IS THE UNITED NATIONS THE ONLY INSTITUTION THAT CAN LEGITIMIZE FORCE?
Americas top hawk answers the critics
By Richard Perle
Richard Perle is chairman of the Defense Policy Board, a key advisory
board on international security to the Bush administration.
WASHINGTON -- As the United States contemplates the use of force to
remove Saddam Hussein from power, it is a critical moment to address the
doubts of Americas allies, particularly in Europe, about the legitimacy
of such a move.
It is an article of faith in Europe that the use of force can only be
a last resort and must be legitimized by the United Nations. While such
alternatives to the use of force as diplomacy and economic pressure are
often preferable, this obvious point easily slides into the cliche that
force must always be a last resort. In the case of Europe, resort to force
is often not even the last resort because the Europeans have so little
capacity to use force that it is practically excluded as a means of influencing
events or effecting change.
Given the inadequate military capabilities of the Europeans, the inability
to use force morphs easily into an abhorrence of the use of force.
With greater military capability, we Americans are rather more likely
to consider action when our security is threatened.
The idea of force as only a last resort deserves some examination. What
exactly do we mean by a last resort? Do we mean
that force can only be used after we have applied political and economic
measures, like the sanctions we once applied to the combatants in the
former Yugoslavia? Presumably, the reluctance to use force is somehow
connected to a desire to save lives. Did we save lives (or improve the
security of those whose lives were threatened) by imposing sanctions in
the case of Bosnia? Those sanctions, applied to aggressor and victim alike,
prevented Muslim victims from defending themselves. Those sanctions had
the effect of concentrating lethal weaponry in the hands of the aggressors
-- and tens of thousands of defenseless Muslims died as a result.
Have we improved the worlds security or dealt effectively with Saddam
Hussein by imposing sanctions that have in many ways strengthened Saddam
within his own country? The question of the appropriate time and circumstances
to use force has to be approached with greater sophistication.
Easy disparagement of the use of force should tempered by the real world
in which were living. There are sometimes situations that can only
be dealt with effectively by the use of force. And if that can be reasonably
anticipated at the outset, it is foolish, dangerous and costly to indulge
in a prolonged period of ineffective political and economic measures,
only to turn to military power after the situation has deteriorated and
the military and human costs are so much greater.
Today, we also hear the mantra We must work through the United
Nations. But is the United Nations the sole legitimizing institution
when it comes to the use of force? Why the United Nations? Is the United
Nations better able to confer legitimacy than, say, a coalition of liberal
democracies? Does the addition of members of the United Nations -- like
China, for example, or Syria -- add legitimacy to what otherwise might
be the collective policy of countries that share our values? After all,
when you go beyond the democracies at the United Nations, you are adding
only dictatorships and totalitarian states -- lots of them.
It is a dangerous trend to consider that the United Nations, a weak institution
at best, an institution that includes a large number of nasty regimes,
is somehow better able to confer legitimacy than institutions like the
European Union or NATO.
Americas allies and the past American administration have argued
for containment and deterrence as the heart of a sound security policy.
To be sure, there are situations in which containment is an entirely appropriate
policy. And we all wish there was a rule book that was adhered to by everyone.
But there are those who break the rules, and containment is not always
Had we settled for containment of the Soviet Union, it might still be
in business today. Are we -- and millions of former Soviet citizens --
not better off because the United States went beyond mere containment
and challenged the legitimacy of a totalitarian Soviet Union? The ideological
and moral challenge to the Soviet Union that was mounted by the Reagan
administration took us well beyond containment. If containment means that
a country such as Iraq, that is capable of doing great damage, is left
unhindered to prepare to do that damage, then we run unnecessary, foolish
and imprudent risks.
UNILATERALISM AND IRAQ
Clearly the most difficult issue straining the relationship between the
United States and much of the world has to do with the American attitude
toward Iraq. And the charge is that if we were to act militarily, we would
be acting in a unilateral manner. But everyone recognizes the right of
self-defense. The question then is: Is the danger from Saddam Hussein
to the United States of such imminence that we are justified in invoking
the concept of self-defense with respect to any military action that we
When does a threat become imminent? When is it timely to act in self-defense?
When is it appropriate to take action? Do you have to wait until the threat
announces itself with an actual attack, possibly on a massive scale?
In this respect, I dont think Europe really understands the impact
of 9/11 on the United States. One of the lessons of Sept. 11 was that
it is possible to wait too long. We waited too long to deal with Osama
Bin Laden. We knew what was going on in Afghanistan. We observed the training
camps with overhead photography; we listened to conversations among the
terrorists;through various other means we were well aware that Osama bin
Laden was planning attacks on the United States. He had already carried
out a number of them on our embassies, garrisons and warships, to which,
by the way, the feeble American response was almost certainly an incitement
to further attacks, culminating in 9/11.
We dont want to make the mistake of waiting too long again. That
is what the world observes in American thinking about Iraq.
(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release (Distributed 12/16/02)