Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No such thing as illegal war

As a father I don't think I could imagine anything worse than losing one of my sons. It actually pains me to write that as it is something which I find hard even to contemplate, so I can fully understand the grief of those fathers whose sons have died fighting in the armed forces. What I find harder to understand is that we, as a nation, cannot come to terms with the simple fact that the purpose of soldiers is to fight and that it is inevitable that some will die as a result of fighting.

Armies make war. If we can not accept that some soldiers will die than we can not accept the principle of having armed forces. Britain's armed forces are all volunteers. They join up knowing full well that they will be trained to fight and kill and that they may be killed also. If anyone in the armed forces claims that didn't really expect to have to fight then they are, at best, fools. What did they think all that training was for? No. Everyone in the armed forces realises that they could die in the course of doing their job - and yet they choose to take this risk. They all do so as rational thinking adults who have made a conscious decision to join up.

I think it's right to be critical of the government that sends them to war with inappropriate equipment or insufficient resources and if a soldier dies as a result of those deficiencies. What I do not agree with, though, is those parents who make a point of using their son's death as a stick to beat the government with over the decision to go to war. The government is democratically elected and we give them the right to make that decision on our behalf. If we don't like it we have the right to vote them out at the next election (they didn't) and it was their son's choice to join the army. The parents should respect and honour their son's decision.

In respect to the Iraq war - I keep hearing people saying things like this was an "illegal" war, or that it is not a "just" war. I don't agree with either of these views. For a start, I do not believe there is such a thing as an "illegal" war. There are illegal acts of war - such as deliberately targeting civilians, using civilians as human shields, fighting without wearing recognisable uniforms or insignia or killing prisoners of war - but no such thing as an illegal war. Some claim that a wars legality is determined by whether or not it is sanctioned by the UN, but why does that make it legal? The UN is not a democratic body and it is not a government - even if it likes to think it is. It has no mandate to make "law" and no ability to enforce any law it does make (the real test of law).

What people mean by "illegal" is that an action may contravene an international treaty. However treaties are only binding as long as any nation chooses to abide by it. Any nation can break a treaty unilaterally whenever it so wishes. That is the nature of treaties. In the case of Iraq, they broke that treaty when they invaded Kuwait. They were forced out of Kuwait by the allies of Kuwait and, under the terms of a ceasefire, were required to abide by certain conditions. They failed to do this and that gave the allies all the "legality" they needed to resume the attack. This is not a new war. It is simply the continuation of an old war that never ended because the "international community" baulked at the critical moment.

Remarkably, many of the people who claim that the war against Iraq is illegal or "unjust" seem to think the war in Afghanistan is legal and "just". Why? Just because the UN say so? I fully accept that the Afghan government of the time was guilty of harbouring the international terrorist mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, but there are plenty of countries out there who are harbouring terrorists - including Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, United States, Australia, Great Britain, France, Ireland and just about every nation on earth. In that respect, Afghanistan was doing nothing different to anyone else. So what made them a special case? In my view, it was the fact that the government of Afghanistan was an evil despotic regime.

As far as I'm concerned, the war in Afghanistan was justified by the fact that it removed an evil despotic regime - and the same applies to Iraq. For me, UN approval makes no difference, nor does it matter what "evidence" was used to justify either war - both were justified by the evilness of the regime. I can accept those people who oppose both wars - at least they are consistent - but anyone who thinks that one is justified while the other is not is a hypocrite in my book.

I believe it would be equally just if similar wars were launched against other, similarly evil despots around the world - there are plenty to choose from. In fact I believe it is not only "just" and "legal" for any decent nation to do so, I believe it is a moral obligation for such nations to oppose such regimes and take action where necessary. Anyone who thinks otherwise is basically saying that it was wrong for Britain to enforce the abolition of slavery. It may have been the stroke of a pen that started the abolition movement, but it was only the action of the Royal Navy and the British Army that enforced it - and took the best part of a hundred years to do so. No doubt there were many parents during those times who were equally grief stricken that their son had died in some far off land fighting for the rights of unknown foreigners, but if we'd taken the same media approach then as we do today, slavery would still be a part of everyday for life for countless millions of people. As I mentioned earlier, that's what made the "law" to abolish slavery a proper law. The fact that there was someone willing to enforce it.

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