The Rules for Preemptive War
Chris Patten is the commissioner of external affairs
of the European Commission. He spoke from his London home on the Thames
at Barnes with NPQ editor Nathan Gardels.
NPQ | Europeans seem most uncomfortable
with the new "Bush Doctrine" of preemption or "anticipatory
defense"-attacking other states in order to stop terrorism or the
development of mass destruction weapons. What are the issues here as you
CHRIS PATTEN | The idea that one should be able to intervene in
another sovereign state is not a new one. Three years ago (UN Secretary-General)
Kofi Annan made a memorable speech condoning intervention by the international
community on human rights grounds when a country was treating is own citizens
appallingly. And, of course, that was the justification for military intervention
There are two other propositions that have been advanced more recently.
First, that intervention should be justified where a particularly unpleasant
regime is developing weapons of mass destruction. Many countries have
mass destruction weapons, but we clearly have no intention of intervening
against them because they do not threaten anyone. So the context of the
threat, and in particular the intent of the regime, make all the difference.
The third proposition that has been argued, in particular by Henry Kissinger,
is that the system of international law-which really began with the Treaty
of Westphalia-that justified military action only in response to an attack
by another state, but not preemptively, is no longer relevant where a
state is using or harboring non-state actors like Al Qaeda to attack another
If we are looking for principles to guide our international action, what
should we be looking at? Clearly, in the case of humanitarian intervention,
the scale of the evil being perpetrated in a country-whether for ethnic
cleansing or political reasons-has to be sufficiently large to justify
intervention. That was the case in Kosovo.
If you are concerned about a country developing or having mass destruction
weapons, then you have to have convincing evidence to demonstrate it is
a real danger to the rest of the world because of that.
If you are talking about terrorism, then you have to be able to demonstrate
some relationship between the country and the terrorist organization,
and be able to assert the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction
will be placed in their hands. All this is relevant to the present debate
on Iraq because if we are trying to assert the principle of preemptive
defense, then the evidence of a clear and present danger must be presented.
The debate in Europe in the coming months will largely concern the evidence
against Saddam Hussein. In order to mobilize public opinion as broadly
as possible, and in order to assemble as broad a coalition as possible,
it is also important to demonstrate that it would be more dangerous not
to take action than to take military action.
In Europe there is also the belief that a new UN trigger ought to be in
place for any new action. At the moment the UN has resolutions on the
table with which Saddam Hussein has not complied. If we argue for a new
resolution as an ultimatum to Saddam, then we need to be prepared to use
force if he simply ignores it. What the Security Council absolutely should
not do is pass some resolution that can then be picked apart by ifs and
buts and caveats.
As (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair has said, the UN should be a way
of dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein, not a way of avoiding it.
NPQ | You don't think the case for military action has been sufficiently
made by the United States?
PATTEN | Arguing for the presentation of evidence is not an attempt,
at least on my part or other European politicians, to delay or avoid a
decision. It goes to the heart of something we are very concerned about:
how to mobilize the broadest possible support for whatever action needs
to be taken. When one looks back 10 years to the Gulf crisis, what was
so important was the unity of the international community. That is why
NPQ | Well, European leaders look at the same evidence in different
ways, apparently. Blair sees cause for military preemption. (German Chancellor
Gerhard) Schroeder won't support military action even if the UN Security
Council does and says openly that Iraq is not a threat. Does that mean
Europe won't be able to speak with one voice on this?
PATTEN | The European Union is 15 individual states. Foreign policy
goes right to the heart of what it means to be a sovereign state. The
wonder is that we manage to develop common positions on as many issues
as we do, for example, on the International Criminal Court. That position
has shaped the way we discussed the issue with the US. But it is more
difficult to have a common position on Iraq other than that the Security
Council resolutions should be implemented.
The debate has not gone past that yet. Indeed, it would be amazing if
the issue of war against Iraq weren't vigorously debated in the midst
of a German election campaign when it is being so openly contested even
within the Bush administration.
NPQ | Do you see the Bush administration's preoccupation with Iraq
as a diversion from the war on terror or, as Kissinger says, "a precondition"?
It is a precondition, he says, because not to act against Iraq in the
face of Saddam's defiance and continued stockpiling of weapons would signal
a lack of will to terrorists.
PATTEN | There is no lack of will. Indeed, one of the positive
results of the atrocities of last year is that, with American leadership,
we've all done a great deal to combat terrorism, not just with the allied
military campaign and subsequent restructuring in Afghanistan but also
through a range of European-US cooperation on intelligence and other matters.
It is a legitimate concern that nothing that happens in Iraq should be
allowed to undermine this cooperation.
Finally, is the concern about Iraq that Saddam might use mass destruction
weapons or might hand them to terrorists to use? I think the former is
the stronger argument because, so far, no convincing evidence has been
presented to associate Saddam Hussein with terrorist organizations.
In Europe at least, the argument by Brent Scowcroft is more compelling-that
it would be exceptionally foolish for Saddam to give any weapons of mass
destruction to a terrorist organization because if it uses them they will
have his return address. The consequences would come down on his head.
I'm unhappy about interweaving the arguments about international terrorism
and the arguments for dealing with Saddam Hussein.
NPQ | In the US these days there is a great deal of discussion about
the growing rift with Europe. Francis Fukuyama argues that the nation-state
in Europe has been increasingly a rule-based bureaucracy dissociated from
military power and believes all problems can be solved by negotiation.
Political scientist Robert Kagan similarly argues that Europeans believe
they are living "at the end of history," where the world can
be governed by law and international agreements, while Americans think
they are still living "in history," where force is necessary
to create order in a Hobbesian world. Further, if Europe wants to be an
historical player, it has to develop its own military might and stop hiding
behind the American shield while dissing it. What do you make of these
PATTEN | Kagan's arguments are sinuous, clever and dangerously
wrong. Happily, it appears to be the case that most of the public in the
US and Europe don't take his view.
I was struck by a recent poll by the Chicago Tribune of European and American
attitudes on international issues which showed that, on both sides of
the Atlantic, there is still an appreciation of the importance of international
cooperation and that we still share most of the same ambitions and anxieties.
Whatever may happen in the think tanks in Europe or the US, the public
apparently remains sensible.
Why do people assume that someone like Kagan is right and that the way
Americans have done things for the past 50 years is suddenly wrong? The
Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan exemplified an American leadership
that combined military power and containment on one hand and on the other
the establishment of a global rule book, a system of global governance
that supported markets and democracy and a way to find common solutions
to common problems.
All that was spectacularly successful. It destroyed totalitarianism and
secured the prosperity and advancement of many countries, including much
of Europe. That combination of military power and international rule-based
cooperation is in my view still the right way to proceed. It would be
disastrous if American leadership would lose the extraordinary skill that
played so important a role in building the world we live in only to rely
on the rule of force as its main instrument of power.
NPQ | Surely, Americans are more willing to use force in international
affairs than the British or the German public. That much is clear.
PATTEN | At the moment there are European forces in 10 peacekeeping
operations around the world. During the fighting in Kosovo, Tony Blair
was endlessly lobbying the Americans to put in ground forces. I spent
my early years in politics under a prime minister (Margaret Thatcher)
who sent the British navy to war in the Falklands against the wishes of
then-Secretary of State Alexander Haig.
So, it is wrong to suggest that somehow Europeans are culturally wimpish
while Americans are singularly martially courageous. That is a fiction.
What is true is that American power far exceeds that of anyone else. My
own view is that, in order to be taken more seriously, in order to be
a more credible partner and in some case to be a counterweight, Europe
has to invest more in its own security.
It is imperative that Europe does on security what we have done with the
Kyoto treaty and the International Criminal Court, namely to pull ourselves
together and get on with our own responsibilities in the world. Then we
can be a counterweight as well as a counterpart to the US.
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