Deterrence Key in Iraq, Experts Say

September 20, 2002

Two experts in international affairs in the University community called for a U.S. policy of containment and deterrence as the best and safest weapon against Iraq during a Sept. 17 discussion at the Law School. During "War and Iraq," hosted by the J.B. Moore Society of International Law, Law Professor John Norton Moore and U.Va. Vice Provost for International Affairs Bill Quandt analyzed the diplomatic and legal choices facing the the Bush administration as it decides how to act against Iraq.

Quandt and Moore
Prof. Bill Quandt, U.Va.'s Vice Provost for International Affairs, left, and Professor John Norton Moore agreed that deterrence was an effective policy on Iraq.

Quandt, who called himself a skeptic of the so-called "rush toward war" with Iraq, said the United States showed more caution and preparation when fighting the war on terror, even asking the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden before attacking Afghanistan.

"What perplexes me now is why a year later we're so eager to shift gears and start a war against Iraq," Quandt said. He added that the U.S. policy for the last decade — to contain Iraq — has succeeded, and Iraq is weaker now than it was during the Persian Gulf War. He cited a lack of evidence that Saddam Hussein has rebuilt or added to his nuclear or biochemical weapons programs as proof of the effectiveness of containment.

Quandt noted that there were several valid reasons for not attacking Iraq. Hussein didn't use weapons of mass destruction during the Gulf War because of the United States' effective use of deterrence: he knew if he did his regime would be destroyed. If he knows there will be a regime change this time, there is less incentive for not using the weapons on U.S. forces or against Israel. "The cost might actually be quite high," Quandt said.

With Shiites in the south and the Kurd minority in the north, ethnic splits in Iraq might also make for a shaky government following Hussein's regime, potentially also destabilizing the entire Middle East region if Shiites in Iraq unite with Shiites in Iran, Quandt said. Reconstructing Iraq as a democracy may be difficult and require a long-term military presence in Iraq that Americans may not support. War with Iraq could also broaden the base from which terrorists recruit. "We emerge as the symbol against which national sentiment — Islamic sentiment — turns," he said. The international community could shun U.S. actions and lose respect for U.S. diplomacy, he added.

"We should continue to rely on policies that have worked to date, namely containment and deterrence," Quandt said.

Moore, who is also director for the Center for National Security Law, outlined the legal issues involved in the Gulf War and for the potential action against Iraq today. He reviewed the slew of U.N. Security Council resolutions Iraq violated before, during, and after the Gulf conflict — so many that Moore joked he may have hired lawyers to help him try to violate everything. His crimes ranged from violating human rights and destroying Kuwaiti property unnecessarily to perpetrating ecocide by dumping oil into the Persian Gulf.

Moore said the United States could approach a new attack on Iraq from a variety of legal standpoints. The administration could seek support from the international community through a new U.N. resolution seeking action if Iraq does not comply with inspections. Or the administration could argue that it needs to act against Iraq to provide for an individual or collective defense (defined in article 51 of the U.N. charter); in this case, a country can protect itself when faced with an armed attack. To use this approach, the administration would have to prove Iraq was involved in a series of attacks in the United States such as in the anthrax attacks and the first World Trade Center bombing, or perhaps in suicide bombing attacks against Israel. Moore said that current evidence does not offer enough proof for this approach.

Moore said the most likely legal defense the United States could use is the right of anticipatory defense, for which the standard has to be extremely high. An attack must be eminent to use that defense; Moore cited Israel's Six-Day War as an effective use of anticipatory defense—Israel struck first when neighboring countries appeared to be preparing for an invasion.

In another vein, the administration could state that Iraqi noncompliance with U.N. resolutions regarding the Gulf War ceasefire reinvigorates the right of collective defense — an argument Moore called "iffy."

On the national level, the Sept. 11 resolution limits action to countries involved or who harbored organizations or persons involved in the attacks, a case the United States has not proved against Iraq. President Bush has already committed to seeking Congress' support for potential military action in Iraq, nullifying any argument that he did not seek approval before attacking.

Moore, reiterating Quandt's remarks, said deterrence was still the best defense against Iraq. "If you have adequate deterrence, effective deterrence, you will not have a war," he said.

He said the United States failed to use deterrence prior to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Once Hussein took Kuwait, deterrence levels had to be higher, and in the form of military action, because no one had stopped him before. Hussein also had limited information about the outside world and U.S. military power and thought the United States would not act. The Iraqi leader was deterred from using weapons of mass destruction, Moore said, because former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and former President Bush said they'd unleash nuclear weapons if he did.

Moore argued that the recent pressure on Hussein to let weapons inspectors back in had to be high because he had deflected them before with few consequences.

"As of [Bush's] speech to the Security Council, [the administration is] back on a track that has substantial power," Moore said. "I think there is and has been major debate within this administration." Moore added the caveat that the administration is privy to intelligence information that the public is not.

Quandt said he was less pleased with the administration's diplomacy, noting that there is a group within the administration thinking "fairly radical thoughts" about the Middle East. "There are people who see [attacking] Iraq as reshaping the Middle East in a very fundamental way," he said. If the U.S. uses the anticipatory defense, "It would change the nature of the game in the region."

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