The Case Against War | The Nation


The Case Against War

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Portions of this article originally appeared on the
Foreign Policy in Focus website (www.fpif.org), where Zunes serves as Middle East editor.

2. Containment has failed.

About the Author

Stephen Zunes
Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San...

Also by the Author

The effort by the Bush Administration and Congress to portray the
planned invasion of Iraq as simply an effort to enforce United Nations
Security Council resolutions reaches a new low in double

While some countries, in part due to humanitarian concerns, are circumventing economic sanctions against Iraq, the military embargo appears to be holding solid. It was only as a result of the import of technology and raw materials from Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the United States that Iraq was able to develop its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs in the 1980s.

Iraq's armed forces are barely one-third their pre-Gulf War strength. Even though Iraq has not been required to reduce its conventional forces, the destruction of its weapons and the country's economic collapse have led to a substantial reduction in men under arms. Iraq's navy is now virtually nonexistent, and its air force is just a fraction of what it was before the war. Military spending by Iraq has been estimated at barely one-tenth of what it was in the 1980s. The Bush Administration has been unable to explain why today, when Saddam has only a tiny percentage of his once-formidable military capability, Iraq is now considered such a threat that it is necessary to invade the country and replace its leader--the same leader Washington quietly supported during the peak of Iraq's military capability.

The International Atomic Energy Agency declared in 1998 that Iraq's nuclear program had been completely dismantled. The UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) estimated then that at least 95 percent of Iraq's chemical weapons program had been similarly accounted for and destroyed. Iraq's potential to develop biological weapons is a much bigger question mark, since such a program is much easier to hide. However, UNSCOM noted in 1998 that virtually all of Iraq's offensive missiles and other delivery systems had been accounted for and rendered inoperable. Rebuilding an offensive military capability utilizing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) virtually from scratch would be extraordinarily difficult under the current international embargo.

3. Deterrence will not work against a Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam Hussein has demonstrated repeatedly that he cares first and foremost about his own survival. He presumably recognizes that any attempt to use WMDs against the United States or any of its allies would inevitably lead to his own destruction. This is why he did not use them during the Gulf War, even when attacked by the largest coalition of international forces against a single nation ever assembled and subjected to the heaviest bombing in world history. By contrast, prior to the Gulf War, Saddam was quite willing to utilize his arsenal of chemical weapons against Iranian forces because he knew the revolutionary Islamist regime was isolated internationally, and he was similarly willing to use them against Kurdish civilians because he knew they could not fight back. In the event of a US invasion, however, seeing his overthrow as imminent and with nothing to lose, this logic of self-preservation would no longer be operative. Instead, a US invasion--rather than eliminate the prospect of Iraq using its WMDs--would in fact dramatically increase the likelihood of his utilizing weapons of mass destruction should he actually have any at his disposal.

Saddam Hussein's leadership style has always been that of direct control; his distrust of subordinates (bordering on paranoia) is one of the ways he has been able to hold on to power. It is extremely unlikely that he would go to the risk and expense of developing weapons of mass destruction only to pass them on to some group of terrorists, particularly radical Islamists who could easily turn on him. If he does have such weapons at his disposal, they would be for use at his discretion alone. By contrast, in the chaos of a US invasion and its aftermath, the chances of such weapons being smuggled out of the country into the hands of terrorists would greatly increase. Currently, any Iraqi WMDs that may exist are under the control of a highly centralized regime more interested in deterring a US attack than provoking one.

  • Share
  • Decrease text size Increase text size

Before commenting, please read our Community Guidelines.