Statements on the War on Iraq

Statement of the Pugwash Executive Committee: The War on Iraq

20 March 2003

Despite the lack of a mandate from the UN Security Council, the US and the UK have decided to proceed independently to attack Iraq. The Pugwash Executive Committee deeply regrets this act of war and is very much concerned with its likely consequences.

Our first concern is with the human suffering that the war will cause. The civilian population of Iraq will be directly exposed to the consequences of the war and will likely suffer the most. The destruction of the civilian infrastructure could well be devastating and require expensive rebuilding over many years.

Our second concern is with the weakening role of international institutions in general and the United Nations in particular. If some Permanent Members of the Security Council decide that, despite rules already giving them a right to veto, the opinion of the majority of the Security Council need not be respected, then the role and the authority of the Security Council and of the UN itself becomes dubious and uncertain. The present disagreement inside the UNSC, moreover, induces pessimism about the concrete possibilities of an improvement in the architecture of international institutions. This may well foreshadow a higher occurrence of unilateral initiatives in the future, with uncertain consequences.

The war on Iraq has been presented to the Security Council as necessary for disarming Iraq and enforcing Resolution 1441. But the inspectors’ work has shown its effectiveness in finding weapons and in prompting their destruction. More time was needed to assess the net result of the inspectors’ work, as Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei repeated often. An Iraq subject to a possibly much larger number of inspectors would have been a country unable to keep, produce and stock weapons of mass destruction.

The war on Iraq has also been presented to US and international public opinion as a preventive war aimed at stopping terrorism, particularly with weapons of mass destruction. The attack on Iraq has thus been presented as an issue of US national security, with the implication that an international consensus on the war itself was useful but ultimately not necessary. In reality, there is a general consensus that only fragmentary evidence exists of a connection between international terrorism and the Iraqi regime. So the war on Iraq, as part of a war against terrorism, becomes a preventive war to deny terrorist groups possible future connections with a state. In this way, the war on terrorism is transformed into an open-ended framework encompassing a wide range of possible military actions. Accordingly, we are deeply concerned about what this open-ended framework will produce in the future.

Finally, the war on Iraq has been presented to international public opinion as a war aimed at regime change, namely, at eliminating the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. But regime change has not been discussed per se at the UNSC. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein’s removal would be a positive event. But the questions we must ask are: which institution should be responsible for promoting regime change in specific countries; what are the criteria for promoting regime change; and how should these criteria be decided? Finally how should an international consensus about regime change be expressed? Failure to answer these basic questions opens the prospect of a world dominated more by force and anarchy than by international law.

On a general political level, we must also emphasize that the war on Iraq is widely perceived as an act of Western hostility towards the Islamic world. We are very much concerned about this perception and are worried about the relevant consequences that may dramatically strengthen the wall of antagonism and resentment between the West and Arab countries and more generally the Islamic world. This resentment may become the source of a further deterioration in the international climate, of the strengthening of radical movements and groups that may degrade the level of democracy in many countries, as well as a renewed source of international terrorism.

During the Cold War, Pugwash dealt with East-West antagonism by seeking to contribute to dialogue, disarmament and cooperation. In the same spirit, Pugwash is working, and is prepared to work more, on improving dialogue, cooperation and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds, as well as on continuing to promote disarmament. It is for all these reasons that we very much regret recent developments resulting in the war on Iraq.
Pugwash Executive Committee

Prof. Paolo Cotta-Ramusino (Chair), Secretary General
Prof. M.S. Swaminathan, President
Prof. Marie Muller, Chair, Pugwash Council
Dr. Jeffrey Boutwell, Executive Director
Prof. Saideh Lotfian, Member, Pugwash Council
Gen. (ret.) Pan Zhenqiang, Member, Pugwash Council


Remarks by Francesco Calogero
Triggered by the Statement of the Pugwash Executive Committee on “The War in Iraq”
dated 26 March 2003

I found the tone of this document sober, which makes this Pugwash Statement stand out positively against a noisy background of shrill “antiamerican” and “antiwestern” propaganda, which tends to overwhelm any chance of reasoned analysis, at least in my environment.

However, I would have preferred this Statement to present more objectively the situation. Examples of amendments which would, in my opinion, have made this Statement more balanced are the following.

  • In the first paragraph, where the Statement says “the US and the UK have decided to proceed independently to attack Iraq”, I think it would have been fair to add “with the, more or less complete, support of several other States”.
  • In the second paragraph, the concern (which I fully share) that “The civilian population of Iraq will be directly exposed to the consequences of the war and will likely suffer the most” should have been balanced by an expression of the hope that the end of Saddam Hussein’s tirannical rule significantly improve the situation of the Iraqi people.
  • The fourth paragraph, which deals with the role of inspections, omits to note that they became really effective only when they were backed by the concrete threat of a military intervention (when they had appeared to be effective previously, they were stopped by the Iraqi regime). This is an important point, because it highlights a conundrum which is likely to confront again the international society, to the extent it has an interest in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. And it is difficult to mount the concrete threat of a military intervention without eventually going to war.

The reason I am making these remarks is because Pugwash is traditionally rather a forum for useful debates aimed at promoting the peaceful solution of controversies and the prevention of any use of weapons of mass destruction, indeed their eventual complete elimination, than an advocacy group taking sides. An advocacy group, once it has identified — in good faith — which side of an argument to back, tends to only voice the reasons that support such a choice, and to omit instead those that suggest the opposite choice. The better way for Pugwash to serve its mission is to strive to adhere to a tradition of “scientific objectivity” entailing the presentation of all relevant arguments, even in the context of the clear indication of an opinion.

In this spirit, I am happy to state that I essentially agree with all the arguments presented in the Statement of the Pugwash Executive Committee, although I would have preferred to see a more objective presentation of “the other side of the coin”, which justifies — in my opinion (presumably not shared by the Pugwash Executive Committee) — the conclusion that it is possible (although perhaps not very likely) that the outcome of this war will be, on balance, more positive than negative — primarily because it will liberate the Iraqi people from a violent dictatorship, and perhaps also because it might be the only effective way to eliminate a dangerous proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

And it goes without saying that I fully support the final part of the Statement, namely the undertaking by Pugwash “to work more, on improving dialogue, cooperation and understanding between the Western and the Islamic worlds, as well as continuing to promote disarmament”.

Francesco Calogero
Rome, Tuesday 26 March, 2003


Remarks by Sir Joseph Rotblat

31 March 2003
Dear Friends,

First I want to inform Members of Council that immediately on receiving the Statement on Iraq (on Monday 24th March) I sent a letter to the members of the Executive Committee congratulating them on the issuing of the statement. I hope the Statement is given the maximum publicity.

This letter is provoked by the comments on the statement by Francesco. Two points.

One is a very general one: what Pugwash is and what it is not. We have discussed this many times but it seems that it needs repeating. In my opinion Pugwash is an advocacy group, and it is not an academic debating society. The advocacy is stated clearly in the Russell-Einstein Manifesto which gave rise to Pugwash, and it is expressed in the Mission Statement and the Goals for Pugwash documents which were adopted in La Jolla. We do advocate the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and eventually of war itself.

My second point is about Francesco’s implict belief that “this war will be, on balance, more positive than negative.” Now that military action has begun I will be glad to see the overthrow of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein as one of the outcomes. But I am far from convinced that this justifies the inevitable loss of life on all sides.

And it would be an additional great disaster if, as a result of the military victory, Bush were to be hailed as a hero and thus reelected for a further 4 years. Francesco asserts that this war might be a way to eliminate a dangerous proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but he ignores the more probable consequence: an end to our objective of the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Because Bush’s (or rather Perle et al’s) belief is to keep nuclear weapons in perpetuity and even use them in pre-emptive attacks. In the long run, this will end up in a much greater peril to our civilization. To me this is much more important than Francesco’s narrower concern about removing Saddam Hussein, desirable as this may be.

Yours sincerely,

Joseph Rotblat