ed091202: No Permission Needed
President Bush's decision to come before the United Nations and
make his case for attacking Iraq was a smart move, diplomatically
speaking. But it would be all too easy for some world leaders to
misunderstand why he went there.
Some seem to believe that America needs a U.N. Security Council
resolution before taking military action against Saddam Hussein.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder, for example, are among those who claim that an attack on
Iraq would be justified only if the Security Council approves
They're wrong. America does not need a new Security Council
resolution for several reasons. They include:
The Right To Self-Defense.
The right to self-defense is a long-standing principle in
international law, and the United Nations charter reflects this.
"Nothing in the present charter shall impair the inherent right of
individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs
against a member of the United Nations," the 54-year-old U.N.
But Iraq hasn't attacked us, some may argue. Yes, but that right
to self-defense also incorporates the centuries-old principle of
"anticipatory" self-defense in the face of an imminent threat to
national security. In the 16th century, for example, the British
applied that principle when they attacked Spanish and Portuguese
ports in anticipation of an attack by the Spanish. The United
States used it in the 1960s to place an embargo on Cuba and prevent
Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles there.
The administration has made a similar case for striking Iraq.
Saddam Hussein has publicly stated his intention to engage in a war
against the West, particularly Israel and the United States. He has
already attacked two countries, Iran and Kuwait. He has biological
and chemical weapons and has used them on his adversaries, both
among his own citizens and in war with Iran. He is developing
nuclear weapons. The U.S. government has identified Iraq as a
serious threat that justifies military action.
America does not need U.N. permission to use its armed
forces. Under the Constitution, the authority to determine when
it's appropriate for the United States to invoke and exercise its
right to use military force in its own defense is vested in the
president, as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and Congress,
which has authority to raise and support armies and to declare war.
No treaty, including the U.N. charter, can redistribute this
authority or give an international organization a veto over U.S.
actions otherwise lawful and fully in accordance with the
Regardless, America already has U.N. "permission" to act under
existing Security Council resolutions. Security Council Resolution
678, passed on Nov. 29, 1990, authorizes "member states
co-operating with the Government of Kuwait ... to use all necessary
means" to (1) enact Security Council Resolution 660 and other
resolutions calling for the end of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait and
withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwaiti territory and (2) "restore
international peace and security in the area."
U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf War accomplished the first
objective swiftly, but the second never has been achieved. U.S. and
allied forces have been in nearly constant conflict with Iraqi
forces in the so-called "no-fly zone" since Iraq's aggression
against Kuwait was repelled. Resolution 678 has not been rescinded
or nullified by succeeding resolutions. Its authorization of the
use of force against and in Iraq remains in effect.
Further, Iraq's refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors to fulfill
their mandate since 1998 is a violation of its 1991 cease-fire
Those who argue for more weapons inspections are in denial over
Iraq's refusal to observe existing resolutions mandating that U.N.
inspectors be permitted to operate freely in Iraq. Saddam has
frustrated every effort to conduct these inspections in the past,
and there's no reason to believe that future inspections will be
more successful. His most recent letter to the United Nations
states that he wants more discussion before resuming the
inspections, which ended four years ago over his intransigent
Clearly, those who seek to constrain U.S. military action in Iraq
with arguments about obtaining yet another Security Council
resolution ignore the facts of this issue. America may choose to
seek additional support from the United Nations and its allies, but
it does not need to do so.
D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham fellow in international
regulatory affairs in the Center for International Trade and
Economics at The Heritage Foundation.