15 October 2001
The Times of India
The Times of India
An Ignoble War
Earn your Peace Prize, Mr Annan
The gentle Norwegians who decide on the Nobel peace prize have been accused of many things in the past — poor judgment, political correctness and regional bias — but no one ever suspected that behind their Nordic inscrutability lies an exquisite sense of irony.
To bestow their award on the UN and its secretary-general at a time when the world body’s most powerful member is attacking its weakest is to either mock the impotency of Kofi Annan and his colleagues or spur them into seeking an end to this senseless and cowardly war.
Unequal adversaries have often fought wars but never has such a formidable superpower attacked a people so miserable and defenceless as the Afghans.
No matter how many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the US drops along with less edible humanitarian material like cluster bombs, this is a war in which civilians are go! ing to be killed in large numbers. Already, more than 300 innocents have perished. No one is arguing that the US has deliberately set out to kill civilians like the monsters who attacked the World Trade Center did. But it is bombing Afghanistan with lethal ordnance in the knowledge that noncombatants will die even without missiles going ‘astray’.
In 1999, NATO bombed Yugoslavia for making refugees out of the Kosovars. Today, forcing Afghans to become refugees under the threat of bombardment is considered the apogee of humanitarianism.
It is difficult to sustain the claim made by US ambassador to the UN John Negroponte that the attack on Afghanistan is in conformity with Article 51 of the UN Charter allowing the use of force in self-defence. Apologists for Washington have gone further, arguing dishonestly that the attack has been authorised by UN Security Council resolution 1368, passed unanimously on September 12. This when 10 days before the bom! bing began, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice herself declared the US did not need UN permission.
Resolution 1368 is a text whose clever imprecision was presumably crafted by the US to allow the Security Council to avoid taking a stand on its desire to avenge the September 11 attacks. It correctly calls terrorism a threat to international peace and security but does not invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter under which punitive measures are envisaged. It makes no reference to Afghanistan or to earlier UN resolutions (1267 and 1333) asking the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden. Far from authorising the use of force, it states the Security Council’s ‘‘readiness to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks in accordance with its responsibilities under the UN Charter’’.
The language makes it clear that Security Council members consider the UN (acting through its highest organ) to be the appropriate body to a! ct against terrorism. The right of self-defence is affirmed but in accordance with the Charter. To contend — as the European Council did at its meeting on September 21 — that ‘‘SC Resolution 1368 (means) a riposte by the US is legitimate’’ against any country is to argue that the right of self-defence is not subject to the legal constraints envisaged by the Charter.
Now that the US says it reserves the right to take military action in ‘self-defence’ against other countries as well, some European states are finally getting cold feet at the thought that Iraq, Syria, Libya or Iran might be the targets of a ‘‘riposte’’.
Though the US has the right to defend itself against an armed attack from another country or an armed group, the International Court of Justice ruled in the landmark Nicaragua case of 1986 that this does not confer on an aggrieved state a blank cheque to use force against anothe! r. The US would have to prove that the terrorists who struck on September 11 were sent ‘‘by or on behalf of’’ Afghanistan in order to fulfil the ICJ’s criterion for exercising the right of self-defence against that country. So far, the US has provided no such evidence.
Moreover, self-defence must respect the principles of necessity and propor- tionality: Washington has to demonstrate that the bombing is needed to stop an imminent attack from Afghanistan and not merely from terrorists who may already be in the US.
Elaborating on the ICJ’s ruling, Prof Louis Henkin wrote: The right of self-defence is ‘‘limited to cases of armed attack that are generally beyond doubt; a state’s responsibility for acts of terrorism is rarely beyond doubt and difficult to prove... Article 51 gives a right...to defend against an armed attack. This right does not allow for retaliation for armed attacks...or (force) to deter future atta! cks’’. That is why the international community has repeatedly condemned Israeli attacks on Lebanon and would surely criticise India for any strikes on militant bases across the Line of Control in Pakistan.
Even if the US can prove the complicity of the Taliban in the September 11 atrocities, international law stresses force should be resorted to after all avenues for a peaceful solution are exhausted. As it seeks to bring the conspirators to justice, the US could have sought a tightening of UN sanctions against the Taliban pending further action. The speedy implementation of UN Conventions against terrorism could also have been made a priority. Instead, the US has rushed headlong into a unilateral war that will not reduce the threat of terrorism by one iota.
While the UN has been paralysed, India, China and Russia have appeased the US violation of international law on the assumption that terrorism is being fought. When Washington speaks of widening t! he war against terrorism, it does not mean Pakistan, Xinjiang or Chechnya but Iraq, Iran and other opponents of US power. The US aim is to maintain its domination over the oil resources of the Gulf region and extend its military influence into the heart of Central Asia.
The only countries to take an honourable stand on the US attack are Iran and Cuba, both victims of international terrorism and critics of the Taliban and the September 11 atrocities. Iran and Cuba are proof of the Manichean absurdity of President Bush’s fatwa that ‘‘you are either with us or with the terrorists’’. More countries must join their ranks. Nobel winner Kofi Annan should issue an immediate call for the US to stop its war and return to the UN for discussions on how the scourge of terrorism can be fought. This month’s General Assembly debate saw many countries make proposals — legal, political and economic. These should be seriously examined.
An! ill-defined and unilateral war that undermines international law and the UN Charter can only lead to the perpetuation of terrorism, not its elimination.