War Against Iraq Would be Illegal


writes Jim Addington

The US and UK governments are planning to break international law. The government of the United States, almost certainly supported by Blair's British forces, is planning to attack Iraq. Ten years after the Gulf war President Bush is ready to challenge the United Nations Charter and the General Assembly by this illegal act.

The 1945 UN Charter was the most significant international treaty in history. After over half a century it has now been ratified by some 190 nations. Members are legally obliged to obey the Charter.

In 1945 the avoidance of armed conflict was its main concern. The preamble to the Charter begins (page 3) "We the People of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war...". Its purpose is "...to ensure that armed force

shall not be used, save in the common interest...".

States going to war almost always claim to be acting in the common interest. No doubt if the US goes to war against Iraq it will use the same mantra. But Article 4 (para 4), on UN 'Purposes and Principles', says "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state ..." (para. 4)

The clear threat by the US President to attack Iraq, for whatever reason, repeated many times by members of his government, is therefore contrary to Article 4 of the Charter because it has issued clear threats to Iraq's independence. The US must be challenged on this at the Security Council even if it threatens to use its veto.

An attack would also be contrary to a UN General Assembly declaration in 1970 which is regarded by some as the most comprehensive of UN pronouncements. This was the 'Declaration of the Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States'.

It said that "No state shall organise, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another state, or interfere in civil strife in another state".

American and British forces have previously taken part in such activities, and continue to do so, even though the British government's two anti-terrorist acts of 200 and 2001 proscribe nearly a score of foreign organisations with branches in Britain because they exist to change the government of their home country. The final irony is that the American Congress has voted to support political groups prepared to campaign against the Iraqi government.

In going to war with Iraq the Bush government may argue that it is operating under a mandate given by the Security Council at the time of the Gulf War in 1991, but UN resolution 678 did not authorise the use of force. This included the words "using all necessary means", which was an injunction to the Security Council itself and not to a single country or group of countries.

In a flagrant attempt to take the initiative from the Security Council, which has been "seized' of the matter of Iraq for the past 13 years, the US government is now threatening to use force to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. Similar threats have also been made against Iran and North Korea - the other two members of an 'axis of evil' named by George W.Bush. If the United Nations, by going beyond its Charter, agreed to a pre-emptive attack it would gravely undermine its authority. Such a serious derogation of its principles could bring about its collapse. An unauthorised attack by a country several thousand miles away, under the pretext of acting in self defence and without UN support would also gravely endanger the whole system of treaties and international law.

The author, Jim Addington, is Chair of Action for UN Renewal, a UK group which was formed by the merger of Renew UN and the Forum for UN Renewal. Among its aims is the conversion of the British government and parliamentarians to a proper respect and support for the United Nations.