The Face of War

Jim Addington looks at some of the impulses lying behind the USA’s warmongering.

In the 1986 edition of her book The Face of War, written after half a century of reporting wars, Martha Gelhorn wrote that war was "an endemic human disease of which the governments are the carriers. Only governments declare and prosecute wars. There is no record of hordes of citizens, on their own, mobbing the seat of government to clamour for war. They must be infected with hate and fear before they catch war fever. They have to be taught that they are endangered by an enemy, and that vital interests of their state are threatened. "To get a war started" she said, "you need an aggressor, a government so ambitious, so greedy that the vital interests of its state require foreign conquest. But an aggressor government sells its people the project of war as a defensive measure; they are being threatened, encircled, pushed around;

enemies are poised to attack them".

Her description of the Bush propaganda (written in 1986) could not be bettered. Power corrupts: that is a negative element of any political system. A nation's size also has a tendency to corrupt, to make it want to dominate its neighbours. From its early days the United States dominated the American continent, took part in several wars, invaded and annexed large areas of  neighbouring territory. As the US has become stronger and the world has become smaller it has developed an ambition to rule the world. There are US forces in no less than 140 of the 190 member states of the United Nations and there is no part of the world in which the US does not have an interest or seek to influence.

'Lesser hegemons' are created by states that feel themselves strong enough to dominate, or at least to lead, their neighbours. There is also an element of 'me too' when powerful states take military action.

Why did 19 independent states support NATO's attack on the Yugoslav Republic over Kosovo? Most took no part whatsoever in the action, which was almost entirely done by the United States military machine. The action contravened the original NATO treaty, which only specified mutual action when a NATO country was attacked. Yet 19 states were happy to take the credit for action which was illegal in international law, and whose final effects will not be known for decades. Their leader, after the US, was Tony Blair and the British government.

In 1991 many NATO states took part with others, in the 'coalition' that pushed Iraq out of Kuwait. Yet there were few major participants and the so-called coalition dwindled several years ago to two states, the US and Britain. Since 1991 they have bombed Iraq regularly, a policy intended to deny Iraq the use of its airspace, allegedly but not lawfully under a UN Security Council resolution passed in 1990 which called for the expulsion of Iraq from Kuwait by "all necessary means'".

After September 11 last year Bush forced every country into a new 'coalition against terrorism'. That coalition is wearing thin because actions taken by the US government, especially the invasion of Afghanistan, have persuaded few that the fight is really against terrorism but is part of the American government's campaign for world domination. The development of the US government's 'Star Wars' missile and laser programme is a long-term programme

designed for the same purpose.

The intended attack on Iraq is thus part of a continuing process which did not start with President George W. Bush but found in him its fiercest advocate. Even if this is a natural effect of size in a nation it is not sustainable and endangers the United Nations - which is the only fully representative organ of the world's independent states. It is not sustainable because reaction to this growing domination will continue to breed resentment and further terrorist action. In addition, the draconian measures which the US government has imposed on the American people in its war on terrorism will undermine that country and may eventually lead to civil war.

For the first time for decades there has been a long public debate on the merits and drawbacks of going to war This is chiefly because, unlike 1982 and 1990, when Argentina and Iraq sought to annex neighbouring territory, the US government is leading a campaign to attack Iraq. Its reasons? They are amply described in Martha Gelhorn's brilliant critique of states that go to war.

Its excuses and its motives are another subject. As with Kosovo and Afghanistan the US will cite humanitarian reasons among those it draws on to provide a basis for going to war, yet the only humanitarian action will be to bomb from 15,000 ft to save the lives of US and British Servicemen.


Can the war still be prevented? As with the Gulf War, which started while the UN Security Council was still discussing the Iraqi offer to withdraw., the military machine is probably already in motion. It may not be possible to stop it now. The US President has another reason for taking action, that is its accusation against the Iraq government that it is making weapons of mass destruction. If the inspectors go in under existing UN resolutions they are likely to announce that there is no longer a war machine. The US government therefore will want to bomb first to remove the 'evidence' , then act as judge and jury, proving to credulous people after the event that there were weapons, that they have destroyed them - and saved civilisation. Meanwhile, what of the United Nations? It has survived for more than twice as long as the League of Nations. Its peacekeeping role, which has proved the most difficult, is dwarfed by the work of its agencies. Among these are the World Food Programme and the UN relief agencies which continue to provide food to starving communities and to help a growing number of refugees.

Surprisingly, the latest crisis over Iraq has produced some unlikely co-campaigners for the UN Charter, especially France and Russia who have worked together to bring sanity to the Security Council. While the spotlight remains on the UN its supporters should work for a larger Security Council that is more representative of the world's regions. The UN General Assembly, which on which some 190 nations have a seat, shouldrtake the lead to create a more democratic UN.

Jim Addington  is chair of the UK organisation Action for UN Renewal.