Collective security against aggression

In a thoughtful piece at The Wardman Wire, Carl Gardner puts forward a case that the Iraq war was lawful, and that even if you believe the opposite, the case isn’t strong enough to justify the ‘wild, overblown and rhetorical claims that Tony Blair is a “war criminal”’. Indeed, he argues that the enforcement of UN resolutions by the US and UK was a sign of idealism.

After the Berlin wall fell, the UN was suddenly free of the shackles of the cold war: it found it could unite and act against Iraq in 1990 and 1991. The first president Bush could speak of a “new world order”. But through the 1990s, the UN’s authority was systematically undermined by Iraq – and it began to lose its unity and its will. By 2003, the question was whether its authority meant anything or whether its orders could be safely defied for ever. It was the determination of the US to confront Iraq and enforce UN resolutions, not the French and Russian reluctance to do so, that represented the old idealism of collective security against aggression.

Had the Security Council united to give Iraq a clear ultimatum in a “second” resolution (there were many resolutions about Iraq’s disarmament in truth), as Britain wanted it to, then the UN’s authority might have been upheld without political division – maybe even without war. Of course it didn’t unite, and didn’t agree to do anything, primarily because of the unwillingness of France, Russia and China. In judging the subsequent actions of countries like the US, Britain, Spain, Italy, Australia, Holland, Poland, Denmark, Japan and South Korea among others, I prefer to read the background UN resolutions in a way that favours the enforcement of international disarmament obligations – and permits their multilateral action; it is surely a mistake, and arguably even a betrayal of the UN ideal, to read them in a way that requires minimum respect from aggressors for the UN’s united will, and maximum respect from members for its culpable inaction.

Hat-tip: HM.