Saddam: a real and substantial danger to world peace


Bush and Blair are right - it is time to stand up to the Iraqi leader, argues Tom Cooney, if the vital interests of the international community are not to be put at risk.

The Iraqi regime must be tackled now. It poses a real and substantial threat to international peace and security. The Gulf states are afraid of Saddam Hussein. Most European states are willing to appease him. Predictably, the UN is equivocal. Only George Bush and Tony Blair have the mettle to stand up to him. They must be prepared to mount a pre-emptive strike against Saddam's regime.

A pre-emptive strike would be lawful. Ideally, the UN Security Council should adopt a resolution requiring Saddam immediately to accept military-backed coercive inspection of his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability any time, anywhere, anyway. But such a resolution is not essential.

In 1991 Saddam invaded Kuwait. UN Resolution 678 (1991) authorised the use of force to eject him from Kuwait and to restore peace and security in the area. UN Resolution 686 (1991) imposed an imperative obligation on Iraq to comply with all resolutions as a precondition for a cease-fire. Iraq acknowledged this.

Then UN Resolution 687 (1991) set down the terms of the ceasefire. It embodied an absolute obligation that Iraq accept the disposal of all weapons of mass destruction and that it not acquire, develop or use any item relevant to WMD.

To underline the imperative nature of this obligation the UN Security Council adopted the resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter which deals with threats to peace. To prevent Saddam from capitalising his WMD programme, a system of sanctions and inspection was instituted.

Unscom inspectors worked in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, when Saddam barred them. Although they removed substantial armaments, their success was partial and temporary. Every report Saddam made to the inspectors on his WMD proved to be a lie. The objective of full, permanent, compulsory disarmament set out in the UN resolutions is still unfulfilled. So sanctions remain.

The pretence of co-operation with inspection was a mere device. Saddam seeks to split the UN Security Council, buy time and wear down the international community's will to enforce the sanctions. His propaganda lie is to assert that sanctions caused the deaths of Iraqi infants. He needs this time to revive his programme of developing WMD.

Saddam has mastered the art of concealment. After the Gulf War he pretended to disclose his WMD programme (which is not altogether visible to aerial or satellite surveillance) to the Unscom inspectors. However, even as he appeared to co-operate as inspection proceeded, he was extending his clandestine programme.

Several members of the UN Security Council had been pressurising Unscom to put a positive spin on its inspection reports. In 1995 Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, who had been an instrumental figure in this programme, defected to Jordan. Only then did Unscom discover that Saddam was pulling the wool over its eyes.

Unscom experienced severe problems in performing its mission. The idea was that it should have been able to inspect anywhere, any time, any way. Saddam obstructed inspectors because he saw them as toothless bloodhounds. Very few "no notice" inspections surprised the Iraqis. Whatever its limited success, inspection is no solution.

His programme for developing weapons of mass destruction should frighten the civilised world. He has lethal chemical weapons, including persistent VX gas, which can be as destructive as a nuclear warhead. He has lethal biological agents, like anthrax, and is developing the more effective dry micropowder forms. Although he lacks the ability to make his own fissile material to produce a nuclear capability, if he manages to smuggle in fissile material, he will be able to develop a nuclear capability in months.

Weapons of mass destruction are pivotal to Saddam's hold on power. He deployed them to save Iraq from defeat in the war with Iran, gassing waves of Iranian infantry. Using gas he massacred thousands of Kurds.

He believes his dispersed stocks of chemical and biological weapons discouraged the United States from taking Baghdad during the Gulf War. In 1991 he struck Israel with 39 Scud missiles. He fitted missiles with germ warheads but then changed his mind. He has dispersed his arsenal for use on attack or warning.

However, the problem is not the WMD but the regime. Saddam holds the Iraqi people hostage. He is responsible for the deaths of 700,000 of them, and one in five have become refugees. He poses a threat to the region, and his public willingness to sponsor Palestinian suicide-bomb terrorists to massacre Israelis shows that he is capable of using proxies to do his dirty work.

It is foolish to think that if he does develop a fully operational WMD arsenal with a nuclear capability he will have scruples about using it out of a rational fear that Iraq would become the target of a retaliatory strike.

Saddam does not operate within the broad zone of civilised political rationality. It would not be alien to his fanatical mentality to think that the chance of hitting his enemies with a nuclear weapon would be worth the loss of millions of lives.

Rational self-interest is not a brake on his extremism. In the Iran-Iraq War both sides bombed each other's oil installations, their base of economic survival. Saddam also attacked Kuwaiti oilfields during the Gulf War. The world's stake in these vital resources demands that he be stopped from doing this sort of damage.

He must be stopped now. Any leader who deploys these weapons or deliberately destroys vital resources to promote his aggressive fanatical agenda cannot be relied upon to behave within the bounds of civilised reason.

His fanaticism and territorial ambitions put him outside the pale of civilised political rationality. Therefore, his regime constitutes a real and substantial danger to world peace and the vital interests of the international community. In the face of this risk, the international community must not behave like a suicide collective.

Tom Cooney is a law lecturer at University College Dublin