Reactions to my letter

My letter about the pros and cons of military action against Iraq, published in The Times on 16 April 2002, argued that the key to legality and general public acceptance of pre-emptive military action against Iraq was acknowledgement that such action required the explicity authority of the UN Security Council. This elicited many reactions in a raft of e-mails ranging from thoughtful to demented. Here is a selection:

[From Canada:] "The argument of your letter to the Times, like all reasonable and cogent discourse, seems self-evident once articulated. I congratulate and thank you for elucidating a most troubled and important matter with simplicity and force."

[From Mexico:] "It was refreshing to read your balanced, well argued and informed opinion in the Times today. As a British citizen living abroad it is difficult to keep up to date on the ins and outs of all the political arguments, and it was good to be reminded that often the ins and outs of the political arguments are not the most important points, but rather to look to what is established in international law for the benefit of the international community."

[From Australia:] "Your very interesting letter in today’s Times presents as fact that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. I see this as a controversial matter. One of the post-Gulf war UN chiefs of weapon inspection in Iraq is convinced that there are none such. Another, who feels differently, is himself in a dubious position since it has become known that from Baghdad, he was improperly supplying information to Washington and so was acting as a spy for a military power rather than an UN official: obvious impropriety. My mind is open about the military capabilities and equipment available to the Iraqi dictator, and the possibility that these will increase dangerously in the foreseeable term."

[From Columbia University,New York,USA:] I did appreciate your arguments, although I am sure we both know that international law is, at least in the post-World War I world, remains in a hopeless state. … The so-called old international law based on an evolving consensus between nations seems to have functioned well enough under the now quite defunct system of the modern world–which disintegrated in the trenches. The new international law, especially since Nuremburg has attempted to cast its net more widely in an era that shows little respect for international law except to invoke it, oh soever selectively, against the international equivalent of a child molestor. More and more states , openly or more covertly, have retintroduced the atavistic notion that self-defense permits anything. War crimes trials are an extension of politics by other means. There are times when I simply wish there was no international law for its precepts are subject to such ambiguous inequality of application. As the Russians said at Nuremburg: Take them out and shoot them! I abhor this approach, but it eliminates all the hypocrisy. I only wish I knew either the philosophic or practical solution to the conundrum. We are back in a Hobbesian State of Nature. Is this a condition in which law can function at all? America seems willing to apply the despotism that Hobbes suggested was necessary in such a State of Nature, though its recent performance suggests it has neither the ability nor good sense require to run a world empire.

[From Australia:] I have only recently finishing reading Richard Butler’s ‘Saddam Defiant’ and although the material in it is slightly out of date and the source partial it is impossible to doubt the accuracy of your statement that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction pose a danger. I also agree that the circumstances justify intervention but only upon the basis that the Security Council resolves upon that course and that it is limited to implementation of the relevant Security Council resolutions. Although a danger – perhaps a clear and present danger – the situation does not allow the self-defence exception in the Charter to be invoked. Indeed one of the reasons for requiring Security Council approval is that without that intervention would probably be sought to be justified by the anticipatory self-defence doctrine as a pretext for intervention. That is erroneous and would be very disturbing.

The other important reason for insisting upon Security Council approval is that now that the US has become a rogue state. It is necessary to do what can be done to curb it. I think that the resolution must be based upon the disregard of the Security Council resolutions. This would seem to be quite essential for there is no other basis for distinguishing Iraq from those other States which hold nuclear weapons. It is the continuing disobedience to Security Council resolutions and persistent evasion on the part of Iraq which justifies the description of the situation as a threat to international peace and security. (At present the only constraint under international law upon States stockpiling nuclear weapons according to the International Court of Justice in a much-criticised decision is that the number held should bear some reasonable correspondence to the needs of deterrence and self-defence). I do not share your absolutist ground of objection – that the Charter must be observed solely on the ground that it is the law: fiat justitia ruat coelum. In my view the international system established by the Charter has in certain important respects disintegrated, and there being no ready way to achieve its amendment it is not right to adopt an absolutist position, important as observing the law [is]. The present situation in Iraq is not parallel with the question of humanitarian intervention without Security Council approval. Humanitarian intervention was not contemplated in 1945 and is not dealt with by the Charter. Of course it is possible that by doing a humpty dumpty with the language of Chapter VII the Charter may be made to cover the need for intervention on humanitarian grounds in certain circumstances but only by distorting the real criterion for intervention. But the present situation in Iraq falls squarely within Chapter VII and I think for the reasons mentioned above its requirement should be strictly adhered to.

[From Santa Fe, NM:] "Your consideration of the Iraq situation is most enlightened. My only addition would be a comment on the reference to jungle law at its very end. First, the law of the jungle is a very reasonable and balanced affair, though perhaps a bit more abrupt than we are comfortable with. And second, America is flexing its muscle to see it need abide by any law at all. The current government here is expressing more and more openly the psychological traits of megalomania associated with excessive social disaffection and narrow self interest; this at the same time as it has almost unlimited and unchallenged power to act on such megalomania. It appears to me that the enemies of America and, unfortunately, Briton are best defined by those nations that have some tiny bit of power and tiny bit of will to oppose US interests."

[From the UK:] "Excellent stuff Brian. Inaction is certainly dangerous, a condition Saddam relies on, the legacy of the plague of appeasement. I am rather more jaundiced than you however, when it comes to international law and the UN. They have hardly covered themselves in glory in recent years. No doubt intervention in the affairs of other states would be illegal if not authorised by the UN, but is this the case morally if that organisation is moribund, providing cover for rogue states? Tricky. I would like to have more faith in the UN, but can we afford to wait?"

[From Hampton, Ga.:] Sir…You miss the point: the UN is an anachronism, the rotting corpse of ideals born after the lunatic destruction of World War II. What killed the UN as an active and effective agent for peace? The killer was not the US, the UK, or even the former Soviet Union during the 45 years of Cold War and proxy wars…no sir, the killer was the alliance of petty but vicious tyrants and their lackeys in the Third World who ganged up on the more developed (dare I say ‘civilized’)? nations to gain legitimacy for their brutal regimes, and gorge themselves and their elites on manna provided by you, me, and the hard working people of the developed world. [etc., etc. …]

[From the UK:] One thing concerns me: the weight given to the UN and to ‘International Law’. The UN seems to have been a pretty consistent impediment to British interests since its inception. Few of the states represented – or their representatives – take a responsible approach to international affairs. The states they come from are shambolic. (Think Africa, MidEast, Latam, much of Asia) Why do we attach such weight to the opinions of representatives of states which can’t even operate a stable and decent country for their own people? As far as International Law goes, why do we give it any force – except for treaties relating to commercial law? All this stuff about international criminal courts seems just a lot of hogwash, and a completely illegal farce – just like Mr Milosevic or whatever his name is. What a kangaroo court that is!

[From (not known):] i liked your article.its full of substance

[From Australia:] After perusing the British broadsheets through the internet, I was attracted to your poignant letter concerning the ‘Iraqi imbroglio’ facing Blair and Bush. Certainly, it was one of the most memorable, or effective letters that I have read.

[Source unknown:] "Within 10 years Christ is expected to return to Israel after 42 months of coming wars. Matthew 24-21. Caused by a Bible Prophesied end time Union of Nations. Revelation 13-1-18, Revelation 17-1-18, Daniel 7-23-27"

[From Anglesey:] Now this is my second book and dyslexia will not stop me. I do hope that you are truly alright and well, I wonder if you can help me Sir, as I am writing a book entitled ‘My first driving test©’ [sic]. I do intend to give some of the proceeds to charity, now Sir this is where you can, help if you would you please send me a signed photograph of you, and the story of your first driving test and how you felt when you passed. The funnier the story the better!"

[From Samarkand:] "I wish to give you some brief information about the International Museum of Peace and Solidarity here in ancient Samarkand, Uzbekistan. … Currently we are working on the international project "The Peace Autograph" and we wish to make a truly universal collection of signed photographs, personal visions and autographed works of people who have contributed significantly to the creation of the better world on this earth of ours. Even as far away as we are, … we know of your wonderful contribution and we would be very happy to have your autographed photograph and some autographed works of yours (if at all possible!) in our museum which is visited by people from many countries."