- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

The Bush administration, which isn't faring too well in garnering international support in its Iraq campaign, could learn a lesson from the Reagan administration's handling of the Grenada crisis.
In the fall of 1983, the Reagan administration was faced with justifying military intervention in Grenada. Grenada, of course, presented a far less immediate threat than Iraq does today. Yet eerily similar questions arose. On Oct. 23, 1983, the five-member nations of the OECS, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States, urgently requested the U.S. to intervene militarily to stop the growing threat. Two weeks earlier, Maurice Bishop, the radical leftist leader of Grenada, the Caribbean Island furthest south in the Windward chain, had been deposed in a coup launched by an even more radical and violent group styled as the "People's Revolutionary Army." They had acted with the backing and support of the Cuban advisers stationed in Grenada, and the largely unprotected small eastern Caribbean states thought they would be easy prey.
President Reagan's cabinet decided to intervene. A legal defense had to be fashioned, one that would both mirror the U.S. government's thinking and justify its action to the world.
Then U..S Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, appearing before the U.N. Security Council emphasized that:
"It was, indeed, a unique combination of circumstances prevailing in Grenada that led the United States to respond positively to the OECS request that we assist them in their decision to undertake collective action to secure peace and stability in the Caribbean region. …
"[In the context of] these very particular, very unusual, perhaps unique circumstances, [the U.S. action] was fully compatible with relevant international law and practice."
Unpersuaded, on Oct. 28, the U.N. Security Council voted 11 nations in favor to 1 against the United States (and three abstentions) to condemn the U.S. and OECS intervention as a "flagrant violation of international law."
Still, if the U.S. explanation did not succeed in gaining any further support, it nevertheless served a purpose. It made clear the U.S. government was not operating on the basis of ideology or any new American doctrine of intervention, but responding to particular facts. In the perspective of history, few doubt that the U.S. intervention in Grenada was successful in stemming a growing threat to the American continent and that eventually it proved instrumental in the winning of the Cold War.
That same rationale should apply today. Even if it moves no one else to change their mind, it will nevertheless have had the salutary effect of enabling us to be clear. By contrast, today our justification for war is muddled. Lurking in the background is an ideological lure: regime change. But such talk is neither serious nor justified. If it were, Iran would be next on the administration's list, but no one in the administration has any more stomach for going after Iran than the Reagan administration did for going after Nicaragua following Grenada.
Of course, regime change as an "an evolutionary goal" as Richard Haas, director of the State Department's Policy Planning Bureau, has put it, is perfectly sensible. The difficulty arises when the aspirational becomes confused with coerced change.
We must begin with the basics: the proposition that Saddam Hussein waged a "war of aggression", as defined by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal Charter (Article 6(a)): "a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances [of peaceful relations]". This same definition serves as the basis for the U.N. Charter's prohibition in Article 2:4 on the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. Applying this standard, the 1991 invasion of Kuwait was a war of aggression. Saddam Hussein was saved from being killed, or captured and charged as a major war criminal, only because he acquiesced to U.N. Security Council resolution 687 calling for full disarmament of Iraq's WMD and chemical and biological weapons programs as the price of his survival. Thus his fate was left suspended, pending compliance.
No one doubts that over the last 12 years Saddam Hussein has failed to comply with Security Council resolution 687, as reaffirmed in Security Council resolution 1441 of November 2002. Otherwise, one has to believe the reports of defectors, and of the UNSCOM inspectors, were all those of madmen. The only genuine remaining question is over how much more time to give him to comply.
But in the context of the unique circumstances faced by a post-September 11, 2001, world, that question answers itself. Waiting for iron-clad proof that Saddam is arming al Qaeda and other terrorists bent on harming the United States might be fatal. Some find solace that he only supports some terrorists, like Hamas not al Qaeda. This ignores the common aims of global jihad. The possibility of a "dirty 'A' " bomb being acquired and stealthily brought into the U.S. by such groups, coupled with our vulnerability to biological and chemical attack, makes waiting folly.
Articles 51 and 52 of the U.N. Charter proclaim the "inherent" right of individual and collective self-defense. All things being equal, it is of course preferable to have the approval of the U.N. Security Council; but this should not be confused with a legal requirement. As in the case of Grenada, the United States has to do what it feels compelled to do. And, as then, the long-term benefits of action seem destined to outweigh the risks of inaction.

Allan Gerson, an international lawyer, was counsel to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in the Reagan administration and the author of "The Price of Terror: One bomb. One plane. 270 lives: The History-Making Struggle for Justice After Pan Am 103.")

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