Iraq may be a case of the right war at the wrong time. Preventing Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction and defying more than a decade of resolutions passed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter seems to meet the standard of just cause, and Resolution 1441 provides rightful authority.
On the other hand, a war would divert attention from the more imminent dangers posed by al-Qaida and North Korea. And it is important that any action involve a broad coalition. A few months ago, I described my position as that of an ‘owl’ - more willing to use force than the doves but more patient and multilateral than the hawks. It would have been more prudent to have built up troops more gradually and allowed more time for the inspectors and diplomacy to try to press Saddam to choose between disarmament and his survival. He still has this choice, but it appears that he is not learning from his past mistakes.
In the current situation, one can regret that we are at this branch of the decision tree, but realise that the costs of allowing Saddam to cheat again and return to the evasive diplomacy of the 1990s will have enormous long-run costs for the UN as well as for security more broadly.
© Joseph Nye 2003
Originally published as part of a debate on 6th February 2003 Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War: Pt. II