Incite -- (v) 1: give an incentive; 2: provoke or stir up; "incite a riot"; 3: urge on; cause to act
Sunday, September 19, 2004

The legality of warfare
Written by: Beck

This Thursday, pressed by reporters, Annan gave a straight answer to the straight question: was the US led war in Iraq illegal? His answer, unsurprisingly, was, "Yes."
The U.N. Charter allows nations to take military action with Security Council approval as an explicit enforcement action, such as during the Korean War and the 1991 Gulf War.

But in 2003, in the build-up to the Iraq war, the United States dropped an attempt to get a Security Council resolution approving the invasion when it became apparent it would not pass.

At the time, Annan had underlined the lack of legitimacy for a war without U.N. approval, saying: "If the United States and others were to go outside the Security Council and take unilateral action they would not be in conformity with the Charter."

On Wednesday, after being asked three times whether the lack of council approval for the war meant it was illegal, he said: "From our point of view and the U.N. Charter point of view it was illegal."
And you know what? To the extent that one believes in the legitimacy of the United Nations, Annan's answer was the correct one.

The question the people of the world should be asking themselves is not whether or not the Iraq war was legal with regard to the UN charter--the answer to that question is self evident. Rather, the people of the world should be asking themselves whether or not they want to accept definitions of right & wrong, legal & illegal, from the United Nations.

Less than a decade ago, I would have regarded anyone who did not think that the UN was ultimately a good & noble institution which should be supported and endorsed as a sadly clueless loon. While I recognized that the UN was fraught with imperfection--that corrupt dictators wielded as much power, if not more, than democracies; that intellectual relativism and economic socialism dominated the general mindset of the institution; that the bureaucratic nature of the beast had become bloated, slow, and often ineffectual. Nonetheless, I saw these as problems requiring reform, not cancers requiring surgical amputation.

The goal of the UN was to prevent another conflict like World Wars I & II from ever happening again. The UN as it exists today aims to a vast number of goals, and it achieves none of them. Furthermore, ask yourself, has the UN made a global war less likely? Did the UN do a thing to deflate the level of hostility during the Cold War? Has the UN done anything to defuse tension between Pakistan and India? Between China and Taiwan? Between North Korea and every other nation in missile range?

The United Nations is a failed institution. It had its chance, it failed. It's time to move on. To the extent that the world can benefit from a permanently standing international body to which every country of the world sends an ambassador, something worthwhile can take the UN's place. But the UN Charter does not stand for moral, logical, or beneficial "law making." I fully believe in the morality and necessity of launching war in Iraq. To the extent that others may disagree with me, I feel confident that their disagreement is over the nature and immediacy of the threat posed by Iraq. I've yet to see a serious disagreement over the US going to war =from a mainstream liberal based on an argument that has anything to do with the United Nations.

I suspect that, while many liberals regret the extent to which America has become alienated from Europe (for which most of the blame lies with Europe, mind you, and people who desperately didn't want to lose their incredibly lucrative oil-for-food swindle money), and regret that the United States was unable to procure a Security Council resolution (thanks again to European intransigence), they (anti-war Americans) recognize that any anti-war argument rooted in a pro-UN basis is doomed to failure.

You just can't take the United Nations seriously anymore. Mainstream politicians may fear to call for something so radical as the replacement of the UN with a more serious and less frivolous & impotent institution, preferring instead to simply call for that empty chimera "reform." I've not been on this earth all that long, but there's one thing I've gradually come to accept--elected governments are nearly incapable of reforming themselves. Unelected bureaucracies are entirely incapable of reforming themselves.

Illegal war indeed.

Update: Answerman chimes in from the comments:

I think there were 2 justifications for the war even under the UN Charter. First, the 1991 Gulf War was indisputably legal under Security Council resolutions, and the ceasefire that ended but did not fully legally resolve it was indisputably being violated by Saddam in March 2003. The war was therefore legally justified as a continuation of the 1991 war.

Second, the resolution unanimously approved by the Security Council in November 2002 permitted generally the use of force by member states to enforce it. It did not explicitly require a second resolution before such force could be used. Although the language was ambiguous, a strong argument can be made that the November 2002 resolution authorized, although not in explicit language, the March 2003 invasion.
Which just goes to strengthen Kofi Annan & crew's irrelevance.

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