Schocked and Awed: US Government Flouts International Law

Russell Mokhiber: You said last week that, "Every step will be taken to protect civilian and innocent life in Iraq." But Pentagon officials have said that under a battle plan called 'shock and awe,' "there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack." Baghdad is a city the size of Paris, with five million residents. If there will not be a safe place in Baghdad when we attack, then how do you plan to protect every civilian life?

Ari Fleischer: First of all, I think that any construing of any statements that are made by anybody at the Pentagon to suggest that the Pentagon does not and will not take every step to protect innocent lives is an unfair representation of what the Pentagon would say. It's well-known how the United States conducts itself in military affairs. We are very proud of the fact that any time force is reluctantly used, the force is applied to military targets and innocents are protected.

"No Safe Place in Baghdad"

Ari Fleischer must be up to two packs a day.

America is about to commit a grave, horrible atrocity in Iraq, on a scale far surpassing any recent events. The Pentagon's battle plan is based on a concept called "Shock and Awe", in which literally hundreds of missiles are launched on a city in order to achieve what military scholar Harlan Ullman calls a "simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima." ("Iraq Faces Massive U.S. Missile Barrage" CBS News, Jan. 24, 2003 The American military plans to launch as many missiles on each of the first and second days in this war as they launched in the entirety of Desert Storm.

In a January 24, 2003 CBS News report, Ullman, a Senior Associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and one of the authors of the "Shock and Awe" concept, explained: "You ... take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water." A Pentagon official stated that "there will be no safe place in Baghdad." ( What Ullman didn't explain, and the reporter didn't mention, is that this is a direct and straightforward violation of the Geneva Convention on war crimes. Specifically, an army cannot "attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population". (Protocol 1, Addition to the Geneva Convention, Part IV, Section 1, Chapter III, Article 54, number 2 Power generators and water treatment are part of the essential civilian infrastructure, but the US military has explicitly stated they will target these installations.

Of more immediate concern is the fact that thousands of civilians will be in the direct line of fire when America attempts to "shock and awe" the Iraqi army into submission. An explosion "rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima" is bound to kill indiscriminately. That also violates the Geneva Convention, which prohibits "an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in ... [an] area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects." (Ibid, Chapter II, Article 51, Number 5 Baghdad is a civilian city, not a military installation, so when the missiles fall, they will fall on civilians.

Gulf War Devastation

A report by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996, studied the immediate and long-term casualties of the 1991 Gulf War, and made evidence-based predictions about the casualties of a new war. According to the report, entitled "Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of a War with Iraq", between 142,000 and 206,000 Iraqi combatants and civilians died as an immediate result of the invasion. To this we must add the proportion of at least 300,000 Iraqis injured in the war who later died from those injuries. We must also add the proportion of an estimated 1.8 million refugees who died from malnutrition, lack of shelter and clean water, harsh weather, disease, and land mines.

Before the Gulf War, Iraq was a modern, industrialized country. The Allied forces deliberately targeted and destroyed essential civilian infrastructure (water and sewage treatment, electrical generation facilities and networks, telecommunications networks, factories, warehouses, the Ministry of Health, medical facilities, etc.), and then blocked desperately needed replacement medical and water treatment supplies through the embargo. In addition to the physical destruction, the war destroyed Iraq's economy, shrinking it from US$66 billion in 1989 to US$245 million in 1992. The economic dislocation, lack of reinvestment, and hyperinflation also contributed to the destitution and suffering of Iraq's civilians. Some 110,000 Iraqi civilians died from poverty, starvation, preventable illness, and land mines in 1991. Of these, almost half were children under five.

These were the short-term casualties; the number of long-term casualties dwarfed this number. Due to the destruction of Iraq's infrastructure and the subsequent inability, due to the sanctions, of rebuilding that infrastructure, the resulting loss of life can only be described as apocalyptic. At most risk were the very old, the very young, and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. In the twelve years after the Gulf War, between 344,000 and 525,000 children under five died as a result of the war and the sanctions. Of children who survived, malnutrition will contribute to lifelong ill-health and shorter life expectancy.

Without even looking at the psychological damage caused by invasion, dislocation, homelessness, hunger, fear of death, job loss, lack of education, etc., it's clear that the Gulf War was a humanitarian disaster.

A Looming Disaster

IPPNW predicts that a new war could cause between 48,000 and 261,000 casualties during the war and in the following three months, plus an additional 200,000 indirect and longer-term casualties. (A nuclear attack, which America refuses to rule out, could kill millions.) The war would also further destroy Iraq's infrastructure and cause a total economic collapse. IPPNW notes that the projected war cost of US$100 billion "would fund about four years of health expenditure to address the health needs of the world's poorest people." (Jane Salvage, "Collateral Damage: The Health and Environmental Costs of War on Iraq", IPPNW

The United Nations actually commissioned a confidential report called "Likely Humanitarian Scenarios" of war against Iraq. It notes that Iraqi civilians would be much more susceptible to the further destruction of basic civilian infrastructure, pointing out that "the Afghan population has become used to being less reliant on the state... The situation in Iraq, however, has been reverse: a relatively urbanized population, with the state providing the basic needs of the population as a matter of Government policy... Furthermore, notwithstanding the sanctions regime, the Iraqi people are relatively sophisticated in their needs... [W]ith the foreseen degradation of infrastructure in general, and electricity in particular, on which the provision of the services concerend are heavily dependent on, many of those services are not likely to be available following a conflict."

The UN report predicts the following:

Already, some 60 percent of Iraqis depend on relief supplies to provide basic needs. This will increase as the war disrupts people's lives, but simultaneously, the war will also seriously compromise the transportation network to deliver those supplies.

The report predicted that "as many as 500,000 [Iraqis] could require treatment... as a result of direct or indirect injuries." Concurring with the IPPNW report, this report stated that "children under 5, pregnant and lactating women, and IDPs [internally displaced persons] will be particularly vulnerable" to illness. Across the country, some 3 million people, including 2 million children under five and one million preganant and nursing women, would be at dire risk of death from malnutrition. There will also be 900,000 refugees, of whom 100,000 will be in desperate need of treatment. ("Likely Humanitarian Scenarios", Confidential UN Report, - Also available in transcribed HTML format:

Oxfam also published a report, entitled "Iraq: On the Brink of Disaster", which underscored the dire predictions with some horrifying statistics: More than ten percent of Iraqi children die before age five; seventy precent of Iraqi infants died of diarrhea or respiratory infection due to malnutrition and untreated water; and one million Iraqi children under five suffer chronic malnutrition. (Oxfam Briefing Note, "Iraq: On the Brink of Disaster" (summary)

The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), which has been involved in six humantarian missions to Iraq since 1991, has also produced a report, called "The Human Costs of War in Iraq", in which they argue that Iraq's medical and humanitarian workers would be completely overwhelmed in the event of war. With basic civilian infrastructure destroyed, the government workers and volunteers would be unable to meet the expected needs of civilians. The report also noted that the secrecy of the UN and the American government in their own humanitarian assessments has seriously impeded the ability of NGOs to coordinate relief efforts.

The US government plans to "politicize aid" by using the military to airlift humanitarian aid packages. Not only is this ineffective, this "conflation of military and humanitarian operations" erodes the trust that humanitarian agencies have build among civilians, and "risks exposing aid workers to military attack and civilian anger, as happened in Afghanistan." ("The Human Cost of War in Iraq", Center for Economic and Social Rights (Executive Summary)

If all of this wasn't bad enough, on December 11, 2002, the American government reported that it is prepared to use land mines in Iraq. (Tom Squitieri, US Set to use land mines in Iraq, USA Today, Dec. 11, 2002, Land mines are horrible devices that kill indiscriminately. Worldwide, 80 percent of the victims are civilians, and one third are children. Land mines were banned under the Land Mine Treaty of 1997, which was signed by over 120 countries.

America still refuses to sign the treaty, citing that land mines play a "vital and essential role".

America's war violates the core principles of the United Nations. Article 2 of the UN Charter reads, "All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered. All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations." (Charter of the United Nations, Article I, Chapter 2

Nuclear Posturing

"The gravest danger our nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology."
- President George W. Bush

The most alarming development of the Bush administration is the US government's stated willingness, as established in the leaked 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and in official announcements by President Bush, to use nuclear weapons against Iraq. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the weakening of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) as a deterrent, the United States is aggressively pursuing a nuclear stockpile that it can actually use. Combined with a ground- and satelite-based functioning ballistic missile defense system, the NPR points towards making it feasible for US forces to use nuclear weapons in actual combat situations. The NPR identifies Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lybia as possible nuclear targets, which has doubtless contributed to North Korea's efforts to establish its own nuclear arsenal.

The NPR recommends the creation of a "New Triad" for America's military:

The NPR authorizes use of nuclear weapons in three circumstances: in response to a nuclear attack, in response to a non-nuclear biological or chemical attack, and in response to "surprising military developments." The third circumstance is the most nebulous, and leaves open the door to using nuclear weapons pre-emptively against non-nuclear powers. This clearly violates the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and will only encourage more states to acquire nuclear weapons for deterrence against aggression by nuclear powers. It also breaks sharply with America's own traditional official stance on nuclear weapons, which regarded them as a detterent force.

Lamenting the "limited earth penetrator capability, high-yield warheads ... and limited retargeting capability," of large-scale Cold War era weapons, the NPR argues that the US military needs to develop new nuclear weapons "to defeat emerging threats such as hard and deeply buried targets (HDBT), to find and attack mobile and relocatable targets, to defeat chemical or biological agents, and to improve accuracy and limit collateral damage", in part by pursuing a stockpile with "additional yield flexibility." ("Nuclear Posture Review" exerpts Supporters argue that these so-called 'mini-nukes' (less than a kiloton) and 'bunker busters', which penetrate the ground before detonating, are superior to the existing large weapons because they can be used.

While the Bush administration has focused attention on their plan to reduce operationally deployed nuclear weapons from 6,000 to approximately 2,000, they haven't disclosed how many weapons will be dismantled and how many will simply be moved into reserve stockpiles. Similarly, the announcement that a new "Triad" of defenses will contain both nuclear and non-nuclear weapons sounds encouraging, but realistically it seeks to blur the distinction between the two. Indeed, this conflation of nuclear and non-nuclear strike capability was confirmed in January of this year when Bush gave Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizationn to coordinate nuclear and non-nuclear strike forces, missile defense, and inforamtion operations under US Strategic Command. (William Arkin, "The Nuclear Option in Iraq", Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 2003

Also, according to a leaked Pentagon document, US military leaders are planning to meet in August of this year to discuss whether and how to resume nuclear weapons testing of the new generation of weapons. While there has been no clear indication that nuclear weapons will be part of the Bush doctrine of pre-emption, it is very significant that the NPR and the August meeting both point towards developing new, scalable weapons designed to be used against non-nuclear targets. (Julian Borger, "Secret Pentagon plan for new nuclear arsenal", Sydney Morning Herald, Feb. 21, 2003

America reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in Iraq. "U.S. military and appropriate civilian agencies must possess the full range of operational capabilities to counter the threat and use of WMD," claimed Bush last December. Again, since the NPR specifically identifies low-yield and ground-penetrating nuclear weapons as a means of destroying WMDs, we cannot dismiss the possibility that America's weasel words are meant to hide a real willingness to use nukes. (William Arkin, "The Nuclear Option in Iraq", Los Angeles Times, Jan. 26, 2003

It's shockingly irresonsible for a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and an ostensible defender of justice and the rule of law to provoke nuclear proliferation so callously. Against this kind of posture, the only defense that nations - particularly those nations listed in the NPR as possible targets - can fall back on is a nuclear deterrent of their own. As such, America's new nuclear posture may bring about a massive proliferation of weapons as countries seek to defend themselves against pre-emptive nuclear strikes. Again, consider North Korea's accelerated plans to develop nuclear weapons after being targeted by the NPR and by Bush as part of the "axis of evil". We may be entering a new, asymmetric Cold War where the "enemy" is scattered over several countries, and where the threat of MAD no longer provides a deterrent. This could herald the age of small-scale nuclear wars, where the barrier between civility and annihilation is destroyed - one "bunker" at a time.

Ryan McGreal
March 4, 2003

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