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Al-Ahram Weekly Online 3 – 9 October 2002 Issue No. 606 Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Is war inevitable? Is war inevitable or can it be averted, asks Mohamed Sid-Ahmed

Mohamed Sid-Ahmed The US administration’s quarrel with Saddam Hussein is purportedly over his continued stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction in defiance of Security Council resolutions. In fact, however, it goes far beyond the question of Iraq’s alleged arsenal of banned weapons. There is first of all the Iraqi president’s alleged support of terrorism. Then there is also the personal aspect. Bush has not forgiven Saddam for his abortive assassination attempt against Bush senior during the latter’s visit to Kuwait shortly after leaving office. But these are not the only reasons the US administration is determined to topple the Iraqi leader. He has come to represent a problem surpassing the issue of Iraq, even of terrorism proper, a problem with global, and not only regional, dimensions.

Washington’s tireless attempts to link Saddam to Al-Qa’eda despite the absence of any evidence of a connection between them, its insistence on underlining his terrorist connection, have less to do with the 11 September attacks themselves than with another issue that is totally unrelated to the attacks, namely, the challenge to the hitherto restricted membership in the nuclear club. Thanks to the critical degree of technological development in recent years, weapons of mass destruction are no longer the monopoly of a limited number of technologically developed countries. Their production is no longer beyond the technical capabilities of moderately developed countries, nor is their price prohibitive any more. Moreover, quite a number of these weapons have been smuggled out of the Soviet Union in the aftermath of its collapse. As a result, they can now be acquired by a wide range of terrorist networks.

11 September established a link between two issues that until then were totally unrelated: the issue of international terrorism, which spread in societies at the base of the world community, and the issue of weapons of mass destruction, an issue traditionally associated with great powers closer to the summit of the world community. Now a moderately developed state, Iraq, is seen as the catalyst which can bring about the merger of these two issues.

Such a merger brings a new problem to the fore, namely, that disarmament should not go beyond a certain critical point. Throughout the last decades we have heard much about the need to disarm and reduce the stockpiling of nuclear — and other — weapons of mass destruction. But no one has ever suggested that disarmament should reach the point of total disarmament for all states, including the five great powers with veto prerogatives in the Security Council.

Great powers support disarmament to the extend that it would diminish, if not eliminate, the threat of mutual extermination. But no great power wants to find itself helpless in the face of terrorist organisations which could eventually acquire prohibited weapons of mass destruction. This lies at the heart of the whole problem. Disarmament under Cold War conditions was determined by the confrontation between the two superpowers, which forced them to maintain a degree of parity and guaranteed the gradual decrease of weapons levels in a way that would avoid critical discrepancies between them. True, the parity between the superpowers did not extend to their overkill capability, with the United States capable of destroying the Soviet Union 30 times over and the latter of destroying the United States only 20 times over. But as humans die only once, this hardly mattered. At that time, there was not much concern with the post-Cold War era, and whether weapons levels should — or could — be reduced to zero.

But now that the Soviet Union has vanished, and there is no longer a confrontation requiring that parity be maintained between the superpowers, Bush declared in the document published last week on the National Security Strategy of the United States of America — a document also known as the Bush Doctrine — that parity between America and another state, or group of states, is an issue of the past. Never again will the United States accept to be militarily equal or inferior to any other combination of states. The Cold War era was a temporary, transient phenomenon, never again to be tolerated.

From this viewpoint there is no question of proceeding forward with disarmament up to option zero arms. On the contrary, what is now to be expected is some new form of re-armament with weapons devised not to confront great powers but terrorist networks with possible access to weapons of mass destruction via so-called “rogue” states. These new categories of weapons would be designed to deprive terrorists of the surprise element, and to increase the flexibility and mobility of the anti-terrorist drive. War against terrorists is likely to acquire the characteristics of guerrilla warfare rather than conventional warfare between regular armies.

The crucial point in the Bush doctrine is his declared intention to attack potential enemies before they strike. According to The Washington Post, this “represents a new chapter in strategic doctrine that heightens the danger of unintended consequences and raises the pressure on the US national security system to get things right the first time”. The logic behind the new strategy doctrine violates the charters of both the United Nations and NATO. It quotes an American military expert as asking, “If preemption as a policy takes hold, where does it stop?”

The paper adds: “The dramatic change in the decades-old strategy of deterrence and containment puts an option into play that could be effective against rogue states. But experts warn that the shift also risks establishing a precedent for countries whose motives or timing the US government may not support.” This has already happened. In a flagrant case of double standards, the Bush administration objected to President Putin’s announcement that Russia would be justified in attacking Chechen rebels who sought refuge in neighbouring Georgia, even as Bush was preparing to tell world leaders that the United States would act alone against Saddam Hussein if no one else would.

Another problem the Bush doctrine fails to address is whether the threat of a preemptive strike will not drive their likely targets into increasing the capability of their weapons. For example, this can only encourage a country like Iran to acquire nuclear capability. It would also induce Pakistan into counter-balancing India’s superior conventional army by a similar development. The temptation will be great to launch preemptive strikes in situations which, in the absence of the Bush doctrine, could have been solved without resorting to violence. Generally speaking, it is a doctrine which encourages the propagation of banned weapons, nuclear, chemical, biological, etc, rather than the opposite.

Moreover, Bush’s preemptive doctrine is opposed by a wide range of political forces on the world scene. This has taken its most flagrant expression in the difference that distinguishes the French from the American position in the Security Council. Paris focuses on the fact that the draft resolution Washington is attempting to push through the Security Council has very little in common with resolution 1284, which limits the UN mandate to sending weapons inspectors in to monitor Iraq’s disarmament programme, not to using the inspections as an excuse to send military forces in to bring about a regime change.

The American attitude presupposes that the Bush Doctrine has been accepted by all states, which is not the case. Three permanent members of the Security Council with veto prerogatives, France, Russia and China, categorically reject the policy of preemption. This disagreement among the permanent members of the Security Council must be settled if the Council is to have the last word. Otherwise it is to be expected that the US will act unilaterally. What is particularly critical in this matter is that the US cannot claim that it is operating within the context of international legitimacy adapted to the new conditions of fighting terrorism, if only because three permanent members of the Security Council reject such an assumption. Is a compromise possible?