MARCH 2003


The loss of human lives will be huge if nuclear weapons are deployed

In the wake of repeated threats by US President George W. Bush against President Saddam Hussein of Iraq, there’s concern around the world over the likelihood of war between the two nations.

Though Bush hasn’t categorically stated that he’ll invade Iraq, he hasn’t denied such a possibility either and US forces (estimated to be around 150,000 personnel) massed in the neighbourhood lend credence to this possibility. And the longer they remain there, the more difficult it
will be politically for Bush to withdraw.

Experts are of the view that a strike is inevitable and have predicted that it will take place in March.

The timing of such a strike is the issue that’s being debated, and will be the subject of talks between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bush at Camp David. Britain has so far been a steadfast ally of the US on this issue even though France and Germany have opposed it. However, it seems that several member states in the EU are also inclined to support the US.

It’s possible that the US was hoping Saddam would relent in the face of their repeated threats and disclose his military resources, which have been the contentious issue.

But this seems unlikely and the alternative is to decide on the most suitable moment to strike after taking into account the decision of the United Nations Security Council, which is acting on the report of its UN weapons inspectors.

Moreover, it’s possible that the Security Council will find Iraq guilty of withholding information because the report of the UN inspectors was very critical, accusing Baghdad of possessing substantial stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The issue is whether the Security Council’s decision will sanction punitive action, which in this case could amount to countenancing a US invasion.

Iraq is also suspected of having links with al-Qaeda, which would in turn link it to 9/11 and further justify US action. These considerations, if valid, can justify putting Iraq in the dock and sanction US action against it.

But the reality is whether the world can afford war or even the risk of war with all its terrible implications, in terms of nuclear weapons and the concomitant loss of human lives on a massive scale.

It’s estimated that the war could last up to three months followed by prolonged US occupation. But the question is whether it would be a routine military episode such as the Gulf War or invasion of Afghanistan, or a threat to humanity itself if nuclear weapons are used.

In the light of these implications, one can scarcely consider such an invasion a routine operation and it’s hoped that wiser counsel will prevail. Asian and African countries are viewing the prospect of war with alarm, given the realisation that nations on these continents could be the immediate victims in the event nuclear weapons are used.

In Israel, the Likud Party of Ariel Sharon has staged a strong comeback, which is attributed to its tough stance against Palestine. It celebrated the event with an attack against the Palestinians in Hebron. This was a studied act of provocation, which ignored overtures for peace extended to the new Likud government by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and it does not augur well for the future.

The situation in North Korea, which had seemed hopeful until recently, has deteriorated. Pyongyang has refused to participate in multilateral talks on nuclear issues that were proposed by Washington.

Instead, North Korea has insisted on the conclusion of the nonaggression pact between the US and itself as the only acceptable course of action. Meanwhile, there are reports of heightened activity north of the 38th parallel and this signals a setback in view of the recent meetings between Pyongyang, Seoul and other countries seeking a peaceful settlement on the issue of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, in South Asia a ceasefire between the Nepali government and Maoist guerrillas has been announced after confrontations between the parties had posed a serious threat to the country. The Maoist leader has called on his followers to honour the truce but whether this will happen only time will tell.

Other events that caused much trepidation were the attacks against the Embassy of Thailand in Cambodia and the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok by nationals of the two countries. The trouble appears to have begun in Cambodia and the US Department of State has been critical of the government for allowing the riots to spiral out of control.

BY  The late Deshamanya  Dr. Vernon L. B. Mendis