Warmongers’ Last Hope

The warmongers in Washington are not doing very well.

France, China, and Russia – all veto-wielding members of the Security Council – along with Germany are opposed to war, their spines strengthened by the massive peace demonstrations of Feb. 15-16. As things look now, a veto may well be unnecessary because the United States will be hard-pressed to get the required 9 affirmative votes for war in the Council, as the three African members of the Council have already lined up with France.

Security Council approval is not just a formality. It provides the cover which may be necessary for various nations to support the U.S. war.

In Italy, right-wing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – facing overwhelmingly anti-war public opinion, massive demonstrations, and the threat of a general strike from the nation’s largest trade union federation – has declared that he wants Security Council authorization.

In Spain, Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzar’s party trails the Socialists in opinion polls for the first time in three years, and he too has now called for Security Council authorization.

Most critically, Britain’s Tony Blair — Bush’s most craven supporter – faces a population heavily anti-war, the largest political demonstration in his country’s history, and revolt in his own party. In the words of one expert at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, Blair “desperately needs UN backing.”

The problem for the Bush administration is that without Security Council authorization the United States may not have any significant allies, which in turn may make war politically infeasible. Polls still show a majority of Americans opposed to any unilateral U.S. attack. Despite determined police obstruction the turnout in New York City on February 15 was truly massive, and demonstrations nationwide showed the breadth of the opposition.

Anti-war resolutions have been passed by cities and towns across the country – and not just in Berkeley, Ann Arbor, and Cambridge, but in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boulder, Chicago, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Gary, Jersey City, Milwaukee, New Haven, Newark, Paterson, Philadelphia, Providence, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Seattle, Syracuse, and Washington DC., among others.

So Bush urgently needs a UN resolution and he needs it soon – too much delay will interfere with the Pentagon’s timetable and allow opposition to grow even stronger.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s previous effort to sway the Security Council was unsuccessful. His claims of an Iraqi-Al Qaeda connection convinced no one (the alleged Al Qaeda chemical weapons site in Iraq was disputed by Kurdish officials, reporters on the scene, and plain common sense: would Washington really have permitted such a facility to remain in the zone controlled not by Saddam Hussein, but by the Kurds?). His visual presentation consisted of artists’ drawings (a gimmick pioneered by the Reagan Pentagon, imagining Soviet weapons systems that didn’t exist) and photographs that UN weapons inspector Hans Blix insisted were open to multiple interpretations.

The Bush administration has one final hope for getting a Security Council resolution: Iraqi refusal to comply with explicit demands from the weapons inspectors.

Three such demands are in play. One is the insistence that Iraq allow surveillance overflights by U-2 planes and other aircraft. The problem here is that these flights occur at the same time that U.S. and British warplanes are flying over Iraq, with no authorization from the Security Council; Iraq occasionally targets these warplanes and the warplanes routinely bomb Iraqi targets.

In such a situation, Iraq would either have to give the U.S.-U.K. warplanes free rein or else risk hitting one of the U-2s. Nevertheless, it seems as if Iraq has acceded to this demand, depriving Washington of an excuse for war. A second demand is that Baghdad permit Iraqi scientists to be interviewed without handlers present and without tape-recording. It seems as if Iraqi concessions will be forthcoming on this point as well. The third demand, however, is likely to be harder to resolve. According to the terms of Security Council resolution 687 from 1991 – the resolution that called for the elimination of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – Iraq was banned from possessing any missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers (93.2 miles). The logic here was that Iraq was entitled to maintain weapons for self-defense, but not weapons that could strike as far as Israel, as had occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. Now, however, the weapons inspectors have reported that an Iraqi missile, the al-Samoud 2, exceeds the permitted range. Bush administration officials and its foreign mouthpieces have maintained that the excess range of the al-Samoud missile represents – in various Blair formulations — a “serious breach,” “a significant breach,” “a very serious breach.” However, the extra range is of virtually no military consequence. Instead of 150 kilometers, the missiles could travel 180 kilometers – hundreds of kilometers short of being able to hit Israel. The editor of Jane’s Missiles and Rockets has stated that firing the missiles past their allowed range offered Iraq little military advantage. And the Washington Post noted that “U.N. diplomats and missile experts maintain that the current ranges of Iraq’s missiles do not significantly alter the military balance in the region.”

Moreover, the Iraqis argue that the reason why some test flights of the al-Samoud have exceeded 150 kilometers is because the missiles were not weighed down by a guidance system; when normally configured, they maintain, the range is within prescribed limits.

Those eager for war have argued that the excess range, even if militarily insignificant, is – in the words of Australian Prime Minister John Howard — “further evidence of a long pattern of deceit and evasion and trickery,” just “another example of Iraq’s refusals to abide by the decisions” of the Security Council.” But in fact, the information on the test flights was provided by Iraq in October 2002 and again in its 12,000 page declaration of Dec. 7, 2002. So, far from showing Iraqi deceit and deception, the al-Samoud is an example of Iraq offering information to the inspectors.

Nevertheless, the real controversy involves what is to happen to the missiles now. On February 21, Blix sent a letter to Iraq demanding that Iraq destroy the missile and all its related equipment beginning March 1. Given the imminent threat of war, and the fact that about half of the 100-120 al-Samoud’s have already been delivered to the Iraqi army, it’s easy to see why Baghdad will not be eager to give up these weapons. Of course, Saddam Hussein would be well-advised to get rid of the missiles anyway – their value in deterring a U.S. attack is surely less than their harm in increasing the legitimacy and hence the likelihood of an attack. But what if Hussein refuses? Does this constitute justification for war?

There are at least three reasons why such a refusal does not provide morally adequate reasons to go to war. First, the immense costs of war — the risk to the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians, the increased likelihood of global terrorism, the possibility of massive chaos throughout the Middle East, the legitimation of further domestic repression, and the diversion of billions of dollars that should be spent on human needs – are not suddenly worth it because Iraq’s missiles have a range of 180 kilometers instead of 150.

Second, while refusing a demand from the inspectors violates resolutions of the Security Council, there have surely been other violations of Security Council resolutions – by Israel, Turkey, and Indonesia, among others – that have been much more serious than a militarily insignificant excessive missile range. Yet no one contemplated war as the solution in these more serious cases.

Third, while an Iraqi refusal to give up the al-Samoud is wrong, it is hardly surprising. U.S. officials have been working for months to discourage Iraqi cooperation with the weapons inspectors. They have essentially been saying to Saddam Hussein: give us access to all your military facilities, give us the right to discover the location of all your weapons factories, military bases, and the like, give us the right to fly spy planes over your territory unimpeded, and when this is all done, regardless of what the Security Council says, the United States will still be committed to “regime change.” Such a message is hardly designed to inspire Baghdad’s compliance. And now Washington is further insisting that Iraq destroy its most modern missiles.

Any Iraqi refusal to eliminate the al-Samoud comes in the face of U.S. actions that have been in clear violation of the UN Charter. The Charter explicitly prohibits not just the use of force without either Security Council authorization or in self-defense, but even the threat of force (Article II, Section 4). Yet no one can doubt that Washington has been threatening force against Iraq. There has been no Security Council authorization for any such threat, nor has there been any armed attack by Iraq against the United States, and hence these threats are patently illegal.

But it’s not just a matter of U.S. threats. The United States has also violated the Charter prohibition against the use of force without appropriate authorization. U.S. officials have acknowledged that U.S. (and Turkish) troops are already on the ground in Iraq (Wash. Post, Feb. 13). It is true that there has been no Security Council resolution condemning these acts of war – but the Charter does not say that the use of force is permissible as long as it is not condemned by the Council. Rather it prohibits the use of force unless authorized by the Council (or in self-defense, which is irrelevant here).

For twelve years U.S. and British warplanes have been flying over Iraqi territory without any authorization and attacking Iraqi radar and anti-aircraft facilities that have tried to interfere with them. In recent months, however, the U.S.-U.K. planes have been targeting military sites without any pretense of acting defensively. For example, in this past week they struck at surface to surface missile sites – which pose no risk to the warplanes. In other words, the U.S. is insisting that Iraq give up some of its missiles that may technically exceed the permitted range at the same time that the U.S. is carrying out unprovoked acts of war against Iraq. These are not circumstances calculated to elicit maximum Iraqi cooperation.

Unprecedented anti-war organizing and mobilization, along with a fortuitous international constellation of forces, have derailed the Bush administration’s rush to war. But we need to be ready to address and expose their last ditch effort of using the al-Samoud missile as a pretext for an immoral and potentially disastrous war.

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