Let There Be No Mistake
Scoop Editorial - By Alastair Thompson
" [Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va] Byrd also criticized Bush's request for power to carry out "pre-emptive attacks" and send troops to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, the West Bank and anywhere else in the Middle East. ‘I cannot believe the gall and the arrogance of the White House in requesting such a broad grant of war powers,’ Byrd said. ‘This is the worst kind of election-year politics.’" - From…. “Bush's War Plans are a Cover-Up, Byrd Says “
Senator Byrd’s concerns about George Bush are both honourable and commendable. However he is missing the point.
Let there be no mistake about what George Bush is up to in the Middle East.
This is not a matter of “election year” politics. It is infinitely more than that.
President Bush’s resolution to Congress is nothing less than an attempted coup-d’etat, against not only the constitution of the United States – which gives the US Congress the sole power to make war - but against the International Rule of Law and the UN Charter.
If Congress approves Bush’s power to make “pre-emptive” war it will be in effect throwing away the founding principles of the United Nations which state - extremely clearly – that self-defence is the only ground for military action not sanctioned explicitly by a United Nations Security Council resolution.
Moreover the UN Charter states that self-defence requires the existence of a “clear and present” danger to the nation planning on exercising its right.
George Bush has made it extremely clear that he intends to make war against Iraq with or without the United Nations authorisation.
Just today he repeated his refrain again:
“However, for the sake of freedom and peace, if the United Nations will not deal with Saddam Hussein, the United States and our friends will. “ - President Bush at Doug Forrester for Senate Event
Let there be no mistake about what this means.
George Bush is saying in so many words that he intends to break the law.
His statement is the equivalent of a sheriff announcing publicly that regardless of whether he is granted an arrest warrant or not by a magistrate he intends to enforce his own justice anyway.
The President’s arrogance in doing so is breathtaking in its gall. His comments come across as a challenge to the United Nations to defy him. “And then we’ll show them,” he is saying.
From the perspective of International relations nothing could be more serious than this affront to the legal framework that has prevented, so far, a major conflagration since the end of the Second World War.
This is not to say that the USA hasn’t fairly routinely flouted this law in the past, rather than in the past it has tended to at least attempt to pay lip service to the UN Charter.
Former Democratic Presidential challenger Al Gore today pointed out that the nations of the world are more concerned at present about the actions of George Bush than they are about terrorism. He is right to say this, they are.
A recent poll of Britons even found that the general public regard George Bush as the third greatest threat to world peace, after Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Notably this means they consider George Bush a greater threat to world peace than Ariel Sharon, an individual who surely takes some beating.
Let there be no mistake, if George Bush is given the green light he has requested from Congress to make war of his own volition, pre-emptively, this will mean the end of multilateralism. It will mean nothing less than the end of an International Rule of Law.
The doctrine of self defence as defined in Article 51 of the UN Charter has been commonly used in recent weeks to argue a legal basis for the new proposed US doctrine of pre-emptive strike.
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security. “ – Article 51 – UN Charter
As stated earlier Article 51 requires - according to the normally accepted understanding of the law – a “clear and present” danger to the party asserting it as justification for a strike. This must be considered a greater threat than the “grave and gathering” danger that has been referred to by the President in recent speeches.
That said, on its face, the provision requires more than even that. By one reading it actually requires an “armed attack” to have occurred.
Moreover as the provision above clearly records - even the existence of an actual attack would not preclude the UN Security Council from requesting a nation state from desisting from retaliating.
Furthermore the fact that the provision requires the immediate reporting of any act of “self defence” to the Security Council tends to indicate that the provision is intended to act only in circumstances when a swift response to an actual attack is deemed necessary.
Those circumstances clearly do not exist at present.
Given the United States pre-eminence in all things military – the fact that it spends more on the tools of war than the rest of the G8 put together – it is doubtful if any nation could ever pose a clear and present danger to United States interests such that an action under Article 51 could be justified.
Rather in almost all circumstances the US might be expected to first seek a UN mandate for any action it intended to take.
On requesting his war authorisation George Bush has been given several series of questions to answer concerning his war plans by Congressmen and Senators, including Senator Byrd whose quote introduced this editorial.
However almost without exception they miss the main point.
George Bush should be requested by Congress and Senate to answer one simple question.
How will Congressional approval of a resolution that destroys the norms of International relations make the United States of America more secure?
He cannot of course answer this question, because it can’t.
There can be no possible justification for the US Congress and Senate approving the President’s resolution, unless it too decides to discard the United Nations. It is as simple as that.
If the US sees itself as the world’s policeman, as it so clearly does, then the US - and this means the US Congress and Senate as well as the President - have clear responsibilities which are carried with their presumption.
First and foremost among these is the need to observe and respect the Rule of Law that they seek to defend and enforce.
Otherwise they become what they accuse their enemies of being, despots and aggressors.