See You In Court - Blair to answer legality of war plans

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  • Date: Thu, 28 Nov 2002 10:19:24 -0000

Parliament might have been denied its debate and the Cabinet might have
been silenced, but there are other means of holding the government to
account. If, by 4pm today, his lawyers have failed to agree that he will
not attack Iraq without a new UN resolution, the Campaign for Nuclear
Disarmament will take the Prime Minister to court. For the first time in
history, the British government may be forced to defend the legality of
its war plans in front of a judge. 

The case, hatched by the comedian Mark Thomas, looks straightforward.
The United Kingdom and the United States are preparing to invade,
whether or not they receive permission from the United Nations. Jack
Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has stated that the UK will "reserve our
right to take military action, if that is required, within the existing
body of UN Security Council resolutions". But no UN resolution grants
such a right. 

Last week, Matrix Chambers, the legal practice founded by the Prime
Minister's wife, prepared a legal opinion for CND. Its findings were
unequivocal: "the UK would be in breach of international law if it were
to use force against Iraq ... without a further Security Council
resolution." The judge might decide that the courts don't have the
authority to rule on military matters, but if she does agree to hear the
case, the chances of winning are high. If CND wins, its lawyers believe
it is "inconceivable" that the British government would go to war
without a new resolution, as it would lose its remaining moral
authority. Activists in the US are hoping to launch a similar case. 

If these suits did force our governments to return to the UN, they might
not prevent a war with Iraq, as the Security Council could grant them
the resolution they want. But this would not mean that the exercise was
wasted. If the most powerful countries are permitted to wipe their feet
on the UN charter with impunity, then the world will swiftly come to be
governed by unmediated brute force. 

This is the factor which many of those liberals who support the invasion
of Iraq have failed to grasp. If a war is to be accounted just, it must
meet a number of conditions. Not only must it reduce the sum total of
violence in the world, and improve the lives of the oppressed, but it
must also be shown not to replace one form of oppression with another. 

It is not hard to conceive of a just war against Iraq. We know that it
is governed by one of the world's most bestial regimes, and that the
lives of its people would be immeasurably improved if that regime was
replaced by a democratic government. If this was indeed the purpose of
an attack, if less violent means of achieving the same result had been
exhausted, if it was legal and if the attacker was a nation with no
recent record of expansionism and foreign aggression, which had no
special interest in Iraq's resources, and whose political class was not
talking of creating a "new imperium", we should support it. But none of
these conditions have been met. 

It is plain that the US government's decision to go to war came first,
its chosen target second, and its reason for attacking that country
third. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the original plan, after
the bombing of Afghanistan, was to attack Somalia. Iraq's weapons and
the brutality of its government are the excuses used to justify the
expanding "war on terror" which keeps the hawks in Washington in
business. Iraq was substituted for Somalia partly because of its oil
supplies and partly because it presents a more plausible target. 

It is also clear that there is little enthusiasm in Washington either
for democracy in Iraq or for Kurdish independence. Turkey, a key western
ally, is fiercely opposed to Kurdish separatism. For the past six
months, the US government has been questioning the legitimacy of the
Iraqi opposition movement and hinting that it might replace Saddam with
another military leader. 

We should not, of course, ignore the possibility that the US may change
its mind about the future governance of Iraq, or that a democratic
revolution might be an accidental outcome of an invasion of that
country. Nor should we forget that some of Iraq's oppressed peoples
would welcome a war against Saddam, whoever waged it and for whatever
purpose. But against their understandable enthusiasm must be weighed the
global consequences of this war. Victory in Afghanistan greatly
empowered the hawks in Washington, and their hunger to attack the next
target could be seen as a direct consequence. If we permit the US to
march into Iraq, we open the door to an overt form of world domination,
backed by force of arms. 

It might seem callous to balance the fate of the Kurds and the Shiites
against these concerns. But just because we do not favour an attack of
the kind the US proposes does not mean that we cannot support attempts
by other nations, whose record is unsullied and whose motives are
unmixed, to destabilise or overthrow the regime, if their action is
legal and if we know that this is the limit of their ambitions. Indeed,
if we do succeed in preventing an attack by the US, we surely have a
responsibility to lobby for a just means of helping the Iraqi people to
depose Saddam, led by nations with no imperial ambitions. And we may
find that this requires military force. 

But even this, more legitimate warfare might not be necessary. Troy
Davis of the World Citizen Foundation has been sketching out an
ingenious means of pulling the rug from beneath Saddam's feet. The
United Nations, he proposes, should help the opposition groups based
abroad and in Iraq's no-fly zones to establish a democratically-elected
government in exile. This government is then given the world's Iraqi
embassies and the nation's frozen assets. It gradually takes control of
the no-fly zones and the oil-for-food programme. Saddam Hussein would
find himself both isolated diplomatically and confronted by a legitimate
alternative government. It is not hard to see how his authority over his
own people would be undermined, permitting him to be toppled more
easily. This plan also ensures that democracy is less likely to be
frustrated by the installation of a puppet regime. 

But if this option is tried and fails, and if war turns out to be the
only means of removing Saddam, then let us support a war whose sole and
incontestable purpose is that and only that; which will not stop until
the people of Iraq are running their country themselves, but will stop
the moment that this happens; and whose purpose is not to seize the oil
wells, to support the ambitions of some of the most ruthless and
dangerous people in the western world or to overturn the norms of
international law. But there will be neither a just war nor a just peace
unless we stop the injust war from being waged. Taking the government to
court may be the best chance we have. 

Source:  Guardian

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