Castel probes rights, motives of US intervention in Iraq

Jean-Gabriel Castel, distinguished research professor emeritus of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, questioned the rights and motives of the United States’ unilateral intervention in Iraq and probed into where Canada should stand on the US military action. Speaking at York’s Glendon College on Feb. 9 at the first annual lecture on international law & international organizations, which is named in his honour, Castel said the United Nations should amend its charter to meet the needs of new problems facing the world today.

Jean-Garbriel CastelCiting the US desire to create a new world order based on the principles of democratic capitalism, Castel said, “She is prepared to resort to military action with or without UN approval, when her international and national security interests are at stake.”

Right: Jean-Gabriel Castel

Questioning the legality and legitimacy of the war on Iraq, Castel asked if the UN needed to take another look at current world threats, which are much different than those it faced when the organization was created in 1945. Castel said terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and internal conflicts involving widespread violations of human rights, have challenged the UN’s effectiveness, tempting groups such as the “Coalition of the Willing” to use unilateral military action.

Although many opposed the coalition’s approach on the grounds that it contravened international law and the UN Charter, the Security Council may legitimately sanction military action if an act of aggression or threat to peace really exists, Castel explained. He said the UN sanctioned the use of force in the 1990-1991 Gulf War after Iraq had been given ample chances to withdraw from Kuwait.

On the other hand, he said, many organizations, including the UN, view the second Gulf war as illegal. Castel said the US claim that it had a right to pre-emptive self-defence from a future attack by Al Qaida is not yet accepted by international law.

Castel also voiced many people’s concerns that the US motive for war was to secure access to Iraqi oil resources but noted the US view that the second Gulf war was morally justified because of Saddam Hussein’s long record of serious human rights abuses. “Recent events in various parts of the world…have clearly indicated that human tragedy considerations are an important element in the maintenance of peace and security,” Castel said. “I believe the task is not to find alternatives to the Security Council but to make the council work much better than it has in the past.” He said the Security Council must deal with requests for military intervention promptly and if it does not, then it should refer the matter to the UN General Assembly.

Castel called for the development of new UN criteria that will state clearly when it is legal and legitimate for a country to intervene in another state’s affairs. A 2001 report by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, for example, suggested several precautionary principles for an intervention, stating:

  • It should be to halt or avert human suffering, not further the invader’s own power;
  • It should occur only when every non-military option has been explored;
  • It should not cause worse problems than if no intervention had taken place.

Castel strongly emphasized the use of preventative diplomacy and suggested that incentives could be offered to eliminate the conditions that have given rise to the abuses in the first place.

Canada, he said, should collaborate with the US and other states and lay aside its anti-Americanism. In a unipolar world, he said, exercising influence on the US through a close, friendly relationship better serves Canada’s interests in the world.

Senior lecturer of international law at Glendon and recipient of the Mundell Medal for Excellence in Legal Writing in 2004 (see story in the March 24, 2004 of YFile), Castel delivered his talk at the First Annual Jean-Gabriel Castel Lecture on International Law & International Organizations. The audience afterward joined him and his family at a reception in the Glendon Hall Ballroom. In attendance were several dignitaries, including Roy McMurtry, chief justice of Ontario, Philippe Delacroix, French consul to Toronto, and Nikolay Smirnov, consul general of the Russian Federation in Toronto.

This article was submitted by Cathy Carlyle, former YFile editor.