This Invasion Will Be Illegal

Julian Borger et al., writing 3/12/03 in The Guardian, on the illegality of US/British intervention in Iraq without an enabling Security Council resolution:

Going to war without a new UN resolution backing military action would be illegal despite claims to the contrary made by Britain and the US. This is the near-unanimous view of international lawyers, and was supported this week by the UN secretary general. "If the US and others were to go outside the security council and take unilateral action they would not be in conformity with the [UN] charter," Kofi Annan said.

Some international lawyers say war is justified - with or without any further resolution - because Saddam has not honoured the UN-backed ceasefire terms after the 1991 Gulf war.

However, the widespread view in Whitehall is that a new, strongly-worded UN resolution was needed before a war could be regarded as being backed by international law.

This view is believed to be shared by Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, who yesterday had a meeting with Mr Blair and Mr Hoon.

Mr Blair may be hoping that he can persuade MPs that a draft resolution backed by a majority on the security council would amount to a "yes" vote, irrespective of any veto by one or more of the permanent members. While this might strengthen the prime minister's position politically, and even morally, it will make no difference to the legality or legitimacy of a war.

Legally, any claim by Mr Blair that a French veto would be "unreasonable" is irrelevant. And with a veto there will be no new resolution.

Resolution 1441, by which ministers have laid so much store, speaks only of "serious consequences" if Saddam Hussein does not disarm. The phrase falls far short of an instruction to UN member states to use "all necessary means" - the traditional UN term for armed intervention.