Shane Greer: Our duty to keep the military option in play
Shane Greer is a student of international law and the Conservative Party candidate for Clydebank Waterfront in the 2007 local government elections. He has his own blog; Tory in the Wilderness.
The war in Iraq plunged us into uncertainty. This uncertainty manifests itself in many forms, there is however one particular manifestation that we Conservatives should be greatly concerned about, given the situation in Iran: the uncertainty regarding our ability to use our armed forces in the future. Clausewitz said that “war is nothing but the continuation of politics with the admixture of other means”, the point he was trying to get across is often misunderstood, however there is one inescapable truth that can be derived from the statement; politics and war (or rather the use of armed force) are inherently linked. The use of armed force is not a hermetically sealed concept; it cannot be used without effects being felt in the political realm. The effect of the use of force in Iraq is something that we are all too aware of, namely a loss of trust. Tony Blair’s ability to authorise future military action is severely hampered by the lack of trust felt by the British public (and indeed his own party) that the prime minister will, in the future, authorise that armed force only when necessary and legitimate.
That said we, as Conservatives, must be mindful of the corollary of one of our key beliefs. We believe in limited government, but with that comes the acknowledgment that that government, whilst ideally small, has certain inherent functions. It is axiomatic that one of those functions is the defence of the realm. Despite Tony Blair’s disregard for the political basis upon which the performance of this function lies, namely trust, and the damage his actions have caused, we must be firm in our advocacy for the potential need to use force against Iran if diplomatic measures fail. The recently departed Foreign Secretary Jack Straw may not believe that armed force has a role to play “in any event”, but we must be mindful that it is precisely because all eventualities and possibilities are not known that a military option should not be taken off the table prematurely. And that I believe is the point, our advocacy for the potential need to use armed force does not make us warmongers or unilateralists, it makes us pragmatists; it reflects the need to remain open to all possibilities when dealing with a situation with such potentially dramatic ramifications.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s remark that “military intervention might have to be considered” has set the ball rolling for Conservatives, and I believe it is incumbent upon us to pick it up and ensure that it remains in play.
That said however, Jack Straw would further have had us believe that, with regard to Iran, we cannot even use armed force in self-defence in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter; implying therefore that we need a Security Council resolution ‘authorising’ the use of force (something we all know to be unobtainable). We must however apply that same pragmatic resolve, as we should employ in advocating the use of force (if necessary), in rejecting such an absurd stance on the UK’s ability to defend itself, its values and its allies. Article 51 states that if an ‘armed attack occurs’ then a state may act in self-defence. In this regard it is important to remember that the concept of ‘armed attack’ has moved on significantly since the drafting of the Charter and accordingly the concept of self-defence contained therein has evolved, indeed continues to evolve. To a large extent the kind of armed attack we now envisage is a terrorist one. With regard to Iran our concern is not the possession by Iran of nuclear weapons per se, but rather the possibility that such weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists who could in turn use them against us. The question I would pose is this, if we cannot use armed force to defend against a nuclear attack, an action which by definition would need to be pre-emptive, then what can we defend against?
Labour, and in particular Tony Blair, may be reeling from the failure to obtain Security Council authorisation to use force against Iraq and accordingly may see such authorisation with regard to Iran as the Holy Grail that may return the trust they so foolishly lost, Conservatives however do not need to cling to Security Council authorisation as a potential lifeline; we are not in need of one. Moreover such authorisation is, if anything, no more than desirable. Article 51 provides a more than adequate legal basis upon which armed force may be used.
In sum we must be vocal in our support for the use of armed force if diplomatic efforts fail and moreover must be unshakable in our belief that such action would be legally justified as self-defence. It is important to remember what we are dealing with, a country who’s President expressed his desire to see an ally of the West “wiped off the map” and moreover has left us in no uncertainty as to his intentions with regard to the West itself:
"…if they do the slightest damage to the Iranian people, if they commit the slightest aggression, they will receive a historic slap."
If ever there was a situation where we should remind an enemy of our right to defend ourselves then it is surely this one. Although perhaps we would rather wait to see what the ‘historic slap’ might be?