There has been a wide spread myth propagated by those who oppose the actions of the United States and its allies in invading Iraq that this was illegal because: it violated article 1 section 1 and article 2 section 4 of the United Nations Charter and article 1 of the Pact of Paris (a.k.a. the Kellogg-Briand Pact).
Those who take this position simply either a) don’t know what they are talking about or b) do know but have put their ideology or political opinions ahead of their respect for international law.
The principal that a war of aggression is a violation of international law was first stated in Art. 1 of the 1928 Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact which reads in relevant part, “The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.”
Now taken alone, this might suggest that those who condemn the U.S. invasion of Iraq are right in believe that our actions violated international law. However it was well understood by the signatories that the pact did not renounce the use of force in self defense. See e.g. Secretary Kellogg’s Testimony before the Senate and Sir. Austen Chamberlain’s letters on the subject. These make clear that war waged in defense of a nations territory or vital interests are not illegal.
However the Pact of Paris had not tried to define what aggression was so in 1933 a further agreement was negotiated, the Convention for the Definition of Aggression. Art 2 Sec. 5 of the convention reads in relevant part, “Accordingly, the aggressor in an international conflict shall, subject to the agreements in force between the parties to the dispute, be considered to be the State which is the first to commit any of the following actions: (5) Provision of support to armed bands formed in its territory which have invaded the territory of another State, or refusal, notwithstanding the request of the invaded State, to take, in its own territory, all the measures in its power to deprive those bands of all assistance or protection.”
As mentioned previously the Charter of the United Nations states that the purposes of the United Nations is to, “To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.” U.N Charter Art. 1 Sec. 1 and to that end that, “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.” U.N. Charter Art. 2 Sec. 4
Because aggression was not defined in the Charter of the UN a committee was appointed to proposes such a definition. The committee produced a proposal which the General Assembly recommended for further action in Resolution 2214. This definition reads in relevant part. Art. 3 “Any of the following acts, regardless of a declaration of war, shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of article 2, qualify as an act of aggression:” Art. 3 (a) “The invasion or attack by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another State, or any military occupation, however temporary, resulting from such invasion or attack, or any annexation by the use of force of the territory of another State or part thereof.” Art. 3 (g) “The sending by or on behalf of a State of armed bands, groups, irregulars or mercenaries, which carry out acts of armed force against another State of such gravity as to amount to the acts listed above, or its substantial involvement therein.”
This language while some what different from the convention of 1933 has the same effect. It is an act of aggression to support armed bands and send them into the territory of another sovereign state. For example if a state pays people to strap explosives to their body and go into another sovereign state and blow themselves up in the middle of a crowd as Iraq did to Israel this is an act of aggression. While no state is obligated to go to war to stop an act of aggression against a third nation, they are certainly entitled to do so, since article 51 of the U.N. charter states that nothing in the charter shall outlaw acts of individual or collective self defense.
To take another example when a state invades another without sufficient provocation under international law and drives out its government and engages in rape and pillage as Iraq did to Kuwait that is an act of aggression. While no state is obligated to go to war to stop an act of aggression against a third nation, they are certainly entitled to do so, as the United States did in this case. While the U.N. sanction for the action made the U.S.’s action legal beyond doubt, it would have been legal in any case. The armistice which ended the war had conditions which the government of Iraq violated repeatedly in the intervening 14 years. It is certainly a vital interest of the United States that the armistice agreements it makes are observed.
Thus when the U.S. invaded Iraq, it had two perfectly legitimate grounds for doing so, first to put an end to Iraq’s illegal war of aggression against the state of Israel and second to enforce its rights under the armistice agreement that ended the first Iraq war. That the United States’ purpose was to ensure that a hostile state did not acquire nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons which it wrongly thought Iraq was in the midst of getting, does not in the slightest effect the legality of the United States’ action.
It is time to lay to rest the myth, propagated by some innocently and by others with malicious intent, that the invasion of Iraq by the United States was contrary to international law. In fact the United States acted to enforce international law outlawing aggressive war when most of the world would have rather looked the other way. It is for shaming the posers in the international community who like to talk, but hardly ever act that the United States and its allies are being pilloried.