The imminent danger of war with Iraq as this issue of AD2000 goes to press raises important and difficult moral questions, made even more complex by current political divisions, which make it hard to separate moral from merely political considerations.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the best guide on such issues, emphasises that all people and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war (2308); but "as long as the danger of war persists and there is no international authority with the necessary competence and power, governments cannot be denied the right to lawful self-defence, once all peace efforts have failed."
In relation to Iraq, there is no doubt that the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, has threatened his neighbours - waging war on at least two of them, Iran and Kuwait - tyrannised his people, and thumbed his nose at attempts by the UN, over many years, to force him to abandon his chemical and biological warfare arsenals.
His persistent secret attempts to develop these weapons, which cause indiscriminate and widespread suffering, and his proven willingness to use them, make him a pariah in the international community. For years, Iraq has been under a UN-sanctioned oil embargo, because of its refusal to comply with UN resolutions demanding that the regime disarm.
A question which must be asked is whether the security of the United States is sufficiently threatened by Iraq that it is entitled to act in self-defence against Saddam? After the September 11 bombings, attacks which justify the use of military force must be interpreted more widely than direct invasion.
The UN-sanctioned attack on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was almost universally accepted as morally justified, although it failed to capture much of the leadership of al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist organisation responsible for September 11, as well as earlier bombings, including those on US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
Terrorist cells connected with al Qaeda perpetrated a terrorist attack in Moscow last year, where hundreds of people were held hostage, and organised the Bali bombing last October, where nearly 200 people died.
While Saddam Hussein's threatening conduct may be sufficient to justify a US strike to disarm him, it would be prudent for the Bush Administration to act only after securing the agreement of the UN Security Council, which has assumed responsibility for disarming the Iraqi dictator.
- Peter Westmore is Publisher of 'AD2000'.