The Linlithgow Constituency Labour Party association has just passed a motion recommending that Tony Blair reconsider his position as leader of the party because of his giving British support to a war against Iraq without clearly expressed support from the UN.
I agree with this motion. I also believe that since Mr Blair is going ahead with his support of a US attack without unambiguous UN authorisation, he should be branded as a war criminal and sent to The Hague.
I have served in the House of Commons as a member of the Labour Party for 41 years, and I would never have dreamed of saying this about any one of my previous leaders. But Blair is a man who has disdain for both the House of Commons and international law.
This is a grave thing to say about my party leader. But it is far less serious than the results of a war that could set Western Christendom against Islam.
The overwhelming majority of international lawyers, including several who advise the government (such as Rabinder Singh, a partner in Cherie Booth’s Matrix Chambers and visiting law professor at the London School of Economics), have concluded that Blair’s decision to sanction military action in Iraq without proper UN Security Council authorisation is illegal under international law. The UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith disputes this.
The UN charter outlaws the use of force with only two exceptions: individual or collective self-defence in response to an armed attack, and action authorised by the UN Security Council as a collective response to a threat to peace.
At the moment, there are no grounds for claiming the need to use such force in self-defence.
Moreover, the prime minister’s assertion that, in certain circumstances, a vetoed resolution becomes ‘unreasonable’ and may be disregarded has absolutely no basis whatsoever in international law.
The doctrine of pre-emptive self-defence against an attack that might arise at some hypothetical and unforeseeable future time has no basis in international law.
Neither Security Council Resolution 1441, to which Mr Blair constantly refers, nor any prior resolution authorises the use of force in the present circumstances.
This puts the prime minister and those who will be fighting in his and president Bush’s name in a vulnerable legal position.
Already lawyers report that they are getting phone calls from anxious members of the armed forces.
Blair accuses opponents of war of ‘appeasement’ in spite of the fact that, in many cases, their active opposition to Saddam’s dictatorship well pre-dates his.
But if anyone is the ‘appeaser’ it is Blair: in his support for the US government in its long-planned pre-emptive attack on Saddam.
It is clear that the extremists who have hijacked the US government are pursuing plans hatched as long ago as 1991 to gain control over Iraq’s oil reserves and, equally important, to eliminate an obstacle to US-Israeli political dominance over the Middle East.
I am not anti-American. I was a member of the executive of the British-American parliamentary group. I share at one remove four times over a grandmother with former US president Harry S Truman, and I hope to accept the invitation to attend the celebrations to mark the anniversary of Mr Truman’s birthday on 8 May in Independence, Missouri.
But many of us in this country think the fundamentalists now running the White House are using the support of a British Labour prime minister as a fig leaf against their critics and against opposition to war in the US.
It is useful for these people to say to their opponents: ‘But a BritishLabour prime minister supports us.’
If Britain had made it clear months ago that we would not be party to a US attack on Iraq, that the US was acting entirely on its own, I think US public opinion itself might well have stopped this war from ever being contemplated.
Many of us in the Labour Party who are opposed to war believe that Blair has misunderstood the pressing danger. It comes not from Iraq, but from terrorism.
If there is a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, it is this: Osama bin Laden hates Saddam Hussein. On at least two occasions bin Laden’s organisation has tried to assassinate Saddam.
The effect of this war, however, could well be to bring the pair together. Far from this being an effective war against terrorism, it is a war that will strengthen terrorism.
I don’t think that Mr Blair really understands the horrors of 21st century warfare.
In 1994 I visited Baghdad (all expenses paid by me) and saw the carbonated limbs of women and children who had been impregnated against a wall by the heat of just one cruise missile.
In the coming war, we are told that 800 cruise missiles will be launched just to soften up the enemy.
We are told that the US intends to use incapacitating bio-chemical and depleted-uranium weapons.
We are also receiving information that the US intends to use war in Iraq as an opportunity to test out a whole range of new weapons: cluster aviation bombs with self-guided munitions and pulse bombs being examples.
The UN was created in response to the indiscriminate horror of modern warfare in the 1940s. The UN’s charter describes its role as saving ‘future generations from the scourge of war’. Surely, that means that all those who claim to uphold the UN charter should pursue peaceful solutions to their limits?
The draft work plans of the UN weapons inspectorate make clear that the inspectors believed they could have made real progress down their non-violent path to disarmament (see ‘Regime change without war’, in Red Pepper April 2003) The Labour Party will not tolerate a leader who takes the country into an avoidable war.
Tam Dalyell, Labour MP for Linlithgow since 1962, is the longest continuously serving member of the House of Commons.
A shorted version of this article appeared in the Guardian.