"We have been forced into a conflict. For we
are called with allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which if
it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world.
It is the principle, which permits a state in the selfish pursuit of power
to disregard its treaties and its solemn pledges: which sanctions the
use of force, or threat of force, against the security and independence
of other states. Such a principle stripped of all disguise is surely the
mere primitive doctrine that might is right; and if this principle were
established throughout the world, the freedom of our country, and of the
whole British Commonwealth of nations would be in danger".
[Radio Broadcast on September 3, 1939
by King George VI]
What makes this statement particularly relevant today
is that it signifies the essential proposition on which the edifice of
peace in the post war period is founded: That no state has the right to
attack another state unless attacked first. This is also an essential
part of the UN charter. History appears to have come full circle as the
principle articulated by King George VI is in danger of being violated
by the doctrine of pre-emptive attack that gained currency following the
tragic events of 9/11. Once again a fragile world peace is threatened.
Once again the imperatives of state power stand in stark contrast with
the call of human civilization. What use is civilization if it cannot
be brought to bear at such a juncture to enhance human life?
The millions of citizens across the world who last
Saturday demonstrated against war, were united by the apprehension that
the imminent US led war against Iraq could trigger another global war.
This time, given the existence of nuclear weapons, such a war may end
in a nuclear Armageddon. The question is not that Saddam Hussain is a
brutal dictator. He is. The question is that the way Europe and the US
deal with him may determine the future of the United Nations and the framework
of world peace which it provides. The stakes as Monsieur Villepin, the
brilliant French Foreign Minister, put it, are War and Peace.
Dr. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector reported
in the Security Council on 14th February that while they had found no
evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, yet the Saddam regime
had not accounted for the chemical and biological weapons they were supposed
to have possessed in 1991. While cooperation had increased, and substantial
progress made in the inspections process, yet "full and active"
cooperation was not yet forthcoming. Under these circumstances it is not
surprising that some of the key permanent members of the UN Security Council
(France, Germany, Russia and China) took the view that the UN inspectors
must be allowed to continue their job and peaceful methods must first
be exhausted before using force against Iraq to achieve compliance of
the Security Council Resolution 1441. The position taken by the United
States and Britain amongst others was that since Iraq was technically
in breach of the resolution, force was already justified. It appears that
at the moment the UN Security Council is unlikely to pass a resolution
in favour of an immediate war against Iraq. The issue the world faces
is that if the US and Britain attack Iraq outside the UN framework, they
would irrevocably undermine the UN system as a framework of ensuring orderly
relations between states. On the other hand if the Security Council itself
is seen to sanction war without first having exhausted all avenues of
peaceful disarmament of Iraq, then it will have undermined itself as an
institution that maintains international peace. Perhaps this is why the
French Foreign Minister in his speech before the Security Council last
Friday, sagaciously emphasized both the need to remain within the framework
of the UN in dealing with Iraq, and to use force only as a last resort
after all peaceful means had been exhausted.
The issue of using force against Iraq to achieve compliance
of Security Council Resolution 1441, also has to be seen in the broader
political context. If Iraq is attacked for violating this UN resolution
without first exhausting peaceful means to ensure compliance, then the
question that will be raised (and indeed has been raised), is why should
Israel which has also violated UN resolutions be left untouched? The political
conclusions that will be drawn from this inconsistency in treating errant
states, will create a further polarization between the Muslims on the
one hand and the western state system including its multilateral institutions
on the other. Such a political reaction could not only destabilize Arab
states run by pro US regimes, but also have adverse implications for the
war against terrorism. It would be counter productive to fight the war
against terrorists, such that the breeding grounds of terrorism are enlarged.
It would then become a war without end. The question of even handedness
in enforcing international law is essential to its credibility.
The speech by Monsieur Dominique Villepin in the Security
Council last Friday got an ovation in the Security Council and found resonance
in the mass street demonstrations across the world the following day.
It was inspiring because it gave a sense that the world was on the edge
of a precipice, confronting either war or peace. It implied that at such
a moment when humanity is at stake, the actions of world leaders must
be based not on the short-term interests of state power but on the wisdom
drawn from human civilization. This is the collective heritage of all
states, old and new (Mr. Rumsfield's distinction notwithstanding). It
is just that you need leaders of vision to draw upon this common wellspring
of wisdom at key moments in history. The US too once had such a leader
who could translate the richness of human civilization into the practice
of state craft. It was President John F. Kennedy. He was able to pull
the world back from the brink of nuclear war during the 1961 Cuban missile
crisis. He did this essentially by his awareness of the danger of leaders
getting divorced from their humanity and getting locked into the syndrome
of power. He it was who said, "I am certain that after the dust of
centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not
for victories or defeats in battle or in politics but for our contributions
to the human spirit".
It is this urge to nurture and enhance human life
that must guide the actions of world leaders at a time when we stand between
war and peace. The millions of citizens across the world who demonstrated
for peace on 15th February showed this consciousness. The question is,
can the leaders take guidance from their people?