IRAQ: An Illegal War
by Christopher Bollyn
March 21, 2003
By suppressing the fact that the ongoing war against Iraq is illegal, the mainstream media misrepresents the nature of the Anglo-American aggression and the fundamental reason why it is opposed by so many nations around the world.
PARIS, France – By ignoring the important legal questions that surround the U.S.-led war against Iraq, the mainstream media has deceived Americans about the legitimacy of the military aggression aimed at removing the regime in Baghdad. It is, however, precisely because the war against Iraq is considered by governments to be illegal that law-abiding nations have refused to support the ill-advised military effort.
As U.S. and British forces entered the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between Kuwait and Iraq, violating the Security Council resolution that established the zone, legal experts pointed out that military action taken to overthrow the Baghdad regime is illegal. As the hour of attack approached, 31 Canadian professors of international law signed an open letter pointing out the illegality of military action against Iraq. A U.S.-British attack “would be a fundamental breach of international law and would seriously threaten the integrity of the international legal order that has been in place since the end of the Second World War,” the letter said. “Illegal action by the U.S. and its allies would simply return us to an international order based on imperial ambition and coercive force,” the letter said.
Even as U.S. and British troops moved into forward battle positions on Iraq’s southern border during a blinding sandstorm on March 19, the foreign ministers of France, Russia, and Germany continued to argue in the UN Security Council for the legal and peaceful alternative to the “logic of war.” Their U.S. and British counterparts, however, stayed away from the session having already abandoned their efforts to provide international legal cover for the long-planned military aggression.
The jaundiced pro-war mass media in the United States has willfully misrepresented the fundamental reasons for France’s resistance to war mongering against Iraq. Gerard Errera, French ambassador to London explained the basis of the French position: “There are no ulterior motives to France's position. We have deeply held convictions. At the heart of them lies the notion that for any action by the international community to be efficient, it has to be legitimate; and that to be legitimate, it has to be based on the respect for international law.”
Only “respect for the law can legitimize the use of force,” French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said. “Respect for the law should be applied in all circumstances, and even more so when it involves the most serious decision, to use force.”
“Would France consider military action taken against Iraq without the authority of the UN Security Council as aggression?” I asked François Rivasseau, spokesman for the French foreign ministry, at a press conference on March 17. Avoiding the term “aggression”, Rivasseau said that any attack on Iraq, lacking the authority of the UN, “would be illegitimate,” adding that this position had not changed since being stated by French president Jacques Chirac on March 10. Later, Rivasseau said that while the French government considered a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq as illegal, it could not call it “aggression.”
France’s opposition to war was “inspired by the primacy of international law,” Chirac said on March 18. Chirac appealed for respect for international law and called on the international community “to preserve the unity of the Security Council by staying in the framework set by Resolution 1441.”
“There is no justification for a unilateral decision to resort to force…Iraq today does not represent an immediate threat that justifies an immediate war,” he said.
“If there is a friend or somebody I dearly love, and if you see that they are going down the wrong path, and if you feel, at least, that that is the case, then friendship demands that we tell that friend, that we warn him,” Chirac, said in an interview on CNN. “I am telling my American friends: Beware; be careful. Think it over seriously before you make an act that is not necessary and that can be very dangerous.”
Chirac’s popularity rating hit a record high due to his opposition to war on Iraq, according to a poll published on March 18. Some 74 percent of those questioned had a positive opinion of the French president, up from 61 percent in February, with only 22 percent held a negative view, according to a Louis Harris poll. On the other hand, 75 percent of the French population blame the U.S. president personally for “the problems created by America,” while only 15 percent faults the U.S. in general.
Europeans are extremely hostile to the U.S. president and his war policy. “Overwhelming majorities [in Europe] disapprove of President Bush's foreign policy,” said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew center. “Western Europeans mostly see Bush as the problem, rather than America more generally.”
The Pew poll conducted in eight European nations revealed how differently Americans view the war from their traditional allies. Fifty-nine percent of Americans support a war to remove Saddam Hussein, while only 39 percent of Britons favor military action and the other seven nations showing even less support. As a result of Bush’s warmongering, only two European nations - Poland and Britain – now hold favorable views of America. In the other European nations polled the majority is anti-U.S.
Poles, who have long held positive views of the United States, were 79 percent in favor of the U.S. last year. Today, only 50 percent of the Polish population is favorable of the United States. Last year, 75 percent of Britons had a generally positive view of the United States. This year, only 48 percent have that positive view, while negative views have more than doubled. The Spanish, who are extremely opposed to war with Iraq, showed a 74 percent unfavorable opinion of the U.S.
NO LEGAL BASIS
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said there is no legal basis for the war against Iraq. “We [the Russian government] believe the use of force against Iraq, especially with reference to previous resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, has no grounds, including legal grounds,” Ivanov said. “Resolution 1441, to which so many references are made, does not give anyone the right to use force automatically,” he said.
“Exactly when the prospect of Iraq's disarmament became more or less likely, problems which have nothing to do with Resolution 1441 and other UN decisions on Iraq were put at the forefront,” Ivanov said at a Security Council session on March 19. “None of these decisions grants the right to use force against Iraq sidestepping the UN Charter,” Ivanov said. “Not one of them authorizes the violent overthrow of the leadership of a sovereign state.”
Gennady Seleznyov, Russia’s parliamentary Speaker, said an attack would cause the world to consider that “the U.S. is a terrorist state that can only be dealt with in the Hague tribunal.”
According to legal experts, there are only two cases that would allow the U.S. to use force against Iraq: in self-defense, or with the express authorization of the UN Security Council exercising its powers under the UN charter. Iraq has not attacked the U.S., the U.K. or their allies, nor is there any evidence that it is about to do so, therefore any arguments based on self-defense fail, experts say. While the Bush national security strategy calls for pre-emptive attacks, the use of armed force in such circumstances is contrary to international law.
Legal experts argue that the unjustified invasion of Iraq constitutes aggression. “Aggression is the use of armed forces by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the UN,” according to the UN definition.
The UN Charter forbids countries to wage war except in self-defense or when authorized by the UN Security Council to preserve or restore international peace. The United States cannot say it is acting in self-defense unless it is clear it is about to be attacked by Iraq. “That armed attack has to be at least imminent. There has to be evidence of a clear and present danger of such an armed attack,” according to Irwin Cotler, one of Canada’s best-known experts on international law.
Without a UN resolution authorizing the use of force, legal experts argue that President George W. Bush and those who have conspired with him are in fact committing aggression, which is a crime against peace, the most serious war crime under the U.S.-written Nuremberg Charter. If the allied invasion of Iraq were deemed aggression, the U.S. and British political leaders responsible for planning the aggression could be tried and punished for a crime against peace, according to the International Law Commission (ILC).