Right through its history, America has not hesitated to use force under the pretexts of principles, sovereignty and justice. American military intervention in world affairs has risen drastically since the end of the Second World War. The period following the Second World War saw America assume the role of a superpower that headed the western coalition in what was a bipolar world. In a way, the nuclear bombing of Japan was the first of its international digressions and the ongoing Iraq quagmire the latest. Since the collapse of Soviet Union, America has had at its disposal the most potent military force. Its economic structure complements military spending; leading to a military industrial complex. The 2003 Allied invasion of Iraq was not an exception. Neither was United States’ role in the ugly end to the Second World War.
Noted political commentator Ivo Daalder raises some valid questions regarding the legitimacy of the invasion of Iraq. Daalder argues that the invasion was illegitimate on two counts: 1.there was no provocation from Iraq and 2.the United Nations Security Council did not approve of the war. Military actions of countries such as Iran and North Korea were condemned by the U.N. and the United States alike. In the same vein, the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki also don’t meet basic humanitarian standards. De-classified information from the period suggests that there was no significant threat from Japan at the time of these bombings. Hence, it could be stated that the United States deserves the worldwide condemnation that it elicited then and continues to elicit now (Gaddis, 2005).
On the eve of the American invasion of Iraq, the German Foreign minister Joschka Fischer openly questioned American intentions behind the intervention. Such doubts were expressed by other members of the European Union as well. The differences were not just at the diplomatic level. A public opinion poll conducted on the eve of the war revealed how an overwhelming majority of people in Europe disagreed with the American official line. More importantly, they believed that the war was illegitimate. The public sentiment in the United States was exactly the opposite. Some analysts point that the divide in public opinion is nothing more than a reflection of the prevailing world order. Nevertheless, such a simplistic reason is insufficient in explaining a pervasive set of beliefs and attitudes. Similar sentiments were expressed by allies and rivals alike with regard to the situation in Japan in 1945. Hence, some historical parallels could be discerned (Anderson, 2005).
The Coalition of the Willing’s failure to properly plan and execute its “liberation” of Iraq has led to a complete breakdown of law and order in the country. The insurgency following this collapse has affected the Iraqi civilian population more than the coalition troops. This outcome is in contradiction with the mission of “liberating the people of Iraq”. The setting of the Iraqi Governing Council to restore the situation has proved to be a failure. The exercise of setting up a democratically elected leadership in Iraq is perceived as a sham by neutral observers. Similarly, the victims of the nuclear bombardments in Japan were mostly civilians. So, in essence, the present situation in Iraq is comparable to the post-bombardment Japan (Anderson, 2005).
It is an open secret that the middle-east region is of strategic importance. Any country with aspirations to dominate the world will have to have “control” over the region’s resources (read oil) and governments. The United States, the only superpower at the time, was not above this ambition. Noted American intellectual Noam Chomsky points to glaring misinformation released by the White House in his recent scholarship. In Chomsky’s own words,
“The US wasn’t upholding any high principle in Iraq, nor was any of its allies. The reason for the unprecedented response to Saddam Hussein wasn’t his brutal aggression — it was because he stepped on the wrong toes. Saddam Hussein is a murderous gangster — exactly as he was before the War. He was even our friend and favored trading partner at one point in time. His dictatorship of Iraq comprises many atrocious acts, but well within the range of many similar crimes conducted by the US and its allies, and nowhere near as terrible as some.” (Chomsky, 2004)
Unfortunately, not many people know this reality. The false propaganda from the government quarters was so grand in scale that it appeared genuine and truthful. If maintaining sovereignty of independent countries is the reason for the war, then why didn’t the U.S. Government interfere with the Chinese annexation of Tibet and other such atrocities across the world? Hence, the real motivations for American intervention were buried under a veil of propaganda. In this sense, the Iraq War, as understood by the general public, is illegitimate. More importantly, the leaders (military as well as executive) who are responsible for the present mess are culpable under international human rights laws (Gaddis, 2005).
In this context, which was eventually modified, and always subject to criticism, when it became clear toward the end of 2003 that Iraq did not possess WMD, by the 2004 updating of rhetoric to “Iraq had only had the potential to acquire and use them”, and the official line that terrorism was a result of regime change in Iraq (which escalated the activities of guerrillas and insurgents). Just as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars have called for an acceptance of law and legitimacy, they have also raised questions regarding the suitability of such terms as “insurgents, guerrillas, rebels, resistance members, terrorists, detainees, prisoners of war, lawful combatants, unlawful combatants, military commissions, competent tribunals, as well as others expressions.” What is required at present is a critical need to clarify concepts of law and legitimacy in the wake of these invasions (Chomsky, 2004).
While the chief cause for both incidents of aggression is largely systemic, individual decision making played a part too. De-classified information of the Second World War period indicates that President Truman gave orders for using nuclear weapons against the general consensus of his inner circle. In the case of the Iraq war too, President Bush’s decision to invade is attributable to his personal stake in the oil industry. Kofi Annan, the then Secretary-General of the United Nations had displayed tact and skilful diplomacy in all his interactions with the United States government. It is an indication of the gravity of the violation, that he openly questioned the legality of the Iraq war. Other notable diplomats too joined Annan in his condemnation of the war. For example, A.M. Slaughter argued that the invasion of Iraq by America and its allies “was categorically illegal under international law”. Richard Falk noted that “the illegality of recourse to war against Iraq in 2003 was clear. It was also clear before and after the war that there was no reasonable basis for invoking the ‘illegal but legitimate’ formula used by the Independent International Commission for Kosovo to deal with an exceptional circumstance of humanitarian emergency.” The academia across the world was also of a similar view. A majority of influential diplomats and political commentators outside of the United States concurred with these views. At the time of the Japanese bombings though, there was no United Nations or any influential mediating organization. In this sense, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was legal, but only at a technical level. If standards of basic human rights and humanitarianism are applied, then the Japanese episode is as gross a violation as the present Iraqi one (Anderson, 2005).
The sentiments of people outside of the United States in this debate are understandable. For example, there are widespread concerns regarding American hegemony in general and its foreign policies in particular. The adoption of a philosophy of unilateral action made the concerns all the more real. American policies tended to focus heavily on its security. The rationale was that if the only superpower in the world were to be secure, world security as such will advance. This sounds reasonable at a theoretical level. But the actual results tell a different story (Gaddis, 2005).
The meaning of Article 51 of the UN Charter is of relevance in determining the legitimacy of the war in Iraq. Most legal professionals and civil law experts agree that the words “armed attack” mentioned in Article 51 of the 1945 edition must be read literally. In other words, there must have been material damages suffered by the affected nation before there can be a legitimate military response against the instigator. But there is a problem with such an interpretation. The weaponry and military systems of now are far more advanced than the ones used in 1945. Similarly, international consensus, as provided by the United Nations, was absent during the Second World War. With the acquisition of nuclear technology, a country can annihilate its target with the push of a button (Simes, 2003). All it takes is a few seconds and there is virtually no time to defend or respond. The judiciary is now gaining an understanding of this new reality and hence has come to accept “pre-emptive or anticipatory military action” as a lawful one. Without such proactive actions international peace and security will be jeopardized. So, if the U.N. Charter were to be read literally, the Iraq war is illegitimate. But, when it is placed in the context of advances in military technology and interpreted more broadly, the Iraq war may be declared a lawful one (Gaddis, 2005).