Lack of clarity on aims over Iraq

Sir, There are two fundamental issues concerning the appallingly difficult decisions that our national leaders now have to make in relation to Iraq that have achieved little public attention.

The first is the lack of clarity in the political aim that must underpin any successful military operation. We hear that there are two aims — the disarming of Iraq and the toppling of the regime of Saddam Hussein. How far is disarmament to go? How do we define “weapons of mass destruction”? How far is the toppling of the present regime actually to be achieved — is the death or capture or flight from Baghdad of Saddam Hussein enough?

There are no easy answers to such questions. Furthermore, military experience the world over is that a key requirement for success in any military operation is a single and unambiguous aim. Not only are the aims of “disarmament” and “regime change” not clearly defined, but also in a military sense their achievement may well be conflicting.

The second matter is that those who support what is clearly to be a massive military operation argue that any alternative would undermine the future credibility of the United Nations. Is that credibility not already deeply at risk? Signatories to the UN Charter undertake in Article 2 (4) to
refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

The latter sentence may well be used in justification of our limited actions over Iraq during the last few years. However, issues of proportionality must at least call into question whether the massive damage, as well as the possible wider political implications for regional stability that are likely to result from the military operation now planned, can be so justified.

The cause of this mess can be traced back to the decision of the leaders of the sole global superpower, stung by the events of September 11, to abandon the doctrines of deterrence and containment upon which the stability of international security had successfully been based since the end of the Second World War. There has been substituted for it, without either international discussion or any apparent rigorous intellectual debate, a doctrine of pre-emption. Given the serious questions now being asked in relation to the nuclear-armed North Korea, the international security community has a lot of thinking to do.

Yours faithfully,
(Director, The Royal Institute of International Affairs,1984-90),
Lower Abbotsleigh,
Blackawton, Devon TQ9 7AF.
March 7.