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Wednesday, 12 February, 2003, 17:13 GMT
Viewpoint: Moral march to war
BBC News Online has asked a range of contributors to comment on the Iraq crisis.
Here, Professor Gwyn Prins of the London School of Economics argues that a war to remove Saddam Hussein from power would be a morally just one.
The changing of Saddam's regime is a legal and moral duty - one that should be honoured by anyone who believes in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
His barbarous and genocidal behaviour towards his own people - the Iraqi Kurds poison-gassed at Halabja in 1988 and the Marsh Arabs later - gives the jus ad bellum [just cause - the conditions under which the use of military force is justified].
In particular resolution 688 (which is cited within the current key resolution, 1441) condemns the human rights abuses of Saddam, and mandates the restoration of international peace and security to the region.
No further UN resolution is needed on this front (or indeed on any: Clause 13 of 1441 was always permissive of the use of force, if only people had taken the trouble to read it).
There are those who ask whether war can be justified if it risks innocent civilian lives. This is something that has preoccupied people who think about the eventuality of war ever since St Augustine formulated his theory of Just War.
My starting point is that it is a false proposition to suggest that the alternative to a war of liberation - which I believe this war would be - is that no one would die.
In the 20th Century 35 million people died in wars. But three times as many died at the hands of their own governments, victims of Stalin, Hitler, Mao.
We live in a world where people who suffer under barbarous and illegitimate regimes die as a consequence of their own government's hand, as we have already seen in Iraq.
If we take no action, they die anyway. In fact I would go further. Those who oppose the use of armed force would be, in effect, condoning the possibility that more people would die than may die in a war of liberation, both in Iraq and elsewhere (in Britain for example) as a result of Saddam's continuance in power.
The question of moral responsibility lies in intent. The intention in conducting a just war is to minimise injury both to your own troops and to innocent civilians insofar as is possible.
In the context of removing Saddam, there are several ways in which that moral responsibility can be fulfilled.
But, if that doesn't work, you have to follow through with the threat and design the military action in such a way as to meet the criteria of jus in bello [how to conduct war in an ethical manner]. This means that your use of force is proportionate to the threat and discriminates between combatants and civilians as much as possible.
In the context of Iraq, I believe the longer the troop build-up goes on, the larger our range of options to meet those criteria becomes.
Minimising innocent civilian deaths can best be done by conducting a very large military operation which swamps the enemy and quickly extinguishes resistance.
Providing the operation is supplied with overwhelming mass, as now seems likely, the defeat of the rump of Saddam's army should not be technically too challenging.
If some innocent people die in those operations, those people die as a consequence of liberation.
The situation is then no different from, say, the French or Italians who welcomed the liberation of Paris or Rome from Nazi occupation. Those people fully understood that there was the possibility that civilians would die in the process of that liberation, but they thought it worth the price.
'Forces of good'
We live in a new world - one that is no longer dominated by superpower confrontation. One consequence of this is that once again it is reasonable to think of applying jus in bello criteria.
I suspect it is a left-over of unrevised thinking that was appropriate to the earlier - now past - era: cultural lag. And another of the paradoxical consequences of this new world is that military force can once again be used as it has traditionally been used over the centuries - for discriminate and specific military purposes, as the Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz said: the continuation of politics by other means.
I believe Tony Blair holds this view - that in this particular case it is possible to use the forces of good - as the prime minister being a strongly religious man would probably put it - to protect the rights of those who are defenceless and to assist in the liberation of those who are persecuted.
I think he would see it in those terms, because those are the terms in which I believe he sent British troops to conduct a magnificent and much applauded rescue of Sierra Leonians in 2000.
And I believe this is the way he saw the use of our forces in Bosnia, where we played a crucial role in rescuing Bosnian Muslims. He saw it in the same way in the case of Kosovo and more recently in the liberation aspect of the war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
On each of those past occasions, he was proved right, and his critics, wrong.
Much of the criticism of the use of force in Iraq that was heard from the "old" Labour back benches at Prime Minister's Questions, is, I think, actually a cover for people who really want to say that much as they may dislike Saddam Hussein, they hate Tony Blair more, or that they really think that the US is the greater threat to their view of the world.
Such people give Saddam Hussein all the benefit of the doubt, and none to the democratic restraints upon any US president.
Mr Bush cannot act without a formal mandate from Congress; and he has it. The prime minister was right to ignore them.
Professor Gwyn Prins is Alliance Research Professor jointly at the London School of Economics and at Columbia University, New York. He is author of The Heart of War - On Power, Conflict and Obligation in the 21st Century (Routledge 2002).
He was talking to BBC News Online's Kathryn Westcott.
Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
Professor Gwyn Prins' views on the matter of war, or not war, with Iraq are refreshingly direct and clear cut. I suppose even those who do not agree with his point of view can appreciate his standpoint.
Another argument which is commonly used against an invasion of Iraq is that there are other motives than humanitarian and why is suddenly Saddam the target when there are others deserving (and there are) the same treatment?
Well, letting one dictator off because you can't get the others is a very deficient argument as anyone can see. It would be the same as if the police stopped arresting criminals just because there are others going undetected.
The concept of just war is still a very difficult concept. Let us hope that it won't be used too many times. It is generally better to have the locals remove their own bad apples.
The Iraq war is said to be against Saddam Hussein, however, it is against the people of Iraq, who will fight and die defending their country. If the West wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, they could easily do so in the same way as other unwanted leaders are assassinated.
The United States' technology and its contacts with opponents of Sadam Hussein are sufficient resources to accomplish this task. This has already been suggested at the highest levels of the US administration: namely, a bullet in the head would do the job.
However, the object of US and UK policy is to occupy Iraq and bring it under their influence. However, the United States and the UK cannot "reorganise" Iraq in a way that it will fit into their world order, regardless of the fact that Iraq as a Middle Eastern culture has a different way of organising things compared to the ways things are done in the UK and US. Therefore I totally reject Professor Prins' fallacious arguments.
I believe the consequences of the war will produce more suffering than was ever caused by Saddam Hussein.
I think that Professor Gwyn Prins makes an excellent case for the justification for a war against Iraq. I think too many mindless people use the slogan "No to war with Iraq" as an excuse for anti-Americanism.
It seems to me from the responses to Prof Prins' article that some people, although they can see the need to disarm Saddam, they usually have an impromptu remark to add about President Bush. Also, this is not a war for oil, or against the innocent civilians of Iraq, it is a means to stop an oppressive dictatorship in Iraq.
To Peter McGuire in Australia, there are innumerable reasons why it would not be that simple to stop Saddam; recognising him from a vast network of hired body doubles, the fact he is constantly surrounded by a militia of soldiers everywhere he goes, etc, and even if he was killed, there are plenty willing to take the reigns of the regime, and finish what he started.
Finally, in relation to the point about all of the other evil regimes in the world (Why Iraq now?) there is a natural order in which things need to be done (first things first).
A very interesting piece of reading. The case made for justifying war on Iraq is a very sound one. Although a lot of double standards come through here again. Why is nothing being done to liberate the people of Zimbabwe from Robert Mugabe who has also violated the human rights of his own people on numerous occasions? Could this be because there is nothing in Zimbabwe that America needs??
War between evil and good can be justified. You can even justify a war betwen two evils, at least we can be sure of reduction of the evil. But no argument can justify the war between two evils where the sufferers are good people. Both are arrogant, I do not know which one is more.
Where is the wisdom and where are the values? Are we still barbarians?
I don't think there is any disagreement about Saddam being a nasty piece of work and that Iraq and the world would be better off without him. The argument for war can easily be justified, but it also comes across as rank hypocrisy when you consider that Saddam was armed by the West and the fact that many other nasty dictators are allowed to do whatever they want.
If we are going to be consistent then we should be looking to send UN troops into countries all around the world to remove dictators. But then I guess these other countries don't have the same oil reserves.
Removing Saddam is justified because he has committed horrific crimes against his own people and also against others. If Mr Bush wants horrific leaders to be removed and make the world a better place, he can as well start with Africa. Or for that matter North Korea. Is it not a threat to other countries? Why is he so much bothered about Iraq which has plenty of oil?
Bush's reasons are justified, but not the motives.
If the justification for war is that Saddam broke the Genocide Convention in 1988, then that means that the West, and the US in particular, are accessories to genocide and are also in breach of the Convention!!
We supplied him with the weapons to commit genocide on his own people (admittedly with the intention that he used them on the Iranians and not the Kurds), not to mention turning a blind eye to his atrocities.
Doesn't this somewhat diminish our moral right to attack him for breaching the Convention?!
If we are justified in conducting a "war of liberation" against Saddam Hussein, would we not be justified in removing any murderous dictator anywhere? Where does this stop?
A just war? In my book this is an oxymoron. As long as "someone" wants to make war, a justification is easy to find. There is NO justification for war, period. It is those who justifiy war that stand in the way of peace.
Germany and France could well use the same justification for a "moral war" against the United States for its imminent murder of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians. Arab nations could well use the same justification for a war against Israel for its repeated violations of UN resolutions and Palestinian human rights. Where then does the spiral of violence end? Whose is then the more "just" war?
This article is a naive, opportunistic attempt to justify unilateral American aggression against Iraq while conveniently ignoring equally egregious conflicts where the United States actively aids and abets the aggressors and the oppressors. The key to stability and prosperity is impartial justice, not an omnipotent, unaccountable, trigger-happy superpower.
Professor Gwyn presents a logical and clear argument regarding a just war. However, he does not really identify why this war is the war we are fighting today. There are clearly then additional motives for this war which is something that Professor Gwyn skillfully avoids discussing and is a point the other respondents have also picked up on.
If we accept that governments have a right to prevent crimes against humanity then it is an acceptable goal to wish to see Saddam Hussein punished for his crimes. However, my question to Professor Gwyn is then what other options could be considered apart from war to achieve this goal of liberating the Iraqi people?
This question has not been given sufficient attention and the US and UK Governments have definitely not facilitated open debate on this issue. Since alternatives have not been fully explored in a transparent way how can we justify that in the case of Iraq a war is the best means to achieve the protection of human rights in Iraq?
I think alternatives to war exist. Such alternatives might mean we have to wait a bit longer to see Saddam Hussein punished for his crimes agains humanity, and also reduce investments into America's defence industry but an alternative would greatly reduce the probability of increased terrorist attacks against the West and might set the greatest example for achieving peace. Think again Bush!
I think the problem in many people's minds is how can an "unjust" power (the US) fight a "just" war? It really does come down to supporting the lesser of the two evils, the US and its allies against Iraq. My hope is that the US will use its power to force parties in other disputes such as Israel/Palestine, Zimbabwe, North Korea to the negotiating table in the post-Iraq era.
If the US was more consistent and did not only act when its economic interests are at stake it would have a lot more supporters. Brutal dictatorships however cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.
The fight to defend human rights is indeed a worthy one, but to view the coming assault on Iraq in those terms betrays the utmost gullibility.
Most of Saddam's atrocities were committed with the full support of the West who at the time wanted to weaken Iran. Immediately after the Kuwait War, the West turned a blind eye to the slaughter of many thousands of Kurds who we had encouraged to rebel during the war. We are still ignoring human rights abuses all over the world, not least in Israel. Instead we are using the very weapons we sold to Saddam in the 80s as an excuse to invade.
If I believed that US aggression was in any way influenced by human rights issues then I might be more tolerant of it, but even the most elementary strategic analysis shows the true motives to be oil and television. These self-evident facts lie behind the world's overwhelming opposition to the planned massacre.
If America were to "go it alone" in Iraq against the wishes of the United Nations, it would be contravening the UN charter and international law in a way entirely equivalent to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Will the UN form an army for Iraq's defence? Will the US be required to open its doors to weapons inspectors so as to inspire the world's confidence in its commitment to disarmourment as South Africa did? Will there be a phase of trade sanctions against the US dubbed as the "diplomatic approach". Not until the world finds the courage to face the American gun and say "Stop."
I don't disagree with the fact that Saddam is a serious problem for world peace. The point is that he has been killing his own people since 1980, and he has been looking for a way to develop weapons of mass destruction since the early 70s with the assistance of Western countries, and then 20 years later the west suddenly becomes aware of the dangers.
The fact is that the security problems we face now are the consequences of foreign politics that were implemented during the Cold War, as we see this is just the top of the iceberg.
What we do now? Obviously the only way to solve the Iraq crisis is a solution that includes the menace or the use of the force. Why? Because it is too late to try to force Saddam to become a respectable member of the world community, he is used to profiting from the diferences between the different centres of power - he has been doing it for 30 years.
But please don't say that the war is because he has violated the Genocide Convention, or because he is "mean" with his people. The world is full of cases like that, and then why didn't the US and the Axis of Good do anything in Rwanda, why is Somalia still at war, Africa is full of examples.
So please don't mix national interests with moral.
Ignoring rulers like Saddam leads to death, and indeed we have our responsibilities. Liberation is a just reason for war. However, how it stands now, a war makes the West the aggressor rather than Saddam. Very unfortunate.
It is interesting that the West only is concerned about human rights abuses where its own interests are threatened. Israel has been condemned time and again for human rights abuses by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch and condemned in UN resolutions. Pity I dont hear about Sharon being forcefully overthrown in an "just" war. But then there is no oil in Palestine.
Another example is the regime of General Pinochet who was the worst abuser of human rights against his own people, but still was the darling boy of the West and was brought into power by a US-orchestrated coup. As for Saddam gassing his own people, those weapons were supplied by the West itself which now insists that Saddam disarm. Selective interpretion of "just" wars to suit imperialist interests will make the world a much more dangerous place.
The naive "do-gooders" in France and Germany who are trying to stop war in Iraq should come here and talk to the thousands of Iraqi refugees who truly know the nature of Saddam's regime.
Among the Iraqis here there is absolutely no doubt that Saddam has WMDs and would not hesitate to use them on anybody in order to advance his evil goals. Maybe after hearing from the refugees the gruesome stories of torture, mass killings, military brutality and systematic psychological oppression the leaders of these two countries would pull their heads out of the sand and do the right thing - supporting regime change and disarmament in Iraq, with war if necessary.
So Professor Prins... when will we invade China? Nepal? North Korea? Turkey maybe? I can name a lot of other countries that have bad human rights reputation and have killed their own minorities in brutal ways. Ohhhhh... wait.... there must be other reasons?
Although the article was concise and rather interesting, I feel that there is no justification for war. If you take the majority of excuses the US uses to "justify" military action, it would in fact be enough to justify a war on itself.
You have to realise, UN law (and ironically this is a law which the US helped to construct), states that war must be used as only a last resort after peaceful methods have been used (in Iraq's case - what peaceful methods?).
Either way, it goes on to state that any war must be backed by the UN and if any country (including another member state) does attack another then the other countries should group together and attack the offending country (the one breaking UN code).
So technically under UN law the US and UK will be breaking it if they invade Iraq without UN consent.
We mustn't overlook the fact that the UK and US have also started bombing campaigns past the no-fly zone in Iraq without permission or even a declaration of war - this is also breaking human rights laws.
If we think back in history, some of you may remember when after the ABM Treaty, the UN asked the US (amongst other countries including Russia) to accept weapons inspectors into its institutions to ensure compliance to a number of treaties. Strangly enough, the US didn't comply and thus technically broke a number of rules and resolutions linked to the treaties it signed.
I am not denying that Saddam Hussein is a very bad man, and has committed atrocities. However please consider that the countries trying to build a case against Iraq are far from innocent of the crimes they say Saddam has made.
On a finishing thought, please realise that despite the genocide the Saddam Hussein has committed - remember, more people have died under the sanctions that the West have put on Iraq and its government than any from genocide that Saddam Hussein has been responsible for.
Imagine how many more innocent lives will be lost if a war is raged against them. Remember that in Iraq the majority of people do revere him as he is generally quite a popular leader. Thus it brings me to ask - which is worse for the Iraqis, a life under Saddam Hussein or life blighted by war?
One mustn't forget, without Saddam Hussein in power, Iraq could easily fall under a Shi'ite rule or an Ayatollah which could be good for the international community but definitely bad for the much of the Iraqi populace.
I agree with Professor Prins' statement that more people have died at the hands of their own governments than in international war. Moreover, those people killed by their governments are generally the oppressed, whereas those killed in war are predominantly the oppressors. Should we stand by and watch the weak suffer, or discipline the bullies?
In general, I am opposed to interference in the internal affairs of foreign countries because people usually get the government they deserve. However, I think that an exception can be made for Iraq because of their readiness to invade neighbouring countries, Iran and Kuwait, possible stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and the torturing of Iraqi dissenters.
People ask:"Why target Saddam, and not Mugabe, for example?". Saddam has been abusing his power for longer, 12 years ago during the Gulf War there were many who wanted the armies to invade Iraq and oust him, beyond the remit of the UN resolution at that time.
The activities of Mugabe are only recently beginning to seriously affect his people, and shouldn't we be asking why the other African states are not lobbying the UN for humanitarian action (excluding food aid which simply goes to the ruling party) in Zimbabwe?
I am convinced that Saddam's political future should be left with the Iraqis to decide. No one else has the moral right to force changes in someone else's country if they don't have an ulterior motive. You can't fool the world.
Professor Prins' argument is long on words and short on facts or logic.
According to various treaties and agreements signed by the United States, Great Britain and other UN member states, the United Nations is responsible for determining violations of UN resolutions and appropriate responses.
Great Britain and the United States do not have the (moral or legal) authority to unilaterally decide another member state of the UN (Iraq) is in violation of UN resolutions.
In the event the United States or Great Britain invade Iraq, it would seem to me that the other UN member states would be compelled to declare war against the United States and Britain (and any other state offering their support).
However, controlling "strategic resources" (in other words oil, gas and Suez Canal) is the reason for Western aggression against Middle Eastern people, morality is not a determining factor in decisions by government leaders.
I am surprised after reading Prof Prins' comments that he argues that it is just to remove Saddam because he is barbarian.
I wish to ask him why you have to kill millions of innocent people to remove Saddam. You seem to have no sympathy for Iraqis. And it is their country, how they want to live is their own decision. Why they are supporting Saddam anyway? And who has given authority to Bush and Blair to decide on behalf of Iraqis and mass murder them?
It shows that the West is not sincere with Muslims rather they are making an excuse to overpower a resourceful country.
Democracy as practiced often appears weak and divided on any one subject, since it allows dissent. All wars to be considered or waged by democracies should be carefully debated for justification and merit to the society and culture to be protected and preserved from autocratic nations unwilling to work with other nations without threatening them.
Leaders of nations that threaten others and their own citizens, make themselves and their existence threatened in return when reason and dissent are not allowed, such as in Iraq today.
Interesting reading, although I can't say that I agree with the perspective. Military philosophy aside, I cant see how this rationale squares with prior "wars of liberation". I also find the statement that "If some innocent people die in those operations, those people die as a consequence of liberation." chilling in the extreme. How did we get to where we are today from the end of the Second World War?
"We must make clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it. And we must not allow ourselves to be drawn into a trial of the causes of the war, for our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy." - Supreme Court Justice Robert L. Jackson, chief US prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal, 12 August, 1945.
A just war may be necessary in Iraq because excluding war against a brutal tyrant and his vicious regime will not bring peace to their current victims, nor prevent future victims of massive death and destruction. Peace is the absence of evil not the absence of war.
Victims of terrorism and violent crime are not at peace and their pain is not from war. Their suffering is from the actions of criminals, and armed action against criminals (even if they have an iron grip on a country) is in the interest of true lasting peace.
Because of past complicity, current lies and past and present double standards, the US and the UK are not morally fit to be the ones to pass judgement on and mete out justice to the tyrant Saddam Hussein.
Only someone with clean hands has the right to do that job.
Of course, a moral war would be to bring a human rights violator to justice, namely Saddam. However, you point out that doing nothing, the people of Iraq will still die. Maybe so, but doing half the job will cause more grief to these people, a prime example being the end of the Gulf War.
Prior to the Iran-Iraq war (which was supported by the US on both sides, and hence fuelled by the US) Iraq under Saddam Hussein had the highest standard of living in the Middle East. This is not to say this is all the US's fault - Saddam was the one to pull the triggers to murder who he considered traitors - the fact remains that the US was very involved in Saddam's upbringing.
What is needed here is a little humility from the US acknowledging they made a mistake, not only to show the world that they want to right a wrong, but to show the people of Iraq that they are not all business conscience in this possible war.
Hang on, after Saddam conducted genocidal behaviour towards his own people - the Iraqi Kurds poison-gassed at Halabja in 1988 - he was still welcomed by President Bush Sr as an ally and a trading partner.
This genocide is the main justification by Professor Prins for war. The question is why now? And what moral authority does the US have when it was prepared to turn a blind eye in 1988?
These are some very compelling arguments and they are almost enough to change my mind about the war in Iraq. There remain several nagging questions... if we are to apply jus ad bellum in this case then how many other cases can we apply it to? And isn't international law the most appropriate mechanism for applying it? Should we be liberating Palestine next?
Finally someone speaks out with some intelligence. Bush and Blair would never send their country's sons to die for oil, for they are both deeply religious men; In addition, they both know the price of freedom. Freedom is very costly to obtain, for life and blood must be paid heavily for its acquiring. Freedom is a god-given right of humanity, and we go to see that they have it.
History gives us one powerful weapon: hindsight. This allows us to see where a mistake could be made, in this case by either preventing war or engaging in it. Both can be seen to have positive outcomes and the arguments for both ways are good.
I feel that we need to reflect on the aeons of experience the world has, historical analysts could help us chart our way through these muddy seas. Yes we could enter into a new "Crusade" such as the Knights Templar of old, or head into a bloody world war that envelops the globe such as in the 20th Century.
But because of the current complexities of world politics and economics (both intricately interwoven) that no one country knows fully, or controls, we could be sent us into an unknown future.
Are we capable yet of being truly "one world"? Perhaps yes, but it will be a long undertaking to achieve, and wars may need to be fought to achieve it, as Professor Gwyn Prins states, but one, cannot, in these days make that decision.
Remarks about moral and legal duties on the Iraq situation sounds very similar to the reasons America entered the Vietnam War. America destroyed Vietnam and Laos in order to "save" it. Should America save Iraq like it saved Vietnam?
I agree with your opinion. I just hope that this action is really not about taking Iraq's oil fields as a substitution for my country's failed energy policies. I know that most people I speak with about the situation believe in self-determination of other countries. But we were late in helping the Iraqi people when the Kurds were massacred, we were late in helping out our brothers in Europe during WWII. Maybe we are trying to make up for our previous indifference.
My government is not perfect, and has made many mistakes in the past, by supporting the wrong people... My heartfelt feeling is that taking action to end Saddam's reign of terror is the right thing to do.
Thank you for your clear thinking.
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