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IRAQ: Just war or a Just War?

Writing before the invasion of Iraq, Bert Westbrook said: "A little perspective might be something of a comfort. With all due respect to Rosa de Pena and Edmund Burke, the United Nations does not "represent a superior power," for the simple reason that especially with regard to security matters, the United Nations is much more a set of fora than it is an independent power. The United Nations is not a world government, and was not intended to be. It cannot make law, fight (though the Charter intended the UN to have war making capability, that has always been a dead letter), or tax. It represents states rather than people. Consequently, it is misleading to say that its members "obey" the United Nations. Not just Bush and Blair in the present instance, but every one of the permanent members of the Security Council has fought foreign wars without Security Council authorization. Most recently -- and to much less outcry -- President Clinton authorized air strikes on Iraq in an effort to enforce the terms of the cease fire in the Gulf War, and we participated in the liberation of Kosovo, all without explicit Council authorization (and over the objections of permanent members France and Russia in the cases of Iraq and Serbia, respectively). While the scale of what looks to be the Second Gulf War is enormous, the legal issues presented here are not unprecedented. In short, even if Bush and Blair proceed without the Security Council's blessing, it is overheated to say that such actions "threaten the basis of civilized society."

What might threaten civilized society is another great war, this one organized along the lines of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis. While I hope and think that such a war is unlikely at present, the risk is there. The security question is whether such a future is best averted through passivity or forcible intervention. Several decades after Camp David, and over a year after 9/11, with nation-building ongoing in Afghanistan, the choice appears to have been made for the latter . . . While these are scary times, I find it hard to think the times are much more scary than virtually any point during the 20th century".

Ronald Hilton - 3/22/03