Why the rush to attack a spent force?

THE rush to war in Iraq gives an opportunity for every merchant of spin to stir the pot. Plagiarised academic writings are attributed to impeccable intelligence sources. International terrorism, local dissidents and tinpot dictators are linked with nuclear weapons by inadequate commas. Old inspectors’ reports are rehashed to sound like new discoveries of Iraqi deception. But the real sign of desperation is when the war advocates start calling their critics appeasers.

Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein share a number of characteristics. Both showed little regard for human rights, international law and democratic process. Military force was their preferred diplomatic tool. They both failed to make a nuclear bomb, but spent a lot of national effort trying to do so. They also had to work under international restrictions on development of particular military capability. Does this mean that there are historic parallels between the Baldwin-Chamberlain policy of appeasement of Germany in the run-up to the Second World War and the widespread criticism of US policy towards military intervention in Iraq?

Germany, after openly breaking the Versailles Treaty by rearming and creating the Luftwaffe, reoccupied the Rhineland, succeeded in Anschluss with Austria and annexed the Czech Sudetenland. Iraq failed in its bloody five-year campaign against Iran, was ousted from Kuwait and has been a declining military power since the UN inspectors started their work 12 years ago.

Appeasement in the 1930s was a policy that allowed Germany to grow in military might, occupy new territory and directly threaten Europe without retribution. While the US and its allies can rightly be accused of collaboration with Saddam in the 1980s, our policy since the Gulf War has been a successful mixture of containment and deterrence.

But are France and Germany now guilty of appeasement if they try to delay precipitate use of military force to disarm Iraq of any weapons of mass destruction that it may have? In 1991 Iraq’s programme to build a nuclear bomb was fairly far advanced. The infrastructure to enrich uranium was destroyed by the UN inspectors. Today nobody suggests that Iraq has managed to re-establish this capability. Saddam almost certainly continues to hide stocks of chemical weapons. Yet deterrence has prevented their use since the West stopped supporting his adventures.

Biological weapons are a real concern. They have little utility for military use, but they represent a strategic threat that could be used against civilians. Again, the retribution that would follow their use ensures that they would be wheeled out only in the end game of any war of survival.

Finally, the delivery systems for such strategic weapons that he may have are now much depleted. We worry whether he has managed to add another 30km to the range to his battlefield missiles. He now has very few, if any, reliable long-range missiles.

The contrast between pre-war Germany and Iraq could scarcely be more stark. In Iraq we face a Third World country that has been declining in military strength since we stopped supporting its regional power strategy. Containment, sanctions and robust retaliation to military adventurism has been effective. With no threat to Europe, America or even to Iraq’s neighbours, war seems a very odd choice.

  • Sir Timothy Garden is visiting professor at the Centre for Defence Studies, King’s College London. As an Air Marshal he was Commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, and subsequently director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.