Philip Bobbitt vs. Robert Skidelsky
The Prospect, February 2003
14th January 2003
I am not against regime change in Iraq. The people of Iraq would be much better off without Saddam and his henchmen; the Gulf would probably be more secure. But such a change should be brought about by the Iraqis themselves. External pressure can help, but it should not substitute for a domestic decision. Otherwise, the benefits of regime change become much less clear.
Nor am I against a war to remove Saddam under all circumstances. My case rests on the proposition that the inspection/sanctions regime has worked, and will continue to work, to the extent necessary to remove the threat Saddam poses to the world and the worst of the threat to his own people. If I am wrong about this – if evidence emerges that Saddam's present WMD capacity is more than "risible" – then I would favour using force to dislodge him, whether or not the UN mandated it. But I expect it would, under the circumstances.
However, you have forced me to re-think my argument in one respect. The anti-war party have not given a convincing answer to your question: what happens if compliance is certified, the inspectors withdrawn, and sanctions ended? Would Saddam not be free to acquire a new stock of WMDs? I would now agree that the main features of the present "compellance" system should remain in place so long as Saddam stays in power. Sanctions could at the same time be made "smarter." Such a move would take into account that compliance has been less than full-blooded while also permitting economic recovery and retaining an incentive for the Iraqis themselves to get rid of Saddam.
You say that if a country already has WMDs capacity it is too late to do anything about it. This is surely too pessimistic. WMDs do not suddenly appear fully grown. There are always warning signs. We need to be able to act on them. This links up to your important point about the impossibility or difficulty of extended deterrence. What I would say is that we need to develop systems of surveillance, inspection, verification, and intervention which can be activated against countries, according to agreed criteria. One of these criteria would be the character of the regime.
In the course of our exchange I have become aware of how far America and Europe have drifted apart in their views, not just about Iraq, but about the shape of the post-cold war world. This is partly because we did not experience the trauma of 11th September. But it runs deeper. Our common culture gives us broad sympathies. But our histories have bequeathed us a different attitude to the use of force. And our interests are not always the same.
Yet without the cohesion of the US and Europe an international system fit for the 21st century cannot be evolved: it is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition. If the Iraqi crisis provides the intellectual stimulus to work out the rules of such a system, good will yet come of it.