obligations to eliminate their nuclear WMD under the NPT, reinforced by the 1996 World Court advisory opinion. India, which overtly tested nuclear weapons in 1998, simply followed their example in order to be taken seriously as the world's largest democracy. Its festering security dispute over Kashmir meant that inevitably Pakistan followed suit. Neither country is under threat of US invasion, while Israel is rewarded with massive US military aid. The iniquitous combination of UN-imposed economic sanctions and sporadic bombing of Iraq by the US and UK has clearly failed, while strengthening the position of Saddam Hussein.

What peaceful and lawful alternatives are available? While UN inspectors remain in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is deterred from using any weapons of mass destruction. So far only a few empty chemical weapon cases have been found: much more is needed to establish that Iraq is an imminent threat. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees that it would be wrong to impose an arbitrary timeframe on inspections. If the inspection process is to be genuine, then why the rush to war? Indeed, if invasion is truly the last resort, then it should be delayed until this time next year. It is increasingly clear that the international community overwhelmingly wants a de-escalation of what is an artificially generated crisis, and a solution which does not entail military force.

This is the moment for a major overhaul of the failed sanctions policy. A serious attempt could be made to apply "smart" sanctions which target the financial assets of regime leaders and their immediate supporters. Relating to this, there is also scope for exposing and boycotting commercial companies which do business with any state trying to acquire WMD - including Israel, India and Pakistan as well as Iraq and North Korea. It is widely known that the US seized the report by Iraq delivered to the UN Security Council in early December 2002, in order to censor the names of US and allied companies with contracts linked to WMD development. This is unacceptable hypocrisy, and should be exposed by the international community.

The International Criminal Court has recently been established as a permanent tribunal, now ratified by over 80 states, in order to close the loophole whereby leaders intent on using WMD had no fear of being brought to trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity. However, the Bush administration has removed former President Clinton's signature from the statute, and is working to undermine the Court. Such "rogue" behaviour should be faced down.

Exposure of programmes to build weapons of mass destruction by whistleblowers should be encouraged. Mordechai Vanunu, who worked in Israel's nuclear weapons plant at Dimona, provided convincing evidence in 1986 of the extent of the Israeli nuclear programme. Because of his kidnapping by Mossad and sentencing to 18 years' solitary confinement, it is vital to arrange protection for such courageous individuals.

Without respect for international law, especially by the most powerful nation on Earth, the entire fabric of global civilised society is at risk. The bedrock of respect for the law is that everyone is equally subject to it. Following the experience of World War 2, New Zealand was among the leading states which established the United Nations to apply an equitable system. With over 90% of casualties in recent wars suffered by innocent civilians, and 42% of Iraqis under the age of 15, the international community must not allow the Bush administration to coerce the UN into a travesty of its purpose, which is to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war".

© Commander Robert Green

*Commander Green served in the Royal Navy from 1962 to 1982, navigating Buccaneer nuclear strike aircraft and anti-submarine helicopters and serving in Fleet intelligence. He now coordinates the Peace Foundation's Disarmament and Security Centre in Christchurch with his wife Dr Kate Dewes.

Stop killing the people of Iraq     Nuclear weapons - general issues index


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