The Evening Standard
19 February 1998
|Six reasons why the gloves must come off
by Gerald Segal
If diplomacy fails to get Saddam Hussein to fulfil his obligations to UN weapons inspectors and as the moment for air strikes against Iraq draws near, people in democratic countries will want to be sure they have fully debated their options. It is bizarre but true to reflect that in modern democracies we seem to worry more about the enemy's casualties than our own, and more than the enemy worries about their own casualties. So now is the time to get it right. Opponents of a strike on Iraq offer six main reasons why military force should not be used. But they are wrong and this is why.
Claim:Iraq is not a threat to its neighbours.
It is certainly true that Iraq is a less lethal threat to its neighbours than it used to be, but only because those who argued against driving Iraq out of Kuwait in 1990 were ignored.
When Iraq was unconstrained, it invaded Iran in a war that cost more than one million casualties. Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990 and threatened to do the same to Saudi Arabia. He fired Scud missiles against Israeli civilians in 1991.
The US led a coalition to eject him from Kuwait and the United Nations Security Council put in place mechanisms to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction and prevent his aircraft from killing his people in the north and south of Iraq. Force had to be used to defend the no-fly zones in 1993 and 1996 and the US and its allies are preparing to do the same to defend the UN Special Commission's (UNSCOM) right to dismantle his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
If UNSCOM cannot continue to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Saddam will build up his forces again.
Claim:Other countries have nuclear weapons, including Israel, but only Iraq gets punished.
It is true that five countries have declared nuclear weapons (the US, the UK, France, China and Russia), and a few others (Israel, India, Pakistan) are strongly suspected of having smaller arsenals. It is true that it would be better if the US did more to persuade Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal.
But Israel apparently acquired nuclear weapons when it was threatened with extinction. No one threatened to attack Iraq but Iraq has invaded its neighbours. Israel is also a democracy and has signed peace treaties with two of its neighbours (Egypt and Jordan). The best way to ensure that Israel retains its nuclear capability is for Iraq (or Iran) to acquire similar weapons.
In the post-Cold War world we are trying, with some success, to persuade the nuclear powers to reduce their nuclear arsenals. That is why the struggle against nuclear proliferation is so important. Iraq has signed, but broken, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. If Iraq is allowed to buck the trend to reducing the nuclear threat, we can expect to see far more nuclear powers and greater risk of nuclear war.
Claim:Other countries have chemical weapons (CW), including the US, but only Iraq gets punished.
It is true that many countries developed large numbers of chemical weapons during the Cold War. But now, especially since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in April 1997, chemical arsenals are being dismantled.
Iraq is under orders from the UN Security Council, which includes its closest friends in China and Russia, to allow UNSCOM to dismantle all its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq has assured the UN several times that it has eliminated all its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (BW), but time and again the assurances have been proven to be false.
Unlike all other holders of CW, Iraq has used them against Iran and its own people.
Claim:The people of Iraq have suffered enough - it is time for peace.
True, the people of Iraq have suffered dreadfully under Saddam Hussein. He could have had more than $100 billion in oil revenue if he had complied with UNSCOM. His people could have had medicine, hospitals and schools if he had been wise in the use of money earned from selling small quantities of oil under UN supervision.
Instead, he has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on lavish palaces. Instead of importing medicine, he bought the components of CW and BW and seeks crop-dusting aircraft to deliver the lethal loads. It is Saddam who puts human shields in front of potential military targets. It is Saddam who prevents his country, with a rich tradition of civilisation, from living up to its potential.
Claim: The US has little support for a strike.
Of course the Americans would like more backing but their core allies support them. The coalition is smaller than in 1991 but then so is the threat.
Many countries, including most Arab states, are happy enough for the US to do the dirty work while they tut-tut on the sidelines. And of course for a Britain that stood alone against Hitler, lack of support is not necessarily a sign that the cause is wrong. Most critics of a strike against Saddam also opposed using force to liberate Kuwait or to defeat the Serbs in Bosnia.
Claim: The strikes will not work anyway.
Air strikes will not eliminate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Their main purpose is to cause Saddam sufficient pain so that he allows UNSCOM to do its job. Attacks on a range of targets, including weapons of mass destruction, command- and-control centres, palaces and ministries, will be intensely painful. At a minimum, Saddam and others interested in acquiring weapons of mass destruction will see there is a high price to pay. With any luck, Iraqis may feel they have had enough of the man who has caused them so much pain.
In the end, critics have to answer how they would prevent Saddam from acquiring horrific weapons and using them against his own people and his neighbours. How would they make clear to the next dictators that they will have to pay a high price to acquire weapons of mass destruction? Are they prepared to take some risks in order to live in a world with some order and where the authority of the UN Security Council is respected? Air strikes may not solve the problem of Saddam's aggression, but they can help contain the damage he is able to inflict on others. Doing nothing will certainly do neither.
The author is director of studies at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and co-author of Anticipating The Future (Simon and Schuster).
© Associated Newspapers Ltd., 19 February 1998