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Philip C. Bobbitt

  • Distinguished Senior Lecturer

The Historian and Author of The Shield of Achilles
Answers Questions from the Readers of The Times (London)

January 22, 2003
Reprinted with the author's permission

What made you choose the motif of the Shield of Achilles for your study of the state's development in early modern and modern history?
Stephen Minas, Melbourne, Victoria

I wished to draw on Homer's ekphrasis in The Iliad so as to remind readers that war is as much a part of culture as law, religion, commerce and the other activities depicted on the shield; and also to recall Auden's poem of this name which juxtaposes gritty descriptions of the reality of 20th century warfare with the heroic expectations of Thetis when she goes to claim the shield from Hephaestus. I do not wish to glorify warfare. [ekphrasis: "an extended and detailed literary description of any object, real or imaginary", The Oxford Classical Dictionary]

How much influence has The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers and Preparing for the 21st Century by Paul Kennedy had on your thoughts?
John Fenn, London

Immensely influential; it is a great work. But I see the economic as a secondary driver, which I believe Prof. Kennedy does not. You may want to look at his review of my book in the New York Review of Books; it is online.

I believe the Iraqi people are suffering and that Saddam must go in order to relieve that suffering. I am amazed at the number of people who believe in peace at any price, and that grabbing Iraqi oil is the hidden motive of Mr Bush and Mr Blair. The US and UK are increasingly being cast as aggressors and warmongers. How can the opinion of the world's peace protesters be won over? My sense is that their ability to generate strong feelings to avoid/stop/bottle out of confronting Saddam is growing.
Rik Lambert, St Albans, Hertfordshire

I am afraid I share your misgivings. It is frankly amazing to me that proponents of human rights and international law would try to protect the current Iraqi regime or that they would offer, as an alternative to intervention, the indefinite protraction of inspections and sanctions. But I have no idea how to change this opinion. For my part, I have tried to write articles (outside the academic work that I customarily do) in the popular press, but I despair of changing many minds. I have an exchange of letters in the upcoming issue of Prospect magazine along these lines.

Many have said that the Iraq war is all about oil. It is true that our interest in the Middle East is largely fuelled by oil, but that is only because oil fuels our economies. That being the case, can we afford NOT to fight, if we are to ensure that no one country or region controls all or the majority of the world's oil reserves?
Ian Tysoe, Sacramento, California

For reasons I don't entirely understand, it is regarded as improper for the West to include, along with its humanitarian interests, any calculation of the well-being of its peoples. It would surely be a disaster for many countries, including states like Japan, for Saddam Hussein to control both the world's two largest proven oil reserves, Iraq's and Saudi Arabia. If he were to acquire nuclear weapons, however, it would be very difficult to forestall this outcome.

Do you believe in military conscription or universal national service for the American citizenry? It seems to me that if we are to be the enforcers of post-national-sovereignty globalism in strategic spots all over the world, the entire population should be allowed some way to participate other than just hanging plastic American flags made in China on their car antennae.
William Greene, Gilmer, Texas (former student of yours at UT Law School)

Whatever my preferences for shared sacrifice and a wider public participation in our public service, a draft is not in the cards. The public would not tolerate it; the services prefer better trained personnel; and warfare itself is becoming less a matter of mass armies.

In your article, "Why the US and the UK are right to target Iraq", (January 10), you asserted that "Saddam … shot repeatedly and continuously at coalition forces enforcing the no-fly zones imposed by the UN in 1991". But according to BBC news (February 19, 2001), "the no-fly zones were not authorised by the UN and they are not specifically sanctioned by any Security Council resolution". The so-called "no-fly zones" were imposed by the US, Britain, and France after the Gulf War, but France has since pulled out. You do not mention the number of Iraqi civilians who have been killed by US and British forces since the end of the Gulf War. A 1997 Department of Defence report on trans-national threats found: "Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States. In addition, the military asymmetry that denies nation states the ability to engage in overt attacks against the United States drives the use of trans-national actors." Do you really think that invading Iraq is a wise or justified course of action in light of the above?
John Siebenthaler, Austin, Texas

Two questions (at least): (1) The legal justification for the consistent claim by the United States and United Kingdom to establish and enforce safe zones for the Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shiites in southern Iraq is made pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 688 (1991). In that resolution, adopted after the Gulf War, the Security Council found that the consequences of Iraqi repression of the civilian population in many parts of Iraq threaten international peace and security in the region, and demanded that Iraq end the repression. The resolution expressly mentioned only the Kurds, but it was understood at the time that the Shiite Muslims in the south were included.

Before the Gulf War the Security Council adopted UNSCR 678, which authorized UN member states to use all necessary means to restore international peace and security in the area. It served as the legal authorization for the use of force against Iraq in the Gulf War. Resolutions 678 and 688 have not been revoked, although Security Council Resolution 687 declared a cease-fire after the war. The Ceasefire Agreement itself forbade Iraqi use of military aircraft in an offensive posture.

(2) The issue is not whether violence against Americans will be greater after we intervene in Iraq than it is now, but rather whether it will be greater, in the long run, whether we intervene now or not. Asymmetric warfare is here to stay; it requires no provocations on our part to tempt our adversaries into employing it. But when they are armed with weapons of mass destruction, as I believe to be likelier if Saddam Hussein stays in power, they will inevitably do us far greater harm.

Do you agree with the aims of the anti-globalisation movement? Do bodies such as the WTO, IMF and World Bank exert too much influence?
Name and address withheld

I simply don't know enough about the institutions you name to have an opinion as to whether they are too influential but if I am right about the rise of the market state, then their influence is on the wane.

As to globalization, I would only say this: it is not necessarily an ever-increasing phenomenon. Protectionism, deflation, nationalism and war can all reverse its progress.

The corporatisation of society and the development of the global economy result diminish the self and create an inevitable clash between the individual psyche and the state; small groups of individuals will constantly try to erode the state's or the global economy's will and organisation. I believe that the North and the impoverished South are moving towards an ever-deepening clash, and that the benefits of economic growth and trickle-down theory will not be evident for hundreds of years – despite the false optimism of the WTO. Do you feel that you address the North-South divide sufficiently, or do you think my scenario is too pessimistic?
T. G. Whiston, Roskilde, Denmark

I believe the rise of the market state will have both liberating and constricting effects on individuals. Racial, religious, ethnic and other prejudices will decline; but the sense of community, and continuity with tradition will also be jeopardized. Opportunity will grow, and with that growth many persons, in many societies north and south, will accomplish tasks and enjoy experiences their forefathers scarcely dreamed of. But equality and solidarity may also diminish. I don't know which of us is right, but I am inclined by temperament to be an optimist.

Are you a capitalist? Do you believe that private companies can provide better services – and a better society – than the state?
Sally Grear, Belfast

I do support market systems as preferable to command economies, but they flourish in a network of laws that only the State can provide. Moreover there are many allocations – who gets expensive medical care, advanced education, as well as who must bear the burden of sacrifice on behalf of the society, that we do not want the market making.

Isn't the failure of the UN as a trans-governmental organisation an example of how the nation-state still acts as selfishly as it ever did?
Robert Wilkinson, Manchester

Yes.

How should the West adapt itself to the rise of militant Islam? By intervening in the current debate about Iraq, can churchmen such as the Archbishop of Canterbury do anything but exacerbate the resentment and alienation of the UK's Muslim community. We are a secular state, whatever they like to believe.
Name and address withheld

I actually think there is an increasing role for clerics of all faiths to participate in nourishing public values such as reverence for sacrifice, respect for privacy, regard for the family, and the promotion of human dignity. I think the answer is not to silence the Archbishop but to invite dialogue with his Muslim counterparts.

I know this is only half your question: I simply do not know enough about militant Islam to give a worthwhile response to the other half, but I might recommend a book, The Age of Sacred Terror by Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, that bears on this issue.

You said on January 10 that the US and the UK should “seek further UN endorsement of coalition action” but what if that endorsement is not forthcoming? Should the “might makes right” brigade be allowed their head?
Nick Hedley, Southampton

Those are not the only alternatives. We would need to craft new rules of international law, and perhaps new institutions, that govern a situation in which the UN Security Council is stymied but international security faces a grave crisis.

Do you feel optimistic that businessmen, and the private sector, will respond to the moral challenge represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury? Do you see any signs in corporate life that businesses are taking on welfare responsibilities that the state can no longer fulfil?
Name and address withheld

I am hopeful, in part because of the Archbishop's speech. I have spoken occasionally at meetings of businessmen and I invariably find they are hungry for an account of the changes I describe in my book, even though these will impose novel responsibilities on them. But it is far too early to say whether and how the private sector will take up these duties.

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Contact Information

Philip C. Bobbitt

pbobbitt@law.utexas.edu

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Fax (512) 471-6988

Office: JON 6.278
The University of Texas at Austin
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