Europe’s Egg Shortage

It’s difficult to get about some eggs in the eastern parts of the Netherlands these days. Supermarkets are experiencing serious shortages there because large supplies of eggs have been bought up by German wholesalers. The Netherlands has always been one of the world’s greatest exportors of eggs but usually not at a disadvantage to the country’s own market. So many more eggs are finding their way to Germany now because that country is set to ban battery hen cages next January 1 which has severaly damaged its own production already.

The European Parliament voted to ban battery cages in 1999 when so much as 93 percent of eggs in what was then the European Community came from battery hens. By 2012 all member states must have the battery system abolished but Germany has chosen to take the lead by outlawing the practice in 2010 already.

Of course, when parliament forced farmers to turn back the clock half a century it provided adequate protection against the import of cheap eggs from abroad by imposing extensive border and subsidy measures. To control imports and boost exports, the European Union uses sluice-gate prices, basic and variable import levies and export refunds on all shell eggs and products.

The sluice-gate price is a theoretical, calculated price at which poultry imports to Europe should be priced given world grain costs. The import levy is fixed at a level to protect European egg producers against imports from countries that benefit from market cereal prices considerably below the European average. The simple purpose of the measure is to prevent the import of eggs that are priced lower than their European counterparts.

A safeguard clause allows Brussels to suspend imports if the European market is threatened with serious disturbances such as a flood of low priced imports. Refunds are paid to European exporters from the Common Agricultural Policy budget to help them compete outside Europe where producer costs can be lower due to lower feed grain prices, for example.

Understandably, this is upsetting developing countries which are currently stalling negotiations within the World Trade Organization for one thing, precisely because the West, the European Union in particular, is increasingly protecting its own market, making it near impossible for Third World farmer to compete. Yet, with subsidies, European producers are able to penetrate their markets. (So next time you hear someone denounce “free trade” for destroying Third World agriculture, you know better than to nod in approval.)

The only ones not complaining right now are Dutch poultry farmers who are able to sell their eggs in Germany at prices unprecedented in recent history. Within the next two years however, they too will be forced to give up their battery cages. Inevitably, the supply of eggs will shrink throughout Europe, driving prices up only further.

HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Future of the Royal Navy

This is the first part in a series of reports on the current state of the Royal Navy. This part focuses on the expeditionary tool of the Royal Navy’s future force; the aircraft carrier. The second entry discusses the Future Surface Combatant and the effectiveness of modular versus “hardwired” vessels.

Earlier this year, public interest in the reforming of the Royal Navy was highlighted by the order for two aircraft carriers to be constructed by the “Carrier Alliances” of BAES/VT planned Joint Venture, Thales, Babcock and BAES. The news was controversial. Many wondered why aircraft carriers were needed at all, let alone two each displacing some 65,000 tons and approaching the size of the US Navy’s Nimitz class carriers. The carriers would be bigger than the current largest in European waters; the French Charles De Gaul and considerably larger and more capable than the RN’s current Invincible class carrier.

Arguments were abound; the money could be spent on civilian infrastructure or dealing with the financial crisis. Were carriers even needed now that the threat of the Soviet Union had disappeared and Russia was perceived as “no threat”? How could huge surface vessels help solve problems in places like Iraq and the landlocked Afghanistan? Now the intent of this article is not to defend the carrier par se, but I shall maintain that the decision for carrier capability (the ultimate modern expression of modern military power, and the finest expeditionary tool for foreign policy in the new security climate) was not only a good one but somewhat essential for both Britain and the Royal Navy.

However, the construction of the vessels themselves brought forth new problems. The main weapon of the carrier is the air flight. The aircraft. Since the Battle of Midway in the Second World War, the carrier has been the supreme naval instrument. Its air flight can obtain air superiority over land and sea, deciding large conflicts, but also they can protect a fleet on the move, project force inland over vast ranges, and assist in all manner of operations short of war. However, for the “Lilly-bet” class this was a problem from the start. The scandalous conduct of the Royal Air Force/Farce in procuring the splendid Eurofighter Typhoon jet fighter has caused some consternation. The plane cannot be converted to be capable of carrier-born operations and since the Fleet Air Arm lost its proper fighter capability to the RAF, it is the only fighter plane the RAF wants to fly. The unholy trinity of Royal Air Force, Ministry of Defense and British Aerospace have successfully grafted the Eurofighter to British defense. Very well, it is an exceptional air superiority fighter, but it cannot be put on board a carrier. This means it cannot fill the now long-empty boots of the RN’s old warhorse the Sea Harrier or for that matter the RAF Harrier (Which weren’t fighters anyway). The F-35 Lightning II was chosen to be the aircraft of choice for the air flights. However the road was far from clear.

The Eurofighter was ordered on an allied project with three other European nations sometime back before your correspondent went to school. Due to various problems with working with a host of other companies and BAE’s usual problems, it only arrived in service in 2004, officially. It has been so long in development that its questionably if it can stand up to the test of modern combat. Due to its expected deployment the Sea Harrier (the only British aircraft to shoot anything down in living memory) was pulled from service, and along with it the capable but aging Jaguar “bomber” jet which was a fine ground attack vehicle. The Eurofighter propaganda says that it’s a multirole fighter capable of ground-attack but the software apparently doesn’t allow it. The F-35 was designed and built in a sensible amount of time for a professional air-force (we’ll say nothing of the “Air National Guard”), it is a highly capable and deadly system perhaps the best in air-to-air operations (though it must be said that the Eurofighter has given it a run for its money) and it can hit things on the ground as a superb ground-attack vehicle.

So, the F-35 was decided as the fighter of choice to chuck off the carriers but this decision has been gone forward and back on since the beginning and its getting to the point where the MOD are even turning on their chums the RAF and BAE. Further foolishness is apparent when one considers even how this brilliant craft was going to be “adapted” for British use. There are three variants of the F-35 planned/in production/service: The US Air Force version which is a highly capable air superiority platform in its own right and will keep Ivan at bay; the American carrier version, which takes off using a catapult and a straight runway from American craft, a very sensible design of deck configuration; and the third version, machinated perhaps by BAE’s presence on the project, which is somewhat tailored to small carrier requirements.

However, after previous projects “altered” for British use, the Americans are reluctant to hand over anything to Rolls Royce as they’re one of the only British defense companies who know what they’re doing and can stick an RR engine in an F-35 which would put even the American versions to shame and could then be mass produced and sold to anyone who wants a carrier-born aircraft but hasn’t got a big enough ship. This is due to the design of the carrier’s deck; a ski-jump system with no catapult or arrestor wires like on an American ship. This means that the British version of the F-35 would require something of a STOVL (short takeoff Vertical Landing) capability, not a big deal, as there’s three variants in at design level. The aircraft would take off from a short ski-jump runway and then would be able to “hover” down onto the deck much like the famous Harrier. This decision is very much an inheritance from the days of Harrier. Despite the size of the Queen Elizabeth class allowing a straight runway to be built, some slack jobsworths couldn’t decide at the time what plane was likely to be put on it so they stuck with what they knew and fortunately for them, it seems BAE has chummed up to the American industry to be a principle partner on the subject. If BAE can use their position to get the RR engines into the STOVL F-35B — the only engines which will work on this version it must be pointed out — then perhaps some loose ends can be roughly tied up.

The expenses mount though as one considers that all that would be required is a reconfiguration of the Queen Elizabeth class deck (a provision already well catered for) and the adoption of the American carrier variant capable of using catapult and arrestor wires. Whilst the F-35B and current deck configuration will do, it seems to be a lot of horsing around making new problems when there was simple solution: Copy the yanks, it’d be cheaper.

Things worsened. In October the Times reported that the second carrier was to be converted to a rotary-wing carrier, a sort of assault ship similar to the current HMS Ocean. The paper said that this was due to the cost of maintaining two wings of F-35 fighters, one for each carrier. HMS Ocean needs replacement urgently. There have been times when this civilian-quality half-measure was flooded with fuel in the engine rooms. However, does this mean that the second carrier would be converted to replace the Ocean or provide something like it? It’s unlikely. The necessary alterations would rack up an astronomical bill. Corridors would need to be widened, dockits for assault boats put in place, perhaps even larger docks, command and control facilities for over four separate commands, larger aircraft lifts for troop transport helicopters, and this is just the beginning. The costs to convert the vessel would end up more than building and running the original. What is more, the plan was to have two ships. One to be in refit while the other was on service with the one air-flight. This rules out conversion based on the cost of two wings. What’s more likely is that in an emergency the second carrier deploying from refit in the emergency, would field a force of F-35s either on loan or “spares” for the first carrier. Worrying, but better than the expected alternative. What is more, reliable sources inform your correspondent that it would be too expensive to cancel the second ship anyway, even now, before her hull has been laid.

Just last month The Guardian reported that India is expressing an interest in purchasing the second ship which may be sold off under government sale.

Either selling it off or converting it still leaves the Royal Navy with one carrier and what is worse President Sarkozy of France offered the prime minister the option of working with the French navy to maintain a ship at sea between the two states. In other words, the French carrier would be in refit while the Queen Elizabeth would be at sea, and vice versa so that the other could be “borrowed” in an emergency.

The move will leave the navy without a carrier when the Queen Elizabeth goes into refit, leaving open the possibility that it might have to borrow one from the French navy. In a meeting with Brown last year, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, had suggested that refits of French and British aircraft carriers should be coordinate.

While it’s a bit depressing and yet comical that the Royal Navy and French Navy, perhaps the world’s oldest service enemies, would have to coordinate their carrier options, it also makes little sense. The Guardian article above said that the French did not want to purchase any more carriers, which seems strange as they had ordered a third carrier of the Queen Elizabeth class. This would leave them with just the Charles De Gaul, which is nuclear powered and a danger to be on. British crews would have to have a lot of retraining to use the propulsion system and features on board the French carrier and likewise for the French who would not be used to the large fuel turbines on the Queen Elizabeth.

The upcoming Strategic Defense Review, will give us some clearer understanding of what the future has in store for the troubled project. What is certain is that a Conservative government would be under the same constraints as a Labour one and from where the Navy must be standing the rock and hard place analogy is applicable concerning the two parties. Controversy continues around public spending, particularly on defense with the tired refrain of “helicopters and body armour” is still echoed in the broadsheets and the tabloids on the Afghan campaign.

Merkel Government Under Pressure

Pressure is building on German chancellor Angela Merkel and her defense minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, to account for the German-ordered NATO attack in Afghanistan last September that killed 142 people, many of them civilians.

Guttenberg, formerly minister for economics, took charge of the Defense Department last October as member of Chancellor Merkel’s second cabinet. The rising star of the German conservative party, Guttenberg outranked Merkel as the country’s most popular politician but he has come under siege from the Social Democrats, the former coalition partners, for changing his position on the Afghanistan attack.

Initially, Guttenberg called the bombings “appropriate” but three weeks ago, he claimed the opposite after assessing the incident in greater detail.

Germany’s previous defense minister already resigned over the affair and Guttenberg himself has discharged a top defense official and a state secretary for supposedly withholding information. Now, a parliamentary inquiry has been produced to study the bombings all the more thoroughly.

Although all but one of Germany’s political parties support the Afghan mission, there exists something of an obsession to wage a “clean” war there regardless of the changed circumstances. While the Taliban has gained ground, parliament’s mandate remains unchanged: German soldiers are to aid in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, not to be involved in any fighting.

The Social Democrats are leading the charge that seems specifically aimed at Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. He and the chancellor are to appear before committee next January. Yet the Social Democrats were the ones in power when the country decided to contribute to ISAF and they were still in power when the bombings occurred. Holding the man who has been defense minister for barely two months responsible seems utterly hypocritical and largely a political move before anything else.

Brown Bashing the Rich

It’s not good to be rich in Britain. One is properly punished there for making too much money as becomes a welfare state. From every Briton that earns over £150,000 (or $243,000) a year, the government takes half of that in income tax. The well-off now face a further cut to tax relief on their pension contributions. An announced increase in the inheritance tax threshold has been put on hold but the taxman is still going after those with offshore bank accounts for it seems that in Britain today no crime is worse than the outrageous practice of tax evasion.

Even The Economist is upset and it calls Gordon Brown’s bashing of the rich “bad politics and rotten economics.” With elections arriving in a little over six months, Labour is doing everything it can to prove that it is still the “party of the many” whereas the Conservatives are branded as the “protectors of privilege and gleeful spending slashers.”

An extra tax on bankers’ bonuses this year is meant to smooth over voters but it does little to aid Britain’s ailing economy. The last of the G20 countries to be mired in recession, all the Labour government can think of doing is spending more money in the hope that such Keynesian methods will save Britain from further stagnation.

Now, with what will probably turn out to be a dreadful election ahead, Gordon Brown and his party are throwing themselves up as defenders of the common man again. Bashing the rich isn’t all about class politics though. As The Economist points out, the government needs the additional funds badly to keep its social services running, the imperfectly reformed National Health Service first among them. These are “disproportionately used by the poor” while “their employees tend to vote Labour.” By looking after the state, the party is looking after its core vote. The paper doesn’t like it one bit:

Britain has much experience of class politics, and none of it has been good. Class politics makes for bad economics: the state swells, public money gets wasted and entrepreneurs grow nervous. And it makes for a sad country, too: divisions deepen, suspicion flourishes and the social contract frays. When the time comes to judge the parties’ electoral strategies, voters should remember that.

Obama Last Transatlanticist?

Will Barack Obama turn out to be the last transatlantic American president? Nicholas Kitchen wonders in The Washington Note. Although his wind of change met the approval of nearly all of Europe, a series of diplomatic gaffes and mishaps has strained relations, he claims.

The Obama Administration supposedly downgraded ties with Britain from a “special relationship” to a “special partnership” — whatever the difference there might be. As James Pritchett has argued, such a downgrading is not unnatural: Britain simply isn’t the global power it used to be, not in economic nor in military terms and the United States have little reason to pretend otherwise. Kitchen seems to consider it a failure nonetheless.

And it’s not just Britain that Obama managed to upset. No, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy expressed their “annoyance” with his administration’s “attitude toward sensitive historical anniversaries” apparently. According to Kitchen these “diplomatic contretemps” were the products of a serious divide:

[O]ver the best response to the financial crisis and in particular the issue of regulation of complex financial services instruments, with Mirek Topolanek using the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union to describe American bailouts and stimulus policies as “the road to hell”.

And what does Obama do? He goes to Asia and declares himself the “Pacific president”.

Outrageous? Not really. Kitchen is fair to note that it’s mostly the Europeans themselves who are to blame:

[T]he truth remains that if Europe wants to be a major player on the world stage it needs to think of its role more strategically and systemically if the United States is not to regard the relationship with China as its most important bilateral tie.

There is probably little that will prevent the Americans from considering the latter relationship of greater significance, however, and for good reason: the Sino-American relationship is bound to define the twenty-first century, one way or another.

At the New Atlanticist, James Joyner defends the Obama Administration’s Pacific orientation. That is not to say Washington has forgotten about Europe, he writes. “Just because other countries now get more attention doesn’t mean the transatlantic relationship isn’t the most important one.”

[I]t’s difficult to imagine an evolution of the international system that would have China — or any other rising power — coming to have more similar values and interests than exists between the United States and Western Europe.

If not for the military and political alliance, that is still strong no matter how little attention President Obama were to pay to it; the cultural and economic ties between both sides of the North Atlantic would suffice to ensure mutual dependence for decades to come. The Obama Administration isn’t neglecting Europe. It simply realizes that there are more partners out there.

The Potential of European Might

War, said Clausewitz is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with the mixture of other means. If your politics or those of some other propel you to military action, then that is what must be done.

The recent appointment (not election) of a European president unifies the European Union, politically more than has been seen before, with the addition of a “High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy” providing the bloc with a mouthpiece on strategic affairs which one presumes will include out of area operations of a military nature and a unified approach to the strategic defense of the EU as a whole. Read more “The Potential of European Might”

Disappointing Sarkonomics

French president Nicholas Sarkozy is quite possibly the greatest of European leaders today. He has regained for his country a preeminent position within the European Union and took little time to repair the transatlantic discord that so disturbed French foreign policy since the start of the Iraq War in 2003. On the economic front however, his achievements are less impressive.

Although foreman of France’s right-wing, Sarkozy has displayed little love for free-market economics since the recession struck almost two years ago. Indeed, he blames the “freewheeling Anglo-Saxon” model for today’s trouble and hopes to demonstrate “the victory of the European model” — which, probably, means the victory of the French model in his view.

France has comfortably overcome the townturn thanks to that model: the country has a huge public sector that currently employs about one in every five workers. Besides, Sarkozy has shown himself willing to protect the French private sector also, demanding, for instance, that automaker Renault create jobs at home in exchange for stimulus funding. The relative lack of unemployment comes at a cost though: the public debt has naturally skyrocketed while Paris maintains an 8.5 percent deficit on the budget. That in spite of demands from Brussels that it be cut to 3 percent in accordance with European regulation.

Sarkozy then turns out to be something of an old-fashioned Frenchmen after all. That is not to say that he isn’t refreshing at all. Abroad, the president has persued an intelligent and most successful foreign policy while at home, he has fulfilled many of his campaign promises, although not always with the most stunning of results. His large-scale effort to cut on public expenditure for example has been practically brought to a standstill since the first signs of economic anxiety became apparent.

In Newsweek Tracy McNicoll concludes that Sarkozy really has no economic principles. “Sarkozy has the flexibility to win battles but not the single-minded vision to define or win a war, as Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher did.” Perhaps. Then again, flexibility alone seems a lot to be grateful for these days.

Five Hundred Is Not Enough?

As we’ve been recently been informed by the various media, Gordon Brown, the prime minister, has pledged five hundred new (presumably) combat-role servicemen to Operation Herrick — the British mission in Afghanistan. Five hundred would boost the British presence to a total of 9,500 service personnel from all the services including the Royal Air Force and the large Royal Navy training body. Within your humble correspondent’s lifetime, Britain deployed whole divisions to operational theatres such as Northern Ireland, where three brigades numbering several thousand kept the police in support of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. A task force of 9,500 does little to compare to the 68,000 American service personnel in “Afghan.”

American defense spending is a staggering 41 percent of the global total. Its armed forces population is so large that the United States Marine Corps is bigger than the entire British Army and due to its all-arms nature, considerably more effective. At a time when American military expenditure dwarfs the whole of the British economy, it is hardly surprising that there is some difference in capability here.

Therefore it is curious that the British media remain shocked that British forces get little mention in American strategic and military dialogue about the region. What is more surprising is that American commentators and possibly even politicos expect a greater contribution from the British Armed Forces.

The briefest of glances at the history of the services from 1945 onward will provide anyone with the knowledge that defense cuts by both parties across all successive governments have neutered the operational capabilities of state. The possibility of fighting the Falklands War in 1982 was small enough, now it would be next to impossible. With the end of the Cold War and the subduing of the Troubles in the Province, further cuts and reductions seem not only economic but dare I say it sensible, certainly in the Army. That this hasn’t been taken on board by our erstwhile journalists is probably due to the myth of the special relationship, on which I have spoken on in the (scarcely) public domain before.

What is certain is that until required reforms in the British Armed Forces are implemented, five hundred troops is about as much as can be deployed with political constraints, and without them there wouldn’t be that much more.

Sarkozy Strikes at the City

With France, along with Germany, leading the way of European recovery, President Nicolas Sarkozy has both the power and the prestige to launch a reinvigorated campaign against what he calls the “freewheeling Anglo-Saxon” model of finance. With his countryman Jean-Claude Trichet heading the European Central Bank and UMP-ally Michel Barnier soon to be installed as the union’s internal market commissioner, Sarkozy appears to have everything in place to make the world see “the victory of the European model, which has nothing to do with the excesses of financial capitalism.” No wonder that people are worried in the City of London.

London was quick to respond. Mayor Boris Johnson traveled to Brussels to lecture the European Parliament but his entourage of rabble-rousers and cameramen did little to persuade them. Nor was Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling’s argument that “London is New York’s only rival as a truly global financial center,” and therefore Europe should strengthen, not weaken it, well received.

Earlier, in conference with his colleagues from across the continent, Darling compromised on the creation of a European financial regulator. French finance minister Christine Lagarde praised the deal which according to Darling leaves considerable responsibility with national authorities. That is not how his counterparts sold the agreement at home.

Nevertheless, there is some truth in Darling’s statement. A European Systemic Risk Board is to be put in place to spot irregularities in the financial system that threaten to harm it. But it will have no power to leap upon banks to put any questionable practices to a halt. Rather it is supposed to issue recommendations and warnings alone.

Sarkozy has more weapons in store to bombard Paris to the world’s next financial capital however. A European Alternative Investment Directive seeks to install a framework for all alternative fund managers which in London is rather perceived as an attempt to shackle another sector of “freewheeling Anglo-Saxon” capitalism. If that were true, Paris in fact stands to gain very little: hedge funds taking a pre-emptive decision to leave London headed straight for Switzerland, not Paris or Frankfurt.

There is more reason for Londoners to be hopeful. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard notes in the Telegraph, Barnier is actually “deeply averse to trampling on British sensitivities.” Moreover, his director-general, Jonathan Faull, is British. “Given the circumstances, the Barnier-Faull team is the best that Britain could hope for.” Whether that will stop Sarkozy remains to be seen.

Does the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq Invasion Matter?

The role of the United Kingdom in the international arena has been one of much debate over the past three decades, but more particularly since the ending of the Cold War. Summed up neatly by former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, the United Kingdom has been ‘punching above its weight’ internationally effectively, driving international policy at the UN during a period of American uncertainty following the disastrous American-led Somalian adventure in the early and mid-1990s and dominating the UN Security Council discussions under Sir David Hannay (then British ambassador to the UN).

This confidence has been knocked more recently through the long engagement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is Britain’s longest engagement since the nineteenth century, and while public sentiment is still generally behind engagement, Prime Minister Brown and American president Obama have been framing their words with care in the run-up to increased troop deployments, speaking of defending American and British streets from terrorism, rather than rebuilding some far away land’s political infrastructure.

Behind Afghanistan still lurks the specter of Iraq. While American troops remain with boots on the ground, pressure to disengage from Iraq is increasing — British troops withdrew from the country earlier in 2009, and publically, the United States intend to have combat troops out of the arena by August 2010, having already withdrawn from Iraq’s cities in July 2009.  Given the strong feelings expressed by both supporters and opposers of the invasion of Iraq in 2001, the British electorate had repeatedly been informed by the government that an enquiry into the Iraq war would be held once British troops had been withdrawn.

Following the official launch of the Iraq Inquiry on 30 July 2009, the first evidence was heard on 16 November 2009.  According to Sir John Chilcot:

Our terms of reference are very broad, but the essential points, as set out by the Prime Minister and agreed by the House of Commons, are that this is an Inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors. It will consider the period from the summer of 2001 to the end of July 2009, embracing the run-up to the conflict in Iraq, the military action and its aftermath. We will therefore be considering the United Kingdom’s involvement in Iraq, including the way decisions were made and actions taken, to establish, as accurately as possible, what happened and to identify the lessons that can be learned. Those lessons will help ensure that, if we face similar situations in future, the government of the day is best equipped to respond to those situations in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country.

The Inquiry committee members are Sir John Chilcot (Chairman), Sir Lawrence Freedman, Sir Martin Gilbert, Sir Roderic Lyne and Baroness Usha Prashar.

The first week of the Inquiry’s evidential hearings proved interesting, and included:

  • British policy toward Iraq in 2001, 24 November, Chairman’s Opening Statement;  Simon Webb, Peter Ricketts and William Patey
  • Weapons of Mass Destruction, 25 November, William Ehrman and Tim Dowse
  • The Transatlantic Relationship, 26 November, Christopher Meyer
  • Developments in the United Nations, 27 November, Jeremy Greenstock

For many, it is this opening week which is probably the most important, and hinges upon two important questions — was the invasion of Iraq by the American-led international force legal, and, whether legal or not, when was the decision to invade taken?

British politicos and public interactions with the media, not least upon radio and television debates, demonstrate that the latter of these two questions is considered the most important. In many ways, the timing of the decision to invade is important, but not for the obvious reasons. The previous Clinton Administration had passed the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998 in the United States, with a stated claim of regime change in Iraq, although not much publically perceptable action was subsequently seen. The Act aimed to work through the Iraqi opposition to establish regime change, but did not sanction invasion. There are numerous UN Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) on Iraq, but the most important were UNSCR 678, 687, and 782 which set out Iraq’s obligations over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the territorial integrity of Kuwait. UNSCR 1205 of 1998 framed the possibility of military action in the event of non-compliance under the WMD declarations. Discussions over the toppling of Saddam and regime change in Iraq by members of the public — including ex-soldiers who fought in the first Gulf War — focus upon the viability of ‘going all the way to Baghdad’ after expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait, often concluding that such a proposition was not possible due to the resources available and the threat of becoming bogged down in a long guerilla war. Other arguments for removing Saddam are premised upon the authoritarian and inhumane nature of the regime, and the humanitiarian reasons for invasion. However, these discussions miss the point. The first Gulf War was fought to preserve the territorial integrity of a sovereign state which had been invaded by another state, as protected under the UN Charter, and the responsibility of the UN Security Council to preserve — i.e., to protect Kuwait’s right to exist as a state against invasion by Iraq. To then ‘go on to Bagdhad’ would have violated the very ideals and international obligations under which Iraqi forces had been expelled from Kuwait. Humanitarian intervention was a very popular premise in the early 1990s, until events in Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Somalia (amongst others) deterred further military adventures on the part of Western powers in the name of humanitarian intervention. Besides, humanitarian affairs falls under the UN’s 6th Committee and not the 7th (the Security Council), and has no remit under international law for military action on its humanitarian merits.

These international obligations then frame the engagement with Iraq until the decision to invade was taken. The Second Gulf War was undertaken due to Iraq’s perceived refusal to oblige with UNSCRs on WMD since UNSCR 687, despite the work of the UN’s Weapons Inspection teams. This was made clear under Tony Blair’s statements to the House of Commons, and was the remit under which the House of Commons voted to take the United Kingdom to war. If UNSCR 1441 is seen as giving permission for military action — despite omitting the key wording of ‘all necessary measures’ — then this is only due to the obligations of Iraq under the WMD issues included in previous UNSC resolutions. Only subsequently has the public vocabulary changed to include ‘regime change’ — something which is illegal under international law, under which the two Gulf Wars were fought. If regime change was the true reason for invasion, UNSCR1441 does not permit military action for this, and this then makes the invasion illegal, and its proponents and instigators liable to prosecution for war crimes.

This is why the timing of the decision to invade is so important. If a decision was made, as intimated by some evidence already given to the Chilcot Inquiry, in a private meeting between Tony Blair and George Bush early in 2002 to invade Iraq to instigate regime change, then the legality of the invasion is questionable (to say the least) under UNSCR1441. 

This is why those private meetings between President George Bush and Prime Minister Blair are so crucial to the Inquiry. However, only George Bush and Tony Blair are able to speak of the events in those meetings. Blair is to give evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry, and this is one reason why the Inquiry matters.