by Philip S. Powell, 13 July 2016
Seven years of waiting and the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK’s involvement in the 2003 US-led military intervention in Iraq has finally been published. The report provides information and answers to several issues pertaining to the second Iraq War, including the decision to engage in military action, how the war was conducted and the aftermath reconstruction of Iraq.
The report has confirmed that the decision to take military action in 2003 was not the last resort after all other options had been exhausted and Saddam’s regime did not pose an imminent threat to the UK. It also makes clear that the intelligence about the regime’s capabilities were not reliable and was ‘tailored’ to justify a predetermined course of action. The report now raises further questions about who should be held accountable for starting an illegal war.
These are complex issues and there are no simple answers. While the news media has focused on Tony Blair, and when and why he made the decision to start a war with Iraq, and rightly so, I also believe that the Chilcot Report provides an occasion to step back and think about war from a broader perspective.
Christians have sharply disagreed about the place and purpose of war. Broadly speaking, the Pacifist believe ‘no military engagement can ever be justified because it contradicts the very core essence of the Christian gospel.’ Others who support Just War argue that under certain circumstances and if certain preconditions are met, belligerent action can be justified as a necessary means for doing justice in the world. Like it or not, Christians will remain divided on this issue. My own view is that because of the tragic nature of the human condition, in international relations, sometimes waging a war is the only way to rectify an intolerable injustice. War is after all doing politics using the means of violence and as a Christian I support military action if it can be justified based on the Just War principles. The reason for this is that governments have a God-mandated responsibility to bear the sword of punishment both domestically and internationally.
The Just War principles or doctrine (jus bellum iustum) is a set criteria, if they are met, a war can be deemed morally justified. The criteria are split into two groups: ‘the right to go to war’ (jus ad bellum) and ‘right conduct in war’ (jus in bello). To briefly summarise some of the main points of the Just War doctrine: War has to be the last resort after all other non-violent options have been exhausted. It must be authorised and waged by a legitimate authority. The use of force must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and must be proportional to the end-goals of the war. There should be a reasonable chance of success. It can only be fought with "right" intentions and the ultimate goal must be to re-establish a more just peace. Recently there have been calls for the inclusion of a third criteria—jus post bellum—dealing with the morality of post-war settlement and reconstruction.
So what about the 2003 invasion of Iraq to overthrow the Saddam regime?
In 2003, on 15th February on a cold Saturday I marched in London along with a million others protesting against the unjustified invasion of Iraq. The Chilcot Report has only further convinced me that the 2003 US-UK led Iraq war was unjust because it fundamentally failed to meet the standards of the Just War principles.
One of the tragedies and long-term consequences to consider in the light of the Chilcot Report is that because of the way this war was launched and conducted, it has seriously undermined and broken trust between citizens and government. The whole decision-making process was centralised, lies and propaganda were used to manipulate public opinion, and opposition to the war was dismissed as irrelevant. When this happens citizens feel disempowered and are forced to abdicate their God-given responsibility to hold the actions of government to account. The unjustified and illegal military intervention in Iraq has made it more difficult in the future for governments to get public support and justify necessary military action in situations that might demand such intervention. The current situation in Syria is one example.
One of the lessons from the Chilcot Report is the need for greater transparency in government decision-making when it involves the death of soldiers and civilians on a large scale. The concern of citizens have to be taken into account before decisions are made to intervene militarily in humanitarian crises. And despite the monumental failures of the Iraq war, the Chilcot Report has proved that, the Just War principles remain the most realistic and reliable basis for making and evaluating decisions about war and peace.