Saturday, August 27, 2005

Why the War was Wrong, Part the First

What does Robert Manne say? (I am only starting with him because his is the first essay in the book. It says in the introduction that he is Professor of Politics at *ahem* Latrobe, and –as you doubtless know- a columnist for the Age and the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald.)

“The danger of this conflation of the pre-emptive strike and preventive war was aggravated precisely by the fact that ... the US reserved for itself the right to strike unilaterally without mandate from the established procedures of the United Nations. ...the US not only reserved for itself the right to go to war on the basis of an imagined threat. It also arrogated to itself the exclusive right to decide when and where such a threat existed.
... If all states possessed this right, the Bush doctrine opened the way for a return to the law of the jungle, where the powerful have the capacity to impose their will on the weak. If, on the other hand, the right did not exist for other states, the Bush doctrine amounted to an almost formal claim to US world hegemony.”

This is as close as Robert Manne comes in his essay to explaining why the 2003 War was wrong. What is his assumption, that we must share in order to accept his argument? I believe it is this: The United Nations has moral authority over the nations that comprise it.

What is the United Nations? The United Nations itself is simply another manifestation of the law of the jungle Manne talks about. The United Nations is an institution imposed by the victors in the last World War in order to impose their collective will upon the vanquished. The law of the jungle has never gone away, so it cannot return: all states have, in practice, always behaved in the way Manne paints as a new and disturbing innovation of President Bush. Their leaders, for good or- generally- evil, decide for themselves where a threat to their state exists and what they should do about it. The powerful do indeed, and will as long as the words ‘powerful’ and ‘weak’ have any meaning, have the capacity to impose their will upon the weak. The United Nations has no standing army, and so it cannot stop them, whatever legal authority it may have.

What is the United Nations? It is the sum of the states that compose it, all of which are institutions imposed by force upon unwilling or compliant individual human beings. Some of these states are halfway decent, most of them are not, some of them are awful. Without exception these abstractions called states have magnified their importance to a fantastic and obscene degree over the importance of real, non-abstract entities called individual human beings. ‘Legality’ is what each state says it is, and ‘internationl law’ is what they have collectively decided it is. Some laws are in reasonable accord with reason and morality, some are less so, and some are awful. According to the rules of the United Nations, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was illegal, and Pol Pot’s regime continued to occupy Cambodia’s seat in the United Nations for a decade. I accept that the Anglospherican invasion of Iraq was illegal, in exactly the same way that Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia was illegal. This is not relevant to the question of whether it was right or wrong.

Hilary Charlesworth (Profesosr of International Law at the Australian National University) demonstrates entirely convincingly- as you would expect a Professor at a real university to do- that the invasion was, according to the accepted principles of international law, illegal.

Eva Sallis (an Australian-born writer) communicated her emotional state in a most satisfactory way, as one expects a novelist to do, but presented no rational argument that I could find.

The next essay, by Raimond Gaita (Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of London and the Australian Catholic University) seems rather more coherent from the first few pages- although it reads disturbingly as though it might have been written by myself, Dr Clam. Knowing my own formidable powers, I therefore expect it will convince me, so I bid you farewell from what may well be my last ‘pro-war’ post!


winstoninabox said...

Dear Evil Dr. Clam,
I have neither read this book, nor do I know International or UN Laws, and so...
Is "the US reserved for itself the right to strike unilaterally without mandate from the established procedures of the United Nations." (my italics) explained more fully?
What are these procedures?
As a UN member had the US agreed to follow them, or like the pirate's code, are they more like guidelines?

Anonymous said...

The UN is a constantly morphing, multi-headed monster, only useful where nation heads of conflicting parties accept it as a neutral third party. In some cases this can seem like it has been instrumental in solving problems due to its authority and procedures. This is an illusion, and any multi-country organisation can and have in the past been equally effective at acting as a neutral party.