Released letter on Iraq

 This is the first chance I’ve had to comment on the letter from Blair’s Private Secretary Matthew Rycroft to the FCO, which was reported on earlier this week.  It seems to confirm the thesis I advance in my BJPIR article (and here), which is that the Prime Minister’s main objective was to square the planned US invasion with his vision of the UN Security Council at the heart of an ‘international community’.  So, the letter acknowledges that

the only way to keep the US on the UN route was for there to be a clear understanding that if Blix reported an Iraqi breach of the of the first resolution then Saddam would not have a second chance.  In other words, if for some reason (such as a French or Russian veto) there were no second resolution agreed in those circumstances, we and the US would take action.

As I explain in the article, this is why Sir Jeremy Greenstock was so keen to negotiate ‘automaticity’ in to resolution 1441.  This drew on the experience of legitimising the 1998 action against Iraq and the 1999 action in Kosovo.  Both of these military actions went ahead without what one might call ‘explicit authorisation’.  This is because other members of the Security Council had concerns about the use of force in these cases and would probably have vetoed a resolution clearly mandating force.   My article cites Jack Straw’s understanding that the US and UK could go ahead on Iraq ‘a la Kosovo’.  This was contradicted by Foreign Office lawyers who stuck firm to the view that neither Resolution 1441, nor those resolution before it, authorised the use of force for the purpose of regime change.   

In my opinion, Blair made a political error by persuading Bush to delay the invasion after Blix reported in January. Blair of course wanted time to get the second resolution. But having tried and then failed Blair clearly demonstrated that there wasn’t Security Council support for military action. By going to war on this basis in March, rather than the supposed automaticity of 1441 in January, he strengthened the impression that the war was illegal.

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About Jason Ralph

Jason Ralph, Professor of International Relations, University of Leeds
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