Photo of George Bush and Tony Blair at NATO summit in Istanbul. Image via Wikimedia
Sir John Chilcot’s report on Great Britain’s role in the Iraq War confirmed what many have long assumed: the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair—and, by extension, the administration of President George W. Bush—deliberately misled us, exaggerating the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and Iraq in order to justify the 2003 invasion of that country.
This is a travesty of justice. The thousands of American casualties, trillions of dollars of expenditures, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi casualties, and the rise of sectarianism, terrorism, Islamist extremism, and the other negative consequences of the invasion have been disastrous.
But even worse, even if Iraq really did have the proscribed “WMDs”, delivery systems, and weapons programs at the time of the invasion, the war would have still been illegal and unnecessary. Here’s why.
At the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq roughly two dozen countries had chemical weapons, biological weapons, or nuclear programs with weapons potential. The mere possession of these programs is not legitimate grounds for invasion. Those who claim that the invasion would have somehow been justifiable if Bush and Blair had been telling the truth about Iraq’s WMDs and related programs are effectively saying the United States somehow has the right to invade dozens of other countries as well.
In fact, since the United States has chemical and nuclear weapons, it would presumably give other nations the right to invade us.
Defenders of the invasion and occupation claim that Iraq was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding its program. But the United Nations determined—and the United States later acknowledged—they were not.
Furthermore, there was no authorization of force by the UN Security Council. The UN Charter—which, as a signed and ratified international treaty, has the force of “supreme law” according to the U.S. Constitution—declares unequivocally in Articles 41 and 42 that the UN Security Council alone has the power to authorize the use of military force against any nation in noncompliance of its resolutions.
The U.N. Security Council alone had the authority to determine what, if any, action to take regarding current or future Iraqi violations. The final pre-war UN resolution (1441) declared that any alleged violations be brought forward by the inspection teams consisting of experts in the field, not by any member state, and that at such a time the Security Council would “convene immediately in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance.”
Today there are three other countries in violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding non-conventional weapons (as there were back in 2003). UN Security Council resolution 487 calls on Israel to place its nuclear facilities under the trusteeship of the International Atomic Energy Agency. UN Security Council resolution 1172 calls on India and Pakistan to eliminate their nuclear arsenals and long-range missiles.
Not only have successive U.S. administrations blocked the Security Council from enforcing these resolutions, the United States has provided all three countries with nuclear-capable jet fighters and other military assistance and has subsequently signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with India.
To be clear, not only were charges by American and British officials that Iraq was violating the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty false, neither government expressed concern that Israel, India and Pakistan had never signed on. Furthermore, the NPT requires that the nuclear weapons states at the time of its signing make good-faith efforts to pursue complete nuclear disarmament, which the United States and Great Britain (along with France, Russia, and China) have failed to do. As a result, it is these countries, not Iraq, that were and are in material breach of the NPT.
Even if Iraq had WMDs, the threat of massive retaliation by regional forces—such as nuclear-armed Israel—as well as U.S. forces permanently stationed in the region provided a more than sufficient deterrent to Iraq using the weapons beyond its borders.
A costly invasion and extended occupation were completely unnecessary.
While the additional evidence provided by the Chilcot Inquiry of the duplicity by the British and American governments regarding Iraq’s military capabilities certainly merit attention, let’s not pretend that Iraq actually possessing such weapons and weapons programs would have justified the war.
To do so would just open the door for future disastrous military engagements against countries that really might have such capabilities.
Stephen Zunes is a professor of Politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco.