Never Again

Reflections on the war against Iraq

By David Parnas | 1992-03-01 12:00:00

Those who would wage war know how to incite support in the populace. As the bombing began, U.S. President Bush told us that "Nobody should cry for Saddam Hussein, he brought it on himself." That statement was intended to created the impression that all who oppose war support Hussein. I do not know one peace activist who cried for Saddam Hussein, a man who has acted against everything that we believe. Saddam did not "bring it on himself": he brought his destruction on others. It is the millions who are the victims of the war who deserve our sympathy.

We were told that if we did not go to war to stop Saddam Hussein, he would have been allowed to gain from the invasion of Kuwait. We were told that this would encourage aggression else-where by rewarding the use of military force. Objectively, however, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait had cost far more than it gained. While Iraq gained Kuwaiti oil wells, it could not sell any oil. Although Iraq gained a small amount of territory, it was forced to deploy 400,000 soldiers in that territory at great cost. Al-though Iraq gained inside Kuwait, all Kuwaiti and Iraqi resources outside those countries were frozen. Iraq's aggression had been a costly mistake.

We were told that if we did not use military force, by default we would have allowed Saddam Hussein to continue his aggressions and seize more territory. "Someone had to stop him." In fact, he had already been stopped. On the 15th of January, Iraq's forces were already bottled up. The presence of foreign "forces" in Saudi Arabia, NATO forces in Turkey, a powerful military in Iran, and Western support for Jordan, had made in impossible for Iraq's aggression to continue. Moreover, Iraq's force deployments in Kuwait were primarily defensive in nature. They built fixed fortifications within the area that they already controlled. There was no sign of a plan to move forward.

One of the most powerful arguments in favor of the military action that began on January 16 was that we must support the United Nations. But the U.N. was not allowed to function as it should. The U.N. Security Council was forced to give "carte blanche" to individual countries, which then acted in accordance with their own interests. The president of one country, one that has not even paid its dues to the U.N., informed the Secretary General of the beginning of the war. The Secretary General of the U.N. was quoted in "Die Zeit" as saying "U.N. war, I don't see any U.N. war. Where are the blue helmets?"

I don't see peace and security in that area, or the rest of the world, coming as a result of this terrible misuse of force. If there is any hope for increased security in the area, it comes from the peace conference that is exactly what Saddam Hussein had requested in return for withdrawing from Kuwait. Had the U.S. promised to do what it has just done, which was entirely in its own interest, the unnecessary slaughter of thousands, and the suffering of millions, could have been avoided.

The U.N., which should have been used to prevent war, was hijacked into supporting an attack on innocent people. An organization which is supposed to be dedicated to helping the poor and helpless was instrumental in bringing sickness and hunger to millions of Iraqis.

What about Iraq's nuclear weapons capability? According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iraq's nuclear installations had been inspected recently and were of no military value. The IAEA has pointed out that the U.S. bombing of those installations was a clear and dangerous violation of international agreements. Before the bombing began, it was in the interest of those who wanted to wage war to exaggerate Iraq's nuclear capability. After the bombing started, it was in the interest of those politicians to claim that Iraq's nuclear capability had been completely destroyed. Now that we see that Saddam Hussein remains in control in Iraq, it is again in the interest of the U.S. to propagate exaggerated descriptions of Iraq's capability.

We got into the Gulf War because of the grave weaknesses of our international organizations, particularly the U.N. and the World Court. These institutions have clout only supported by a small group of militarily strong nations. Moreover, the U.N. is controlled by that same group of nations. The U.N. can be effective in such a situation only when it functions as a "front" for the U.S. and its friends. Is this not why the U.N. acted in Kuwait but not in Nicaragua, Palestine, Grenada, and Haiti? The

U.S. was able to keep the Security Council from meeting when other members had requested an urgent meeting.

I want to suggest some changes. First, I want to see a U.N. "strike force" ready at all times, without political deliberation, to go to a border between two member nations and help to prevent invasions. Speed is the essence. The troops should be prepared and have clear orders. They should go to any country that requests them.

Canada should ask all members of the U.N. to change the oath that soldiers take. A soldier of a country should be sworn to act to protect his/her land by fighting within its borders under its national flag and outside the borders only under a U.N. flag as part of a multinational force under U.N. Security Council command.

The U.N. forces should be as well trained, equipped and prepared as national forces now are. Whenever such U.N. forces are deployed, the U.N. Security Council should be in continuous session. No member of the Council should be in a position to keep it from meeting.

Compulsory arbitration of disputes before an international court should be introduced. Nations that refuse to appear before the court should be presumed to have no case and ostracized from the family of nations.

It is now time to replace the United Nations structure with a truly democratic one. The Security Council is dominated and controlled by the five nations that won World War II. The "one nation, one vote" situation in the United Nations makes some individuals far more powerful than others. We need proportional representation or a weighted voting scheme.

The Gulf War is a tragedy but we must look to the future. a

David Parnas is a professor of Computer Science at McMaster University and president of Science for Peace.

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992

Peace Magazine Mar-Apr 1992, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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