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At War

Editorials from around the world

A divided world stands on the brink of a war that could have been avoided

Less than one month after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Tony Blair permitted himself a rare flight of high rhetoric. “This is a moment to seize,” he said. “The kaleidoscope has been shaken, the pieces are in flux, soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world around us...”

We might have hoped the pieces would have settled after the military operation in Afghanistan. Yesterday, however, it became clear that was not to be. The half-century-old system of international arbitration broke down as America and Britain made it clear they would, unilaterally, circumvent the deadlocked diplomats and President Bush gave Saddam Hussein 48 hours to leave his country or face the full force of U.S. military might.

The consequences are that multilateral institutions from NATO to the European Union to the Arab League are riven with discord, long-standing alliances are in tatters, and one of Britain’s most respected and principled ministers has resigned.

Britain may now be only hours from war, and it is a war that has not been sanctioned by the international community. It was not the outcome that this newspaper sought. Far from it. We hoped for the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, accomplished through diplomacy.

-- The Independent, London, March 18

No Checks And Balances, Just Big Sticks

In the weeks preceding the U.S.-British-Spanish war council in Azores, Washington exerted strong pressure on Moscow to abstain from, if not support, a U.N. Security Council resolution paving the way for war in Iraq.

Alternating on- and off-the-record statements, U.S. diplomats outlined a complete set of sticks that would be applied if Russia continued to resist the will of the hawkish coalition. Russia was bluntly warned that its WTO bid would be jeopardized and that the humiliating Jackson-Vanick amendment would remain in place indefinitely. The United States also hinted that Russian oil companies might be locked out of a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq altogether, while a newly installed regime would be unable to honor the country’s $8 billion debt to Russia.

Russia did not bow to what sometimes resembled economic blackmail, and sided with France and Germany in opposition to war.

… Russia and the rest of the world now have to ask themselves what was all the diplomatic wrangling for if the United States is going to be able to go ahead regardless of world opinion.

The U.S. sidestep of the UN means that Russia and other countries should really be concerned about the accelerating erosion of the post-World War II system of international law that required at least some sort of authorization from the international community before a superpower and its allies-for-the-hour could attack another country.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Tuesday warned that the global anti-terrorism coalition is at risk of falling apart over the bid for war.

He called on the Security Council to bring the Iraq crisis back into the framework of international law. He also warned that a war could mushroom into “a confrontation of civilizations.”

Russia has to keep up the pressure. Let’s hope that the United States starts listening instead of merely threatening to use its economic might against those that dare to defy its wishes.

-- The Moscow Times, March 19

Mr. Koizumi’s course is clear

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has faced the wrenching task of spelling out his foreign policy on Iraq. Until Monday he remained noncommittal on how Japan would respond if the United States goes to war without explicit U.N. backing. Now, with the U.S. having issued an ultimatum to Iraq and an invasion imminent in 48 hours, Mr. Koizumi has announced that Tokyo will back Washington.

… Realistically, supporting the U.S., with or without a U.N. mandate, is the only option open to Japan. This position is related to the security crisis in its backyard: the threat from North Korea, which is suspected of developing nuclear weapons. Japan would have no choice but to rely on U.S. military might to counter a North Korean missile attack.

In fact, a strategy report from Mr. Koizumi’s foreign policy panel identifies the U.S. as the only country that would defend Japan in the event of a foreign attack. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are organized primarily for defensive missions. To meet possible foreign aggression, Japan allows the U.S. to maintain military bases here under their bilateral security treaty.

Japan wants to resolve the North Korean crisis peacefully through negotiation. To that end, Tokyo is calling for a multilateral solution involving the U.S., South Korea, China and Russia -- an approach that excludes a U.S. military option. This is essentially the same approach that Japan has insisted on with regard to Iraq’s disarmament. Unfortunately, this approach of international cooperation is now overshadowed by the dominant doctrine of preemptive attack.

-- The Japan Times, March 19

Power and Peril

Growing unilateralism in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy has never been as sharply in evidence as in the ultimatum issued by President George Bush to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to leave his country or face imminent military attack.

A nation that has always prided itself as the custodian of democratic values is now displaying many of the less appealing characteristics of a 19th century imperial power. America’s pre-eminence in today’s uni-polar world has emboldened it to demonstrate its hyper-power status in conflict after conflict since Gulf War-I in 1991 -- the campaign against Serbia in Kosovo in 1999, against Afghanistan in 2001 and now Iraq.

… Given current political realities, a unilateralist foreign policy approach may not prove too costly for the U.S. in the short run. But in the long term, the arrogance of power, which has already begun to undermine the effectiveness of multilateral institutions, will erode U.S. credibility. This in turn will stoke anti-American sentiment, already widespread in several parts of the world, and encourage the very forces of extremism which the Bush administration valiantly seeks to counter.

-- The Times of India, March 20

National Catholic Reporter, March 28, 2003