Iraq is a rogue regime with weapons of mass destruction and possible ties to terrorists. Do we have to wait until the danger is imminent or until we are attacked to act against this gathering danger?
- We have no illusions about the behavior or intentions of the Iraqi government. The Iraqi leadership must cease its internal repression, end its threats to its neighbors, stop any support for terrorism, abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and destroy all such existing weapons. The United States has rightly focused the world's attention on the need for more effective measures to ensure that Iraq meets its obligation to disarm and to end its repression.
- Based on the facts known to us, we find it difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq, lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. To expand dramatically traditional limits on just cause and permit the use of force to preempt an incipient threat or an attack that is merely possible is to sanction preventive war, which would be a troubling moral and legal precedent. What if other countries, such as India and Pakistan, adopted such a strategy? Would the world be safer and more stable?
- The way the Bush administration is dealing with another rogue regime - North Korea, which is a much greater and more imminent threat given its nascent nuclear capabilities - suggests that there are non-military alternatives available to deal with such challenges.
- Clearly, Iraq must comply fully with Security Council resolutions. While the Iraqi government has not cooperated fully with this current inspections regime, the inspections seem to be having an impact and deserve more time to achieve their mission. Even with numerous obstacles, the inspections in the early and mid 1990s managed to discover and destroy far more weapons of mass destruction than all the bombing during the Gulf War.
- While even the most intrusive inspections cannot find all prohibited weapons, they can do much to keep the Iraqi government from developing and maintaining weapons programs of any significance, especially nuclear weapons programs.
- Does any material breach justify war? If so, what would be the objective of force - to rectify the breach or to overthrow the government? Consistent with international law, a distinction should be made between efforts to change unacceptable behavior of a government and efforts to end that government's existence by military force.
- While by no means perfect, strengthening broad international support for clear, effective and legitimate ways to continue to contain and deter aggressive Iraqi actions and threats offer a better means of addressing Iraq's failure to comply with UN resolutions than a major war whose legitimacy and consequences are in doubt.
- In the case of Iraq, decisions concerning possible war require compliance with U.S. constitutional imperatives, broad consensus within our nation, and some form of international sanction. That is why the action by Congress and the UN Security Council are important. As the Holy See has indicated, if recourse to force were deemed necessary, this should take place within the framework of the United Nations after considering the consequences for Iraqi civilians, and regional and global stability.
- If the United States is truly upholding the credibility of the UN, it can scarcely ignore the UN's own decisions about how to enforce its own resolutions.
- The success of any effort to rebuild Iraq after a conflict and the success of the wider war on terrorism will require the support of allies, the Arab states, and others. Unilateral military action by the United States will only aggravate anti-American sentiments around the world and play into the hands of the Iraqi regime and terrorists.
- Not taking military action could have its own negative consequences, but war could have unpredictable consequences not only for Iraq but also for peace and stability elsewhere in the Middle East. As CIA Director George Tenet has acknowledged (letter to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FLA), 10-17-02), the use of force might provoke the very kind of attacks it is intended to prevent. Moreover, war could bring incalculable harm to a civilian population that has suffered so much already from war, repression, and a debilitating embargo, and war could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region. War against Iraq could also detract from the responsibility to help build a just and stable order in Afghanistan and could undermine broader efforts to stop terrorism.
- Even if, as in Afghanistan, the government was quickly overthrown, it would likely be necessary to maintain a heavy U.S. troop presence in the region for a long time, which would not only require substantial resources and risks, but could also provide a new cause for terrorists to exploit.
Based on the information now available, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has raised serious questions and concerns about the moral legitimacy of preemptive use of military force against Iraq. The bishops have said that it is difficult to justify the resort to war against Iraq lacking clear and adequate evidence of an imminent attack of a grave nature. We recognize and repudiate the actions and threats of the Iraqi government, but seek alternative means to secure compliance with U.N. resolutions. Congress and the President should continue to work with other nations to find the will and the ways to step back from the brink of war with Iraq and work to fashion an effective global response to Iraq's serious threats that recognizes legitimate self defense and conforms to traditional moral limits on the use of military force.
For more information: Gerard Powers, USCCB, 202-541-3160 (p); 202-541-3339