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[casi] from today's papers: 7-06-02

A. The Bush doctrine makes nonsense of the UN charter, Guardian, 7th June

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The Bush doctrine makes nonsense of the UN charter

In a chilling u-turn, the US claims the right to strike pre-emptively

Jonathan Steele
Friday June 7, 2002
The Guardian

The cluster of Israeli F-16s took off in desert sunshine on one of the most
daring missions of modern times. Flying low through Jordanian, Saudi and
Iraqi airspace they reached Baghdad little more than an hour later. The
gleaming dome of Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak was easy to spot. The
Israeli pilots released their bombs and within 80 seconds the plant was a
pile of ruins.

The world was outraged by Israel's raid on June 7 1981. "Armed attack in
such circumstances cannot be justified. It represents a grave breach of
international law," Margaret Thatcher thundered. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the US
ambassador to the UN and as stern a lecturer as Britain's then prime
minister, described it as "shocking" and compared it to the Soviet invasion
of Afghanistan. American newspapers were as fulsome. "Israel's sneak
attack... was an act of inexcusable and short-sighted aggression," said the
New York Times. The Los Angeles Times called it "state-sponsored terrorism".

The greatest anger erupted at the UN. Israel claimed Saddam Hussein was
trying to develop nuclear weapons and it was acting in self-defence, which
is legal under Article 51 of the UN charter. Other countries did not agree.
They saw no evidence that Iraq's nuclear energy programme, then in its
infancy and certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as peaceful,
could be described as military, aggressive or directed against a particular
country. In any case, pre-emptive action by one country against another
country which offers no imminent threat is illegal.

The UN security council unanimously passed a resolution condemning the
Israeli raid. The US usually vetoes UN attempts to censure Israel but this
time Washington joined in. The Reagan administration even blocked deliveries
of new F-16s to its close ally. There was an element of hypocrisy in the
condemnation of Israel, at least in the US. Reagan sent the F-16s a few
months later. But policymakers and ordinary people around the world clearly
sensed that Israel's pre-emptive strike took us all to the top of a slippery
slope. If pre-emption was accepted as legal, the fragile structure of
international peace would be undermined. Any state could attack any other
under the pretext that it detected a threat, however distant.

Since then we have begun to slip down the slope. Along with pre-emption,
retaliation is also forbidden by international law. States can reply to
hostile actions by other states but they may not take reprisals or other
punitive military steps unless the hostile action to which they are
responding is manifestly part of a military campaign which is intended to
continue. A one-off attack is not sufficient justification. So if, after the
destruction of Osirak, Saddam Hussein had sent MiGs to bomb Israel's own
nuclear reactor, that would also have been illegal.

States have often tried to mingle retaliation and pre-emption and cover
their real motives with the justification of self-defence. After a suspected
(now proven) Libyan government agent planted a bomb in a Berlin disco which
killed an American serviceman in 1986, Reagan ordered US aircraft to bomb
Libya. He called his action "pre-emptive" on the grounds there was already a
pattern of Libyan terrorist actions. In 1998 after bomb attacks on US
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, Bill Clinton fired cruise missiles on the
al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. He argued that it was making
chemical and biological weapons for Osama bin Laden, who was assumed (now
proven) to be behind the embassy bombings. Clinton said there was
"compelling evidence" that the Bin Laden network was planning to mount
further attacks against Americans, and he was thereafter entitled to act.

But, apart from a few western governments which approved or kept quiet, most
states condemned the Reagan and Clinton air strikes. They did not accept
them as legitimate self-defence under the UN charter.

After the September 11 attacks in New York and Wash ington last year we
slipped further down the slope. The UN security council gave the US approval
to take military action against the assumed perpetrators under Article 51.
The council still did not accept a right of retaliation but it argued that
the September 11 attacks were so massive that they could be perceived as a
declaration of intent by the perpetrators to strike again. Washington was
therefore entitled to strike back in self-defence. The argument is
controversial, but unless it is challenged by a substantial number of states
it will stand as a legitimate new interpretation of international law.

Now we have the latest move downhill. In a speech last weekend in the midst
of World Cup fever and the Kashmir crisis, President Bush launched his new
concept of pre-emption. His speech can claim to be the most chilling
statement of his presidency so far. In effect, he retroactively approved the
Israeli strike on Osirak and said the US has the right to strike,
pre-emptively, at any nation which it decides is developing weapons of mass
destruction or supporting terrorism. It is carte blanche for a war on the

Bush Sr once talked about the need for "the vision thing". His son's West
Point speech is "the doctrine thing". US officials say it will be fleshed
out in a national security strategy document this summer. In this column
yesterday Hugo Young highlighted the British defence secretary's recent
statement that Britain will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons
pre-emptively. This was Nato policy during the cold war against a potential
advance by conventionally armed Warsaw Pact troops. Nato would, if
necessary, cross the nuclear threshold first. Now Geoff Hoon talks of using
nuclear weapons against the threat of a chemical and biological attack, but
he limited himself to the case where British troops are in a war zone and
need protection from imminent danger.

The Bush doctrine is more sweeping. Even without an imminent threat, US
troops in the area or hostilities under way, he claims the right to launch
military strikes. "Our security will require transforming the military you
will lead," he told cadets at West Point. "The military must be ready to
strike at a moment's notice in any dark corner of the world. All nations
that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price."

Many nations have exploited the "war on terrorism", either to gain favour
with Washington or clamp down on dissent. The Bush doctrine goes further.
The US president is hijacking the anti-terrorist agenda and crashing it into
the most sacred skyscraper in New York: the headquarters of the UN. If his
doctrine is not rapidly rejected by other states, preferably those which
call themselves Washington's allies, Article 51 of the UN charter will have
suffered a mortal blow.

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