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The UN and WMDs

April 28th, 2003

As yet another WMD discovery fails to pan out, I’m puzzled by continued claims that the UN failed in its task by not approving the invasion. Whatever arguments Bush may have had for war, the only one he put up to the UNSC was based on WMDs. The evidence put up in support of his case was obviously dodgy at the time and has since proved to be completely spurious. Contrary to repeated claims, it’s now clear that the US has and had no reliable intelligence about the existence and location of WMDs. Some may perhaps exist, but it’s evident that all the claims made by Powell in his UN speech were false.

This leads to the question – why didn’t Bush put up the case for a war of liberation to the UN? There are some obvious difficulties like the attachment of the Chinese to the doctrine of non-interference, but I think the real problem comes when you think about what would be involved in presenting such a case ex ante. As I observed a couple of months ago on this point

A starting point would be an admission by the US government that it actively assisted or passively encouraged Saddam in the commission of his worst single crime – the war of aggression he launched against Iran, in which he made extensive use of chemical weapons. When Blair correctly says that Saddam’s wars have killed more people than were marching in London, he should be remined of this. I don’t say that the past crimes of the US government mean that it should not do anything about Saddam now, but an open declaration of the US role and an apology for US complicity are necessary if the moral case against Saddam is to have any standing.

The second requirement is for some sort of just basis for asserting that a particular leader is a criminal who deserves to be overthrown. We have such a basis in the International Criminal Court, in which Britain is a participant. Blair should demand that Saddam be tried before this court. Of course, a precondition is that the US should drop its own objections.

Third, there is the problem of equal justice.The moral case against Saddam is compromised by US complicity in the occupation of Palestine. If Bush were to demand acceptance by both sides in this dispute of a peace plan similar to that put up by Clinton and back his demand by a threat of sanctions and a willingness to enforce an agreed peace, the moral case against Saddam would be lot stronger.

Finally, there is the problem of multiple agendas. A moral case for war can be made only by forgoing all attempts at seeking strategic or economic side-benefits. Yet many (most) of the US commentators supporting war are pointing to such benefits as a primary or secondary motivation. A moral case would require a clear commitment not to use Iraqi oil to the benefit of the US, not to use Iraqi territory as a base for further military action, not to make side deals with countries like Turkey etc. So far none of this has been forthcoming.

Given that the UN was never presented with a case for a war of liberation, it’s hard to see how the failure to authorise one can be held against them.

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