Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Iraq War Stool

This is the third chapter of my paper on the 2003 Iraq war and its impact on international law and just war doctrine.

© 2005
The War Stool

The 2003 US-led war on Iraq was mainly justified on the basis of the following three arguments:

1 - The US alleged that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and, was in flagrant contravention of numerous UN Security Council resolutions. The US and the UK argued that if the UN Charter regime was to maintain its legitimacy, the UN’s will must be upheld. In fact, it is argued that the invasion of 2003 is nothing other than a final battle in the war with Iraq which began in 1990 with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.[1] Such a long-view of the conflict with Iraq is argued as evidence that the US did not wage a preventive war against Iraq at all, but, in fact, the 2003 invasion was a culmination of Iraq’s refusal to respect its cease-fire obligations. It should be noted, however, that such a long-view argument was not relied on by the Bush administration. Rather, the argument was always framed in the context of the threat the Iraqi regime posed as evidenced by its continual flaunting of its cease fire obligations and disregard for SCR.

2 - The US alleged that Saddam Hussein, the President of Iraq, had links with Al Qaeda and thus, coupled with its possession of WMD, posed a threat in that it might attempt to collaborate with Al Qaeda by providing access to such WMD. Accordingly, the US asserted that it had the right and obligation to defend itself against possible future terrorist attacks especially after the events of September 11, 2001. The US referred to the self-defense clause under the UN Charter Article 51 and UN Security Council Resolutions 1368 and 1373, addressing terrorism, as giving it such a right. This US view on self-defense was captured in its 2002 National Security Strategy[2] and is here referred to as the Bush doctrine of preventive war. The US also pointed to the UN sanctioned attack on Afghanistan in ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ as the basis for extending its ‘war on terrorism’ to Iraq. The US felt it was justified in demanding a ‘regime change’ as a political outcome to ensure that the threat of WMD falling into the hands of terrorist could be averted. The United Kingdom, it should be noted, did not rely on this justification.

3 - The government of Iraq was ruled by an irrational, thus undeterrable, tyrant who had committed crimes of aggression and crimes against humanity in Iraq, Kuwait and Iran. By bringing about ‘regime change’, the US-led coalition was ensuring long-term security to the world by eliminating one of its irrational actors. In addition, by bringing democracy to Iraq, the US was relieving the Iraqi people from suffering under a tyrant and allowing the Iraqi people to determine Iraq’s future. Thus the political objective of ‘regime change’ was also asserted as a valid humanitarian objective on the basis of an emerging norm of humanitarian intervention.

In summary, the events leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the ‘coalition of the willing’ were framed, in the first instance, within international law and interpretations of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and in the second instance on the Bush doctrine of preventive war. A third leg of the war stool rested on the concept of humanitarian intervention, an emerging norm of international law, which was constructed after the fact to provide balance to a teetering argument.

[1] See Franklin Eric Wester, “Preemption and Just War: Considering the Case of Iraq”, in Parameters, (U.S. Army War College, December, 22, 2004, Vol. 34, Issue 4, pg. 21-22), found at , William H. Taft IV and Todd F. Buchwald, “Preemption, Iraq, and International Law, The American Journal of International Law, (Vol. 97, No. 3, Jul., 2003, p. 563), Stable URL:,
and John Yoo, “International Law and the War in Iraq”, The American Journal of International Law, (Vol. 97, No. 3, Jul., 2003, pp. 563-576). Stable URL:
[2] See The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002 found at [last accessed 3/18/2006]

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