Philip Bobbitt vs. Robert Skidelsky
The Prospect, February 2003
13th January 2003
My argument for forcing regime change does not rest entirely on what Saddam may do in the future, but rather on what we can expect from him in light of what he and we have done in the past. From this I conclude that the UN has little competence at effective inspections (even now we do not really know whether Iraq has access to nuclear weapons) and little will to enforce sanctions indefinitely. If, as you suggest, Saddam were to get a clean bill of health from the current inspectors, this would only demonstrate the folly of the inspection approach, for then the inspectors would be withdrawn, the sanctions lifted and Iraq rearmed with the deadliest weapons a rich state can arm itself with. I gather from your criticism of the US "obsession" with sanctions not being lifted that you might even be amongst those who would support this.
For this and other economic reasons, I must conclude that there is no political will to maintain coercive pressure indefinitely and therefore that the time will come when Saddam is free to export all the oil he wants. Even under the existing system it is estimated that he has gained more than $4 billion from illicit sales.
When that time comes you will get the answer to your concluding question. The theory of deterrence has two necessary requirements: (1) you must be willing to retaliate or at least convince your adversary that you will do so; and (2) you must be able to retaliate. Owing to the terrible power of WMDs and the increasing availability of accurate though expensive delivery systems, neither the US nor Britain will accept the risks of a WMDs attack in order to protect the other states of the middle east. To repeat: there is no "extended deterrence" for these states, as there was for Germany and Japan. And because of the emergence of a global terrorist network to which Saddam has access, I also doubt whether condition (2) is met. If we don't know the source of the attack on, say, New York by a radiological bomb delivered in an anonymous container ship, how can we retaliate against its author?
Saddam is neither a martyr nor a rational calculator. He is a risk-taker. Everything in his past tells us this; and this must be the basis on which we assess his likely behaviour in the future. Pre-emption is not the only means of protecting our interests-theatre missile defences, alliances, economic sanctions, regional de-nuclearisation, even extended deterrence where this is credible, all have a role. North Korea is now demanding a non-aggression pact from the US in exchange for giving up its nuclear WMDs. Well, why not?
But with a state as menacing, and as rich, as Iraq, whose neighbours are important but not, in the end, absolutely vital to our survival. I see no other way, at present, to avoid a future even more perilous than the war it may take to change the regime.