Do partisan considerations alter how international law is perceived?

The intricate link binding international law and international relations make the inclusion of objectivity in legal allegiances a difficult task. This is particularly evidenced in the Iraq War that began on March 19, 2003. An invasion spearheaded by the United States, the United Kingdom and their Coalition partners, there have been plenty of moments in the trials and inquiries that reveal a continuing allegiance coloured by partisan considerations.

The Chilcot Iraq Inquiry in London is in the final stages of deliberations. With a wide-reaching mandate, the inquiry has been involved in the process of looking at all kinds of “lessons learned” in connection with Iraq, considering the period after Summer 2001, until before the military operations commenced in March 2003, and thereafter, any involvement in Iraq right up to the end of July in 2009 when the inquiry was established.

The mandate does not relate to the question of lawfulness of the use of force in Iraq in March 2003. Nevertheless, there is every reason for the continued subsistence of the question in the backdrop. Several rounds of testimony before the Inquiry were devoted to the issue. Nevertheless, the question of legality itself remains an inconclusive one. For starters, it is difficult to apply international law objectively to the situation in Iraq. When the invasion began, the Attorney General at the time of the invasion, Lord Goldsmith, had explained that the use of force was based on the “revival argument” – an argument that has continuously provided plausible legal cases that the UN Security Council had authorized under Article 42 of the Charter of the United Nations such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. The claim was that the Security Council had authorized the use of force in Iraq under the force of law. The authorization of the use of force by the Security Council is one of the only two exceptions to the prohibition on the use of force – the other being the right to use force in self-defence, subjected to the pre-conditional requirements of necessity and proportionality.

Scholarly views have showed support in both directions: that the law prohibits the use of force against Iraq, or, that the use of force was fully justified under the ambit of International Law.

These arguments, and even the application of international law itself, rise from partisan considerations. There are ambiguities on the questions of what international law requires, what it forbids, how it enforces what it demands, and how it interprets what it lays down. As much as this is the generic case, the case of Iraq also meets the same conflict. The decision to intervene and invade Iraq was a product of a subjective interpretation of what was purported to be a legal basis. The contention that there was a basis for self-defence was augmented further by the supporters of the US stand. Partisan allegiance is therefore the underlying notion: that it colours the legal allegiance is an automatic consequence.

 

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