Here is an argument in terms of British interests. The primary reason for invading another country is self-defence. Saddam Hussein is probably supporting terrorist groups with the objective of carrying out attacks in this country. But common sense alone tells us that even if Iraq was rendered incapable of sponsoring such operations, other groups and other countries would thereby redouble their efforts. Therefore British involvement in an invasion of Iraq would increase the risk of terrorist activity within the United Kingdom rather than diminish it.
After considerations of self-defence comes the second-order issue of United Nations resolutions and their enforcement - a British interest provided that such action does not compromise our ability to defend ourselves. To this end the UN can either wall in the Saddam regime, which is containment, or invade in the sense of liberating Iraqi citizens from a cruel government. Unfortunately containment inflicts premature death on Iraqi citizens by depriving them of medical facilities and great misery by savagely cutting their standard of living. This is a genuinely difficult choice. Both containment and invasion policies cost lives, only the timing differs.
The second also, as I have noted, increases the possibility of terrorist attacks within Britain. Furthermore it represents American revenge for 11 September 2001, which is not British business, and it demands that the US engages in nation-building, a commitment from which it has repeatedly walked away. That is why a prudent reading of British interests would favour a continuation of containment, not war.
© Andreas Whittam-Smith 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II