A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The legality of wars

I'm more than a bit mystified by all this stuff about Iraq having needed a second UN resolution.

Is it really the case that we are signed up to an international set of rules that give China and Russia a security council veto over whether the UK government can decide to go to war, except in the obvious cases like self-defence against an attack?

If so, the rules are nuts. China is one of the few countries in the world that actually practices colonialism/imperialism, with its occupation and exploitation of Tibet. This is quite aside from their support for the Burmese junta and the genocidal Sudanese regime. Do we really think the Chinese should have had the right of veto over the USA and UK's actions against their mate Saddam?

And if the law was so clear cut, how come the US government, in a system with a far more powerful judiciary, seem to have had the same legal advice allowing them to go ahead as Goldsmith gave Blair?

Paxman is just pointing out on Newsnight that far from there being a question of the legality or not of Iraq, it's not even a justiciable question in most countries i.e. it is not a question that courts have any authority over.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeh, isn't the rule of law so unfair.

All of the Foreign Office's 30-strong legal department thought it was illegal and you, Alistair Campbell and David Aronovitch reckon they were wrong.

I tell you what. Let's re-run Nurembourg. Those poor bastards got a bum deal. Himmler was really a fun guy who bent the rules a bit but wasn't really wrong. He just got poor legal advice. And he lost.

11:40 pm, January 26, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

I thought Godwin's Law usually kicked in a bit later than the first comment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

12:35 am, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's going to be an enormous cover up. You have to ask in who's interest it is to get to the bottom of this mess.

For anyone considering direct action, you could do worse that considering George Monbiot's offer in The Guardian. He has set up a fund to reward the person who affects a citizen's arrest on Tony Blair. A good idea, but he's aiming at the wrong person.

Gordon Brown is still the Prime Minister and is equally culpable for what happened and is happening in Iraq. Affecting a citizen's arrest on Gordon Brown would send a more powerful message.

The article gives clear instructions on how this can be done in a lawful manner.

5:53 am, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Fred said...

After WW2, we (and a lot of other countries) agreed that wars were bad, and so sighed legally binding contracts (international agreements) that we wouldn't overtly wage war. Simple enough concept?

Why the China bashing? And what relevance has it in the legality of the UK invading Iraq? Comparing Tibet to Iraq isnt quite fair. A better analogy to Tibet is the Irish/British (ex)conflict. The US and UK are just as bad, so criticising Chinas record is a bit two faced. We've supported (and still support) various nut job regimes. Have you forgotten who sold WMD technology to Saddam?

The US had very similar legal discussions. Well documented on the web.

It is a question for the courts because we have signed international treaties that said we wouldn't go to war, and we did. We gave the courts the authority.

Oh, and you cant call Godwin's law on Anon @ 11:40, he was on topic. We are talking war crimes, and the legal code directly as a result of WW2, and the last time someone got seriously busted for invading another country was WW2. And the logic of your argument directly implies that the Nuremberg trials should not have been allowed as the courts don't have any authority.

7:56 am, January 27, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Surely the war criminals in Iraq have already been tried in a Nuremburg style process? It resulted in the hanging of Saddam Hussein and Chemical Ali.

Fred,my point about China is that I would be happy for the requirement for a second UN resolution if it wasn't for the fact that the bad guys in global politics have a security council veto and use this to stop the very kind of actions against fascist regimes that the UN - initially the branding for the allied powers in WW2 - was set up to lead. The problem with the UN is that it should have been set up on the basis of only liberal democracies having voting rights, but unfortunately ended up with a veto system designed to appease Stalin in the 1940s.

9:11 am, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Neil said...

What do you mean, Chinese occupation of Tibet? Tibet is part of China, how can a country "occupy" its own territory?

9:18 am, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some who see the UN as a way for third world and fascist countries to castigate the US and Europe on issues like human rights, racism, climate change.
Are you one of them?
Your point that there should be some "democracy" hurdle over which countries have to pass before they can vote is an interesting one, but I fear it is too late for all that.
What do you think would be the diplomatic impact of telling China it cannot vote at the UN because it is not democratic and does not respect human rights?
And given that it does have a vote should we then ignore it when it is used in a way we think inconvenient?

12:52 pm, January 27, 2010

Blogger Dave said...

The Americans probably felt more able to act with impunity because they're not signed up to the Hague Convention, so any breaches of international law by them aren't actionable ion the same way as they would be for UK politicians and military personnel.

As for a system which gives the Chinese a veto, I'd prefer to look at is as a system which says any intervention not for self-defence purposes should be internalised and subject to international consideration. To sidestep the UN to sidestep the former also removes any sense of the latter in international law, and I know what I'd consider the greater problem all told.

1:12 pm, January 27, 2010

Blogger tory boys never grow up said...

Wilmhurst's evidence yesterday made it quite clear that the UK had not accepted the UN's definition of what is "aggression" with regard to international law - and neither should we.

Perhaps before accepting what the UN says is legal or otherwise in taking military action, we should look at the UN's record in permitting "aggresive" action in order to permit abuses of human rights:

Rwanda (failed)
Srebenica (failed)
Kososvo (failed)
Darfur (failed)
Saddams attacks on the Kurds (including the use of WMDs and compliance with the Kuwait ceasefire)(failed)
Saddams attacks on the Marsh Arabs
Getting Saddam to account for his WMDs (and yes they did exist at some point in time - ask the Kurds)(failed)
Israel's attacks on the Palestinians, UN refugees camps (failed)
Indonesia's attacks on E Timor
Sierra Leone (failed)

And I'm sure there are plenty more. Perhaps it might be more enlightening to identify where the UN has been sucessful in preventing aggression.

Perhaps the true internationalists need should be paying a little more attention as to why the UN has clearly failed in its role and what needs to be done so that it can start to function.

And what is also very interesting is how selective those raising the issue of legality/war crimes are in their targets - legality only seems to be an issue when the US or its allies are being aggresive. Unfortunately the US does not have such a monopoly

1:23 pm, January 27, 2010

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

It's interesting to see where China has used it's veto (only used 6 times):

in 1972 to veto the admission of Bangladesh (which it considered a rebellious province of its ally Pakistan), in 1973 (in conjunction with the Soviet Union) to veto a resolution on the ceasefire in the Yom Kippur War, in 1997 to veto ceasefire observers to Guatemala (which accepted Taiwan as legitimate),[9] in 1999 to veto an extension of observers to the Republic of Macedonia (same reason), in 2007 (in conjunction with Russia) to veto criticizing Myanmar on its human rights record, and in 2008 (with Russia) to veto sanctions against Zimbabwe.

1:39 pm, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"and three are former senior ministers who resigned and thus effectively ended their parliamentary career paths"

Says it all really doesn't it?

Looks like being a bog-standard back bencher just isn't good enough for these super-stars!

3:57 pm, January 27, 2010

Blogger _______ said...

Blair will deserve all the crap he gets.

4:43 pm, January 27, 2010

Blogger Neil80 said...

As far as I'm aware Saddam and Chemical Ali were tried by an Iraqi court, not a 'nuremburg style process'. I certainly couldn't see an international court in this day and age passing down death sentances.

That aside Luke, the fact is that wars bring down governments, the Tsar, the Kaiser, even Blair saw their power-base undermined by the effects of going to war.

No matter how much you try to argue the rights, wrongs or legalities of it it has detracted from what Labour should have done - that is improve public services, reduce poverty and reverse the tide of increasing inequality but, this was lost and the upshot is we face a return of the Tories who will no doubt gleefully tear up whatever it is that has been achieved in the past few years.

It's hard not to see that pattern with LBJ and the great society reforms which got cast-aside in favour of a pursuit of Vietnam.

11:50 pm, January 27, 2010

Anonymous Clapton Ali said...

Luke, according to Godwin's Law, you lost the argument:

"Godwin's Law itself can be abused, as a distraction, diversion or even censorship, that fallaciously miscasts an opponent's argument as hyperbole, especially if the comparisons made by the argument are actually appropriate. A 2005 Reason magazine article argued that Godwin's Law is often misused to ridicule even valid comparisons."

5:22 am, January 28, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

As faulty as international law is, it is there for a reason. Pity the illegal state of Israel doesn't realise that

I'm afraid that Blair will come out of this very badly as he clearly wanted regime change but knew he couldn't win a majority for it.

This really is the final nail in Labour's electoral coffin next time - I'm surprised you don';t recognise the need to win back the voters who deserted labour last time because of the war. I stick with them despite everything - but there has still not been enough of a change in direction to make me want to do so again.

They should admit the truth about their motives.

11:05 am, January 28, 2010

Blogger tory boys never grow up said...


The State of Israel is not illegal - it was supported by a vote of the UN. Some of its activities including the occupation of the West Bank may be illegal or otehrwise depending on your view. But, very few sensible people don't recognise the right of Israel to exist, or thay mutual recognition of the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis isn't a necessary condition for a peaceful settlement.

1:19 pm, January 28, 2010

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the world coming to when Johnny foreigner tries to stop us invading countries because we don't like the cut of their jib.

If only we still had an Empire and everyone thought like us.

That is, in essence, your point isn't it Luke?

9:11 pm, January 28, 2010

Blogger Merseymike said...

Israel, as currently constituted outside its original boundaries,is in occupation and is thus not legal in that sense.

I would have hoped for a two state solution but now I have my doubts as to its feasibility....

10:17 pm, January 28, 2010

Anonymous Rich said...

The war wasn't legal Luke and that is very clear. We will never know the true extent of this lie but we all know Blair and his government went to war illegally.

The saddest thing is how little respect Blair showed for the families that have been affected by his decision. I think Blair has got his legacy and it will haunt him for the rest of his life. He is a murderous liar and has shown no remorse at all.

If the decision for all conflicts were made like this can you imagine the mess the world would be in. The British armed forces are not there to protect the interests of this country and not the interests of America or one politician. If Iraq had attacked another country or been directly linked to an attack there would have been a legal basis for a war without a UN resolution.

Without another UN resolution an invasion or strike against Iraq was deemed illegal. THIS IS THE HARD TRUTH THAT YOU WILL HAVE TO ACCEPT.

How this will affect Labours chances in the general election is very unclear.

12:52 pm, January 31, 2010

Blogger Tom said...

"And if the law was so clear cut, how come the US government, in a system with a far more powerful judiciary, seem to have had the same legal advice allowing them to go ahead as Goldsmith gave Blair?"

Aside from signing or leaving treaties, they can't pick the right law for them.

So they pick the right advisers.

In Blair's case, he picked someone who was prepared to change it when asked, for purposes of convenience.

Governments are what most lawyers would describe as 'bad clients'.

6:30 pm, February 01, 2010


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