Richard Perle (The Guardian, Friday March 21, 2003)
[Richard Perle is one of the architects of US unilateralism and the policy of war in Iraq. Here is his position ion stark relief. Several days after this article was published he resigned as chairman of the defence policy board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon]
Saddam Hussein's reign of terror is about to end. He will go quickly, but not alone: in a parting irony, he will take the UN down with him. Well, not the whole UN. The "good works" part will survive, the low-risk peacekeeping bureaucracies will remain, the chatterbox on the Hudson will continue to bleat. What will die is the fantasy of the UN as the foundation of a new world order. As we sift the debris, it will be important to preserve, the better to understand, the intellectual wreckage of the liberal conceit of safety through international law administered by international institutions.
As free Iraqis document the quarter-century nightmare of Saddam's rule, let us not forget who held that the moral authority of the international community was enshrined in a plea for more time for inspectors, and who marched against "regime change". In the spirit of postwar reconciliation that diplomats are always eager to engender, we must not reconcile the timid, blighted notion that world order requires us to recoil before rogue states that terrorise their own citizens and menace ours.
A few days ago, Shirley Williams argued on television against a coalition of the willing using force to liberate Iraq. Decent, thoughtful and high-minded, she must surely have been moved into opposition by an argument so convincing that it overpowered the obvious moral case for removing Saddam's regime. For Lady Williams (and many others), the thumb on the scale of judgment about this war is the idea that only the UN security council can legitimise the use of force. It matters not if troops are used only to enforce the UN's own demands. A willing coalition of liberal democracies isn't good enough. If any institution or coalition other than the UN security council uses force, even as a last resort, "anarchy", rather than international law, would prevail, destroying any hope for world order.
This is a dangerously wrong idea that leads inexorably to handing great moral and even existential politico-military decisions, to the likes of Syria, Cameroon, Angola, Russia, China and France. When challenged with the argument that if a policy is right with the approbation of the security council, how can it be wrong just because communist China or Russia or France or a gaggle of minor dictatorships withhold their assent, she fell back on the primacy of "order" versus "anarchy".
But is the security council capable of ensuring order and saving us from anarchy? History suggests not. The UN arose from the ashes of a war that the League of Nations was unable to avert. It was simply not up to confronting Italy in Abyssinia, much less - had it survived that debacle - to taking on Nazi Germany.
In the heady aftermath of the allied victory, the hope that security could be made collective was embodied in the UN security council - with abject results. During the cold war the security council was hopelessly paralysed. The Soviet empire was wrestled to the ground, and eastern Europe liberated, not by the UN, but by the mother of all coalitions, Nato. Apart from minor skirmishes and sporadic peacekeeping missions, the only case of the security council acting during the cold war was its use of force to halt the invasion of South Korea - and that was only possible because the Soviets were not in the chamber to veto it. It was a mistake they did not make again.
Facing Milosevic's multiple aggressions, the UN could not stop the Balkan wars or even protect its victims. It took a coalition of the willing to save Bosnia from extinction. And when the war was over, peace was made in Dayton, Ohio, not in the UN. The rescue of Muslims in Kosovo was not a UN action: their cause never gained security council approval. The United Kingdom, not the United Nations, saved the Falklands.
This new century now challenges the hopes for a new world order in new ways. We will not defeat or even contain fanatical terror unless we can carry the war to the territories from which it is launched. This will sometimes require that we use force against states that harbour terrorists, as we did in destroying the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The most dangerous of these states are those that also possess weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is one, but there are others. Whatever hope there is that they can be persuaded to withdraw support or sanctuary from terrorists rests on the certainty and effectiveness with which they are confronted. The chronic failure of the security council to enforce its own resolutions is unmistakable: it is simply not up to the task. We are left with coalitions of the willing. Far from disparaging them as a threat to a new world order, we should recognise that they are, by default, the best hope for that order, and the true alternative to the anarchy of the abject failure of the UN.
Richard Perle is chairman of the defence policy board, an advisory panel to the Pentagon.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in this week's Spectator.