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Justice and the Gulf War

Justice and the Gulf War
Michael Rustin

This article is concerned with the Gulf War in relation to the
theory of just and unjust wars. The morality of the war was of
course strongly contested, and it seems valuable now that its
violence (although not its consequences in suffering) lie in the
past to reflect on the justifications that were and might be made
for it within the major philosophical discourse developed in this
domain. I rely heavily in this discussion on the work of Michael
Walzer – both his major book, Just and Unjust Wars (first
published in 1977) and his new preface to it which discusses the
Gulf War itself.

Michael Walzer in Just and Unjust Wars outlined what he
called a ‘legalist paradigm’ within which the justice or injustice
of war might be detennined. The main presuppositions of this
paradigm are as follows:

1. There exists an international society of independent states.

2. This international society has a law that establishes the rights
of its members – above all, the rights of territorial integrity
and political sovereignty.

3. Any use of force or imminent threat of force by one state
against the territorial integrity of another constitutes aggression and is a criminal act.

4. Aggression justifies two kinds of violent response: a war of
self-defence by the victim and a war of law-enforcement by
the victim and any other member of international society.

5. Nothing but aggression can justify war.

6. Once the aggressor state has been militarily repulsed, it can
also be punished.

There are additional clauses added by Walzer, in regard to
extreme atrocity and mistreatment, to justify intervention on
grounds other than to repel aggression. But, whilst atrocities by
the Iraqi invaders of Kuwait were frequently invoked as justifications of intervention, they were not its main consideration, and
discussion will therefore be focused on the presumed rights of
states.

The Gulf War and just wars:

Walzer’s view of the Gulf War
In his chapter for a new edition of Just and Unjust Wars, Walzer
has given a qualified defence of the Gulf War in tenns of this
‘legalist’ paradigm. The Gulf War is found defensible within this
framework because
(a) Iraq did invade Kuwait in August 1990, against the wishes of
both its citizens and, almost certainly, its population.

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

(b) Though use of massive force by coalition seemed like a
separate act of war, in fact it could be more correctly described as a delayed response to the August invasion by Iraq.

Walzer makes the relevant point that if the invasion had been
effectively resisted by Kuwaiti forces, and the alliance had
been in a position to come to the aid of a defensive action still
being fought, its defensive or restitutive intent would have
been more transparent, but not significantly different in kind.

To argue otherwise would imply that invasions of territory
are justified if they meet with overwhelming military success, hardly an appealing proposition.

(c) The declared aims of the coalition attack were to ‘liberate’

Kuwait, and to damage Iraq’s military capacity such as to
prevent further such attacks.

(d) The coalition did not go on to overthrow Saddam Hussein’ s
regime, or to occupy Iraq, except somewhat reluctantly (it
seemed) to provide some guarantees of safety for the Kurds
after their unsuccessful uprising and their mass flight from
reprisals into the mountains in the north of the country.

The legalist paradigm as legitimating framework
Many have been surprised by these apparent limits to the war
aims of the coalition, and by the fact that, despite the fierce
rhetorical denunciations of Saddam Hussein and his regime as
brutal, fascistic, guilty of war crimes, etc., the anned forces did
not proceed to occupy Baghdad and overthrow the regime. Some
have even felt that this restraint undennined rather than strengthened the justice, such as it was, of the war, given the consequences (to the Kurds in particular) that have followed from the
war’s actual end. This outcome seemed to indicate a considerable cynicism by the victorious coalition, which had on the one
hand denounced Saddam’s regime for its immorality and brutality, but then preferred keeping it in power over the other options
that seemed available to it.

Some writers, such as Peter Gowan (in a provocative and
interesting article in New Left Review),l have criticised the legalistic justifications given for Western and United Nations action
against Iraq (in Gowan’s case the intervention by sanction:s and
blockade as well as direct military force). The argument has been
that these justifications have been hypocritical, masking quite
different motivations of imperial and military interest, and are in
any case invalid, since a liberal moral framework which defends
the rights of existing states legitimises, in this case at least, an
unjust configuration of state boundaries and jurisdictions which
is mainly a product and aspect of imperialist power.

One needs to distinguish between the moral defensibility or
3

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otherwise of such justifications by reference to the legalist paradigm, and their practical effectivity in the situation. One might,
that is, dissent from these justifications, yet acknowledge that
they were significant to the participants in the coalition, and to
the overwhelming UN majority which demanded the withdrawal
of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. It seems to me that the ‘legalist
paradigm’ of ‘just war’ was in fact important as a basis for
agreements and legitimations in this war, and cannot merely be
brushed aside as a tissue of pretences.

The following propositions seem to be consistent with this
view.

(a) Iraqwould not have been attacked had it not invaded Kuwait.

(b) Iraq would not have been attacked had it withdrawn or
declared a clear intention to withdraw before the ultimatum
in January 1990 had expired.

There is a dispute about what offers were made by Iraq
and refused by the coalition at the last moment. Some have
argued that the Iraqis in fact offered to withdraw, and that a
negotiated solution ending in withdrawal (following the Soviet initiative, for example) was available had the Allies
wished it. This seems, however, to have been a negotiation in
which neither side was willing to make the concessions
necessary for agreement, in part perhaps because of radically
divergent conceptions of what both the immediate and the
longer-term outcomes of military action might be. One side
wanted unconditional withdrawal and retraction of territorial
claims over Kuwait, the other side some occluded and prolonged process of negotiation leaving Iraq for the time being
in possession of Kuwait. But the central point is that Iraq had
occupied the territory of another sovereign state, and had
refused demands to end its occupation.

(c) The coalition (and UN support for its major aims) was
established on the basis of the ‘legalist’ paradigm. It was
consistent with this paradigm that the aims of intervention
were restricted to the restoration of the status ante quo, and
did not extend to the occupation of Iraq or the overthrow of
its government. The United States and its coalition partners
took care to operate within the terms of their original agreement, whatever other reasons they may have had for their
actions.

Legitimations, reasons and causes
It is of course one thing to note that decisions leading to the Gulf
War were consistent with the’ legalistic paradigm’ governing the
territorial rights of states and their just defence, and another to
assess the importance of this frame of reference in what took
place. A telling distinction can be made between the ‘rules’ that
legitimated these actions, and the causes and underlying reasons
for them.

It is obvious, for example, that the explanation of this military action is not simply that it was consistent with this paradigm, or entailed by it as a punishment is held by some to be
entailed by a crime. Other counter-factual conditions seem to be
at least as relevant to the causation of this military intervention as
the legal justifications given for it. If a number of these other
conditions had not been met, it seems unlikely that juridical and
normative considerations themselves would have sufficed to
place the mainly-American military force in the Saudi Arabian
desert and set it into immensely destructive action. If Kuwait had
not been an oil-rich state; if Iraq had not been perceived as a
military and political threat to both Western, conservative Arab,
and Israeli interests in the Middle East; if there were not the
prospect of political gains to be won in domestic politics, in

4

particular in the United States;2 if there were not a power vacuum
which gave the United States the opportunity to demonstrate
their unrivalled power following the collapse of the Soviet system in Eastern Europe and, shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union
itself – all these considerations were potent ones in the decisions
which led to the prosecution of the war.

The feebleness of juridical considerations alone in influencing action by major powers can be demonstrated by contrast with
other international situations where similar norms of territorial
integrity and national rights are pertinent, but where great power
interests fail to reinforce or indeed undermine normative claims.

The most notorious comparable instance is the fate of the West
Bank, illegally occupied by Israel over many years, but attracting no effective counter-action by the international community
or the United Nations. Not even action short of military ultimatum – such as economic sanctions or an arms embargo on Israel,
which a debt-burdened nation such as Israel would find it hard to
resist – was undertaken. This analogy is complicated by the
origins of the occupation of the West Bank in a previous war, but

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

to no great extent. The injustice of the occupation is widely
recognised, and is also the subject of United Nations resolutions
– which, in this case, however, lack any form of enforcement.

Another parallel example of this inconsistency in the application
of criteria of international law is the military occupation and
oppression of East Timor by Indonesia.

If these are examples of hypothetical ‘just wars’ that nevertheless do not take place, for reasons of political interest, there
are on the other hand many cases of invasions or occupations that
have been effected without such legal justifications, where it has
suited major powers to undertake them. The invasions of Grenada and Panama and covert military action by the United States
against the Nicaraguan Government are well-known instances.

The doctrine of the Just War can thus be shown by these
contrasts to have functioned in the Gulf crisis as a licence or
legitimating device, giving support to an intervention whose
motives and causes were far from being merely the fact of a
major infringement of international law. International law here
was deployed as a threshold or boundary-condition which, once
violated by the Iraqi invasion, legitimised whatever level of
violence was deemed necessary by the coalition to secure its
objectives. One sees similar kinds of ‘moral thresholds’ operating in civil law enforcement, when police feel themselves justified in deploying exceptional levels of force where a serious
infringement by an offender is deemed to have removed the
normal restraints in the use of violence (e.g. in a seige, or against
hostage-takers, or once violence has been used against them).

The relevance of ‘just war’ considerations was felt by many
to be largely undermined by their opportunistic application in a
case such as the Gulf War, when they are largely ignored in other
instances where they are equally apposite. If the criteria of ‘just
war’ had weight, they needed to be applied in a universalist way,
and where they were not, they could be given little weight. One
version 9f this argument was made by Saddam Hussein, in his
attempt to link in negotiation the occupation of Kuwait with the
occupation of the West Bank. Whilst this is properly a telling
analogy, and has especial force for Arab peoples, it was perceived by many as merely cynical when proposed as a basis of
negotiation by Iraq. But, whilst Saddam Hussein’s case won
little support in the West, there were many who were almost as
disenchanted by the arguments of their own governments, whom
they perceived as using legal justifications for a war whose
dominant motives were of another, more self-serving, kind.

Popular legitimations
Peter Gowan makes much in his New Left Review article of other
kinds of justifications which were mobilised during the Gulf
War, such as the criminalisation of Saddam Hussein not merely
for the invasion of Kuwait, but on grounds of the repressive and
brutal character of his regime, specific atrocities perpetrated in
Kuwait, etc. There is no doubt that substantial efforts were made
to mobilise popular feeling and support for the war in these
terms. It seems also that this propaganda to some degree persuaded its own authors, notably President Bush, into adopting
the state of mind of the self-righteous crusader against evil. But a
significant distinction can be made between, on the one hand, the
strategies of propaganda and mass mobilisation pursued during
the build-up to the war and during the war itself (including the
use of television, the perverse fascination exercised by hightechnology destructiveness, etc.), and, on the other hand, the
arguments’ grounds and reasons which were principally effective in the political and diplomatic arena. These continued to be
shaped more by the legalist paradigm of inter-state relations and
their appropriate conduct than by extraneous concerns over

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

‘human rights’ abuses within or outside Iraq. It was only after the
war had ended that, in the operation launched to give some
protection and aid to the Kurdish refugees, the agenda of ‘human
rights’ had much specific effect, independently of the dominant
agenda of defence of the rights of sovereign states, notably
Kuwait. This was not, as we can see, very effective, and was
constrained precisely by the fact that the Kurds are not accorded
the rights of a nation with its own claim to territory. At this point
Iraq became again the beneficiary of the respect and recognition
given to legitimate states, regardless of the sufferings inflicted
on part of its population. Whatever the human rights rhetoric
opportunistic ally deployed by the Allies during the crisis, their
substantive interest in these issues was small. Whether Iraq was
or was not a neo-fascist state, or was relatively progressive in at
least certain respects, as Peter Gowan has argued, was of little
relevance to the actual course of the crisis and the motivations of
nearly all of its participants. What concerned the alliance during
the crisis was not its domestic character, but the military power,
and its potential as a regional power.

The proportionality of means and ends
A very important consideration within the framework of Just
War theory is that of proportionality. The norms of Just War
theory prescribe that violence or sanctions used to repel aggression or other wrong be the minimum necessary to achieve the
intended effect; that civilians and bystanders be protected from
harm as far as possible; and that peaceful outcomes be sought
first and wherever possible. This for many provides the crux of
the issue of support for or opposition to the war, both at the time
and considered retrospectively. The question in these terms is,
were the means used to end Iraqi occupation of Kuwait appropriate or necessary to achieve what many agreed was a justified
end? The scale of death, injury and suffering caused by the war,
and continuing long after its conclusion, make this a very serious
question indeed.

.

Of course it is true that there were six months of economic
and political sanctions, and attempted negotiations, between
August 1989 when the invasion took place, and January 1990.

Some writers who are no supporters of American foreign policy
in normal circumstances, for example Fred Halliday, argued that
this attempt to achieve Iraqi withdrawal by measures short of
war had been pursued for as long as could reasonably be expected. Its failure, it was argued, had demonstrated that no
course of action short of war would achieve ending the occupa-

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tion of Kuwait. Others, including the majority of American
Democrats in Congress and many on the political left and centre
in Europe, argued that sanctions might well have been effective
eventually, and that the consequences of war, for both Iraq and
Kuwait, would be so dire as to justify persevering with measures
short of war for considerably longer.

One inconsistency in the position of advocates of the ultimatum and war was obvious and damaging to their position. This
was that when sanctions were introduced by the United Nations
it was always inconceivable that they could be effective in less
than a twelve or even twenty-four month period. If it had been
appropriate to invoke sanctions in the first place, as the initial
response to the occupation of Kuwait, then it must be correct to
continue with them for a much longer period, since this was
implicit and necessary to their original purpose.

In practice, it seems that the earlier ‘sanctions’ policy had
been overthrown, against the opposition of significant figures
such as J ames Baker within the US Administration as well as
many outside it, in November 1989. A decision after the congressional elections in the US to greatly increase the commit-

tween conflicting interests. Of course, since this line of action
was not pursued, it is difficult to say whether any of these hopes
were capable of realisation.

Powerful humanitarian arguments are separate from this
consequentialist political case for avoiding military action, except of a defensive or counteractive kind, should that prove
necessary. These arguments were amply justified by the largescale suffering which was brought about by the war: to Kuwaitis,
Kuwait residents expelled from the country, Iraqi soldiers and
civilians, and most notably to Kurds. If the freeing of Kuwait
could have been accomplished without this huge scale of catastrophe, it seems hard to argue that this would not have been
preferable, and that some delay and even risk might not justifiably have been tolerated in order to secure this less evil outcome.

What is clear from this history, and from numerous other precedents (e.g. the supplying and funding by many members of the
coalition of the earlier Iraq-Iran war) is that states in the pursuit
of their interests are entirely cynical and unconcerned about
human loss, unless strong pressures are brought to bear on them
to behave otherwise. In the pursuit of their interests in external
affairs, nation-states seem to function with a
peculiar immunity and indifference to ethical
and human considerations, as though these
matters are simply irrelevant to policy.

A real difficulty in the case against the
coalition’s military action is the great uncertainty that any less violent alternative could
have achieved Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait. Supporters of the war argue, from the
fact that Saddam Hussein’s regime has survived military disaster, that it would easily
have survived sanctions (which, in any case,
still largely remain in force). But the issues
are complicated. War imposes solidarity on
peoples and their governments, and licenses
terror to maintain subjection. It is possible that sanctions and
ostracism would have led much more effectively than war to an
erosion of support for the regime, and to much greater difficulty
for it in maintaining its control through demands for unity
against the external threat. In war, political processes become
suspended, and what was needed to achieve change was a substantial political evolution inside Iraq.

One must also confront the possibility that sanctions would
not have been effective, over a two- or three-year period, and that
the occupation and annexation of Kuwait would have continued.

Would that outcome have been worse than what in fact has
happened? Does the possibility of this failure of ‘intermediate’

measures justify the early recourse to extreme violence that took
place? Political decisions depend on what is known and conjectured at the time they are made. It seems that the uncertainties of
a prolonged campaign of sanctions and ostracism should have
been borne, and any subsequent decisions made OIily in the light
of later knowledge of events. If one holds in any case that a
negotiated outcome would have been preferable, and would have
provided a better model for future international relations, and
takes into account the suffering that might have been avoided,
this caution and restraint in the use of force during 1990 would
seem to have been warranted.

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ment of armed forces to the Gulf made offensive military action
both feasible and almost certainly intended. The ultimatum to
Iraq to withdraw by January or face military action followed
from this. 3 It is possible to see this as a change of policy, or as the
enactment of a policy outcome envisaged from the start, with
sanctions intended merely as a preparatory process to get the
more reluctant members of the coalition to agree to action. The
intensity and self-doubt about this development in the United
States, with only a narrow majority of 52-48 supporting the key
vote in the Senate, suggests that a significant change of course
had occurred, reflecting the victory of one tendency (always
committed to war) over another inside the Administration.

Some of those who were committed to sanctions, but who
opposed offensive military action, thought that the outcome of
s~ctions, if they succeeded, would be different from the outcome of war. They envisaged that they would lead to negotiations which would involve Israel and its occupation of Arab
territories, would leave Iraq as a significant power, would
strengthen the UN and diplomatic means of resolving problems,
and would establish a more pluralist, multi-national mode of
international relations (including the EC and USSR), rather than
simply imposing an American military hegemony. The argument for the relative restraint of arms, oil and economic sanctions was a political as well as a humanitarian one, concerned to
achieve some rebalancing of political forces in the Middle East
and some greater attention to legitimate Arab claims. On this
view, it might have been possible to end the unjust occupation of
Kuwait, which was a serious infringement of international law ,
and in doing so strengthen the legal and diplomatic basis for
resolving such disputes and negotiating some compromise be-

6

Rejections of the legalist paradigm
A different line of argument, advanced for example by Peter
Gowan, rejected the legalist paradigm of just and unjust wars
altogether. It argued that the paradigm considers only the interests of states and their rulers, and not the interests of peoples and

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

I

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subjects. Judgements should be concerned with larger issues of
oppression, exploitation, and inequality, rather than with the
perpetuation of arrangements which at best simply protect states
– however arbitrary their boundaries, unjust their origins or
inequitable their function. On grounds of historical justice, and
by criteria of the progressiveness or otherwise of the regimes and
social forces concerned, the entire Western and conservative
Arab attempt to repel the invaders of Kuwait, whether by sanctions, boycott or violence, was opposed by some critics (and of
course by large numbers of peoples, though few governments) in
the Arab world.

The argument from state legality is also found wanting from
the opposite quarter: by supporters of the Gulf War who regret
that it was terminated before Baghdad was occupied and the
Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown. (This
position is referred to with some sympathy by Theodore Draper
in the NYRB articles already cited). Why should the rights of
states take such precedence in these matters that intervention in
the case of territorial aggression must be limited to restoring the
status quo and removing the power to instigate further aggres-

sion? Why should other benefits to citizens – democratic values,
or the wider interests of progress – not be taken into account in
deciding what interventions are justified? Even if there should
properly be a ‘threshold’ or boundary of immunity which protects states from outside intervention so long as their actions
remain lawful, why should they not be legitimately subject to a
broader spectrum of interventions once they transgress this
boundary? In an analogous way, individual citizens remain immune from judicial interference whilst they avoid breaking the
law, but once found guilty, states find it justifiable to subject
them to various forms of correction and improvement. Since the
ethics of international relations, following Kant’s Perpetual
Peace, are based on an analogy between states and individuals,
the parallel is relevant.

In regard to these broader principles, decisions made at the
end of the Second World War, to replace the fascist and Nazi
regimes of the Axis powers with democratic constitutions, provide a relevant parallel. Whilst in the case of Nazi Germany this
, could be justified by considerations of mass atrocity and genocide, in the case of other nations it is less obvious. The motivation, in any case, whatever its formal justification, was a political
one, the victorious powers seeking to impose their own preferred
form of political and economic organisation (different of course
in the West and East of Europe) on the conquered or liberated
territories.

One can reasonably argue that such considerations can properly be brought into play once interventions have been triggered
by infringements of international law , even though these should
not be their primary object. Considerations of minimising suffering are particularly relevant in such a situation. The strongest

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992

argument for having prosecuted the war to the stage of effecting
a political change in Iraq lies not only in the subsequent fate of
the Kurds, but also of the Iraqi population who remain victims of
tyranny and of the continuing sanctions against the Ba’athist
regime. The decision not to overthrow the regime, legitimised by
Just War theory, seems to have been as overdetermined by
ulterior considerations as the original decision to use military
force. What might have been unavoidably placed on the agenda
by the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the issue of democracy
in the region (and in Kuwait itself). At all events, the intervention
which did take place seems to have brought almost the worst of
all possible worlds – massive suffering in Iraq, devastation in
Kuwait, absence of political change for the better anywhere in
the region, and a military triumph without any responsibility
having to be taken for its consequences. (The one significant
exception to the pattern of conservative restoration appears to be
a firmer US position towards Israel, reflected in the still-continuing talks with the Palestinians.)
When judgement short of decisions to make war are made of
the behaviour and legitimacy of states, we do and should take
such broader consequential considerations of
welfare, self-determination and progress into
account. We may justifiably support liberation movements within colonial states, or the
demand for universal and equal political
rights in a nation such as South Africa. We
may support claims for national independence by subordinated nationalities (Palestinians, Baltic states, Scots). We may demand
more equitable economic relations between
states (debt crisis, terms of trade, international aid). We may support inclusion of
poorer states within federations from which
they would benefit (expansion of EC). We
will often find ourselves opposing governments within our own state on many such issues. The range of
positions taken by citizens on the relations between their state
and others properly extend far beyond concerns for territorial
integrity and the protection of legitimate states. For citizens in
general, there is no good reason for giving the rights of states
such an absolute precedence over all other considerations.

Such arguments do not depend on taking any particular view
of the Iraqi regime per se, on whether one sees it as ultimately
‘progressive’ (a kind of deformed socialism) within the dismal
field of Middle Eastern feudalism and American imperialism, or
rather as a military fascist response to the region’s problems.

Are the rights of states as such justified?

However, it is difficult to decide how far such broader considerations should simply overrule and nullify any idea of the legitimate rights of states as such. Is there anything to be said for
normative claims which aim to regulate the relations of sovereign states, without regard to their political and social complexion so long as their behaviour stops short of major atrocities?

We may be granted that the ‘legalist paradigm’ in fact chiefly
defends the rights of the states, and thus, in the first instance,
their ruling elites. Whatever benefit they may bring to subjects,
we can see states’ rights as a mutual insurance treaty by rulers
(like the agreements of diplomatists on immunity and protection
which follow from them). The question is, do citizens and
subjects get anything out of this? Can the rulers of states be said
to give any benefit to their subjects or citizens, which might
justify the aura of sanctity or of exclusive property over their
domain, which Just War theory gives them?

7

* * *
Another way of putting this is to ask whether the monopoly
of violence within a territory (Weber’s definition of a state, more
or less) gives benefit to the subjects of the state, as well as to the
ruling class or elite which in practice exercises it? How large a
benefit is peace, or the absence of war, compared with other
benefits?

The advantages of peace, or the absence of war
The answer to this question is that this benefit is very large
indeed; in fact it is the main benefit that states bring to their
subjects and citizens. This was Thomas Hobbes’s justification
for the existence of states, which stand between individuals and
unrestrained violence.

Just War theory presupposes that interference by external
force to change the boundaries of states, or their internal regimes, will normally be harmful rather than beneficial to citizens, and should normally therefore be opposed. This normative
framework gives a large implicit priority to the value of peace
itself, over all other values. However, the costs of war and
insecurity are such that this priority seems to me to be most often
justified. This is to accept the legitimacy of the claim made on
behalf of rulers: that when they establish a monopoly of force
over a territory they achieve some good, some return to the
citizens for their subjection, even though they also plainly secure
their own interests as rulers and may well be chiefly motivated
by this sectional interest of their own.

Interference with such rulers where they are unjust, according to this argument, should normally take less drastic forms
than the pursuit of war against them. Political agitation, economic pressure, even indirect support for insurgency, are less
drastic forms than armed invasion, since these do not threaten
the unlimited destruction of war and the breakdown of physical
security.

An important consideration in this argument is that, when
states do go to war with one another, their own reasons for so
doing are unlikely to be much concerned with social betterment
in their own or other states. States, of their nature, are powers~eking entities, and those who rule them are selected, as a rule,
for their preoccupation with and effectiveness at manipulating
power. Wars, that is, are made by Ministries of War and Foreign
Offices, not by aid agencies, churches, social movements or
even political parties, even though such groups are liable to be
heavily involved with political matters in many countries. Hanna
Segal has argued that this preoccupation with power and territorial interest signifies the distinctively ‘paranoid-schizoid’ nature
of political and military organisation, which selects for and
reinforces these qualities in its actors, in contrast with the more
‘depressive’ orientation of some other sectors of sociallife.4
So we should be cautious about inviting states to take action
against other states in pursuit of ‘human rights’ of one kind or

8

another. They are more likely to take advantage of such convenient legitimations in pursuit of their own aims of state-building
than to be in reality motivated by them. The indifference of the
‘democratic’ side of the Second W orId War to considerations of
human well-being (Holocaust, terror bombing, nuclear weapons,
partition of Europe) is evidence of this. Even though, in idealised
conditions, a case can be made for interventions, on all sorts of
reasonable political and ethical grounds, in the internal affairs of
states, the reality is that such interventions will most often be
corrupted by the interests of the states involved in them, and
suborned to their own state-aggrandising interests. And it is
usually states and their apparatuses, rather than citizens and
citizens’ movements, that have the largest part in such interventions, especially if they extend to armed force.

Liberal, socialist and states-rights paradigms
so, whilst in principle the goals prescribed will be very different
within liberal human-rights paradigms, socialist world-views,
and state-dominated perspectives, it is not necessarily the case
that such differences would lead either liberals or socialists to
support wars against states in furtherance of their political ends
or values. Measures short of war – economic sanctions, support
for mass resistance, political contact and agitation – will usually
involve lower human costs, and be less likely to be compromised
by the interests of states themselves, than military action. Even
support for guerrilla struggle (often favoured by radicals of the
Left and Right because it avoids some of the problems of external military intervention) has turned out in the recent past to
inflict large and long-lasting damage, and to set even victorious
social movements in a militarist and authoritarian mode which
itself has lasting ill-effects. Atrocity (for example, in the case of
Kampuchea/Cambodia) is a different and extreme case, correctly singled out as an exception.

Consistent opposition to war’

The principal reason, therefore, for giving some moral weight to
the ‘legalist paradigm’ of inter-state relations is that it does serve
to regulate and prevent the great evil of war, and to some degree
to protect peace between nations or sovereign entities as a major
benefit to men and women. It is the main point and value of the
existence of sovereign states that, when they function effectively, they serve at least this purpose. To this extent, respecting
the integrity of state boundaries normally protects the interests of
their citizens. If one effect of their existence is to protect the
peace and security of their citizens, rulers are not merely parasitic or oppressive.

This underlying view of the unacceptable human costs of
war was an important background consideration for many opponents of the Gulf War, amply vindicated it seems to me by the

Radical Philosophy 61, Summer 1992
I
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consequences we have seen. Among many evils in this region,
the invasion of Kuwait and the counter-invasion of Iraq, were
among the worst. This view of the dire consequences of war as
such were grounds for preferring a more long-drawn-out and
uncertain programme of sanctions against Iraq to the war that
took place – though this is not to argue that war itself might not
in any circumstances be the lesser evil. Whereas there is no
difference, in terms of legality, between successful resistance to
invasion and a later intervention to expel the invaders, there may
be significant differences in terms of the damage and suffering
caused. That is grounds for not regarding ‘Desert Storm’ as
merely an extension and intensification of the original weak
Kuwaiti resistance.

Thus, for those reflecting on the morality and justifiability of
the Gulf War, some consideration of the benefits of peace, and
the costs of war itself, must be fundamental. It is because states
and their customary internal monopoly of violence do of their
essence provide a modicum of security to their citizens that the
normative system designed to defend them – Just War theoryjustifies a measure of respect and attention. Individuals are
protected by norms which regulate the relations of the states to
which they belong, just as they are by the originary liberal
version of this morality: the doctrine of individual rights to life
and liberty at least. I hope I have made it clear, however, that

taking the arguments for just war seriously need not lead to a
defence of the Gulf War. ‘Just’ in one specific sense it was, but
morally justified, in the broader context, of its motivations and
consequences, it was not.

Notes
1

Peter Gowan, ‘The Gulf War, Iraq and Western Liberalism’,
New Left Review, 187, November-December 1991.

2

Though, in the event, John Major declined to take political
advantage of the Gulf War victory by calling an early election.

3

A most useful review of the development of the crisis is given by
Theodore Draper in a two-part article, ‘The Gulf War Reconsidered’, New York Review ofBooks, Vol.XXXIX, 1-2, 16 January
1992, and ‘The True History of the Gulf War’, ibid., 3, 30
January 1992.

4

The concepts of the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions
are central to the psychoanalytic writings of Melanie Klein.

Hanna Segal is a prominent Kleinian training analyst, and a
leading member of the group Psychoanalysts Against Nuclear
War. W. R. Bion in his Experiences in Groups (London:

Routledge(favistock, 1961) discusses the characteristic psychic
structures of polar kinds of social organisation, such as church
and anny.

ib;~

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~4

~42!!

LEFT CURVE no. 16
A NEW WORLD ORDER? by Guy Rundle; REAGANISM: CRUSADING FOR NOSTALGIA by John O’Kane;
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LIGHT ARCANE by Jack Hirschman; SAVING KUWAIT by John Ross; WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL REPORT
ON THE GULF WAR; THREE POETS FOR THE NEW DECADE by Jack Hirschman; DIVERSILOQUIA
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