Why war would be justified (Economist)
February 22-28, 2003
Dealing with Saddam Hussein
Why war would be justified
Saddam Hussein must be disarmed. If necessary, it should be done by force
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Emotions are running high. The divisions seem deep, the language by turns bitter, arrogant and contemptuous, on all sides. Such descriptions apply both to the arguments between the more hawkish political leaders and the millions of people who marched in protest last weekend against the idea of war, in capitals around the world, and to those between the main governmental camps led by America and France. No doubt, the divide between the most extreme views on the various sides really is wide and unbridgeable. No doubt, too, the sight of such divisions brings comfort to the dictator in Baghdad. Yet there is plenty of cause to wonder just how comfortable he should really feel. For, studied more closely, the gap between the majority on both sides is looking bridgeable.
Start with the governments. The five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—America, Britain, China, France and Russia—all voted last November for Resolution 1441, which demanded that Saddam Hussein should account for and relinquish all his biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programmes, or face “serious consequences”. As a result, the difference between Britain and America, on one side, and France, Russia and China, on the other, is not about that demand or the ultimate objective but about how much time Iraq should be given to comply with it. Even on timing, however, the latest difference over when a decision should be made seems to amount to a mere two weeks: America describes February 28th, the date of the next report to the Security Council by Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, as “a key day”. France prefers to point to March 14th, the date of his subsequent report. There may still be an argument then about whether Iraq is complying, and if not over the terms of a final demand to be made to Mr Hussein, but the month of inspections that will have taken place since the Franco-American split will provide scope for agreement.
Surely the marchers are more implacably divided from George Bush and Tony Blair? In terms of emotion and style, they are. But not in terms of substance. The marchers are against further violence or death but most are also firmly against the Iraqi dictator, who they realise is both violent and murderous. In most western countries, opinion polls show clearly that a majority would accept a war if it were authorised by the UN. Most marchers want Mr Hussein to give up his deadliest weapons, to abide by the 17 UN resolutions passed on Iraq since 1991, and to stop terrorising the 22m Iraqi people. If anything, they are even keener on “regime change” than the British and American governments, which for years have blown hot and cold over whether that is their aim. This makes these marches very different from those in the 1960s and early 1970s against the Vietnam war, when many protesters felt strong sympathy with the North Vietnamese and their leader, Ho Chi Minh. Unlike then, the disagreement is not one about objectives, nor, really, about the analysis of the problem. It is about whether a peaceful solution can still be found, as the marchers hope, or whether war is the only option.
That is the central ground on which the debate can and should take place. The issue of procedure—essentially, about who decides, the Security Council or America and Britain (see article)—is secondary to that basic question. Indeed, the issue of whether a peaceful solution can still be found will be the main determinant of whether a second resolution is eventually passed, whether after February 28th or March 14th.
A deadly sort of peace
If you agree that Saddam Hussein is a threat, as his Arab and Iranian neighbours do, then the choice between peace and war must begin with consideration of containment. In 1991, when the American-led, UN-authorised multinational force drove him out of Kuwait, it was decided that a ceasefire agreement was preferable to a full invasion of Iraq. The ceasefire resolution demanded disarmament of all chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile programmes within a year, a demand reinforced by economic sanctions. That containment regime was later buttressed with two “no-fly” zones policed by British and American aircraft. Weapons inspectors attempted to monitor compliance until 1998, after which they were excluded by Iraq until November 2002.
After 12 years, what has containment achieved? The inspectors found biological, chemical and nuclear programmes, but mainly when pointed to them by defectors. Meanwhile, this sort of peace has been extremely deadly: thousands of bombs have been dropped amid the policing of the “no-fly” zones and to prevent Mr Hussein from rebuilding his military facilities. The economic sanctions have been deadlier still. According to UNICEF, the UN children's agency, the poverty, squalor and poor health care associated with sanctions have been responsible for about 5,000 deaths a month of children below the age of five, in excess of the mortality rate before 1989. As that figure is derived by necessity from official Iraqi sources it may well be exaggerated. But even if the truth is half that number it would still mean that about 360,000 children had died as a result of 12 years of sanctions. The sanctions have been loosened—made smarter, in the jargon—but, combined with Mr Hussein's own acts and omissions, they still mean that many children are dying unnecessarily, every day. And that is without even mentioning Mr Hussein's political prisoners, his torture victims, the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis he has killed since he took power in 1978.
As The Economist has long argued, the sanctions are hurting Iraqis but not their dictator. Mr Hussein has maintained his tight grip on power, through brutal force, black-market revenues and his control of permitted oil earnings. The weapons inspectors' incomplete success during the 1990s was enough to confirm his ambition to use the deadliest weapons to extend his power. The overwhelming likelihood (confirmed by France's President Jacques Chirac in an interview this week in Time) is that he still possesses biological and chemical weapons, which he refused to disclose to the Security Council in December. So something has to change. The sanctions and continued bombing are unconscionable, and have anyway fed the anger felt towards America by many Muslims. But Mr Hussein still needs to be contained or disarmed.
The question is how. The normal diplomatic tools—sanctions, persuasion, pressure, UN resolutions—have all been tried, during 12 deadly but failed years. The sanctions need to go, urgently. But what to use in their place? Mr Hussein could be surrounded, to prevent him attacking others. But neighbouring countries are hardly keen on that, and it would only make him even more determined to develop weapons sufficiently powerful to be able to intimidate such a force. His country could be more or less occupied by a large UN security force, given the power to seize anything, go anywhere, stop any action it chooses, thus both bottling him up and enabling the inspectors to become the detectives they say they ought not to be. But when that was tried in Bosnia the force soon became hostages; and if the force were really large enough, he would surely resist it. Or he could be threatened with attack if he refuses to comply with Resolution 1441, according to deadlines set by the Security Council.
That last option is the one currently being pursued by the United States, through the UN. To The Economist it still looks the least bad of the limited range of available options; better, by far, than sticking to the failed and deadly policies of the past 12 years. Any military threat is risky and worrying. The United States has made this one even riskier by failing to make any progress in pressing Israel and Palestine to return to peace negotiations, and has made it sound more worrying by leaking vague but often contradictory plans for what arrangements might follow any war. Now, it would be wise to secure support for its threat through the UN, both to make the war less risky and to make the post-war peace more likely to be durable. But, in the end, the reality remains: if Mr Hussein refuses to disarm, it would be right to go to war. Saddamned, perhaps, if you do; but Saddamned, also, if you don't.