Iraq war tips from Mr Cooper's book

February 27, 1998

By the time you read this, you may know which way the world went. Either the crisis that has dominated the airwaves, news-print and conversation will have been defused or western hardware will be starting fires in Iraq.

The crisis has shown that international relations have left behind the age of Clausewitz and his late modern avatar, Henry Kissinger, and entered the age of Cooper.

It was Robert Cooper, now at the British embassy in Bonn, who said in his book The Postmodern State and the World Order that the West has moved away from securing order by traditional balance of power or simple imperial hegemony to securing it on the basis of each side voluntarily co-operating with the other's mutual surveillance of arsenals.

This works well enough in the postmodern zone of the planet, where pooling and mutual sacrifice of sovereignty and self-interest are accepted. But not when applied to states still living in the modern age, such as Iraq.

"We need to get used to the idea of double standards," he writes. "Among ourselves (as postmodern states), we operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security. But when dealing with more old-fashioned kinds of state we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era - force, pre-emptive attack, deception."

If there is a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, the United States and Britain are following Mr Cooper. But he also advocates conflict only for the sake of interests, not ideologies. And those interests, as well as the risks, must be clear: "limited means for limited goals".

It would be reassuring to know that Clinton and Albright, Blair and Cook and their few reluctant allies were following this advice.

There has been an absence, in debate and coverage of the crisis, of consideration of just what we think Saddam Hussein is likely to do with his weapons of mass destruction, to whom he might do it and why. If the goal is to restore the powers and efficacy of the inspectors, it is not clear that the most "surgical" air strikes against putative weapons sites will make it any easier or the tally of weapons destroyed will be any higher than now. Indeed, the subsequent chaos and carnage may make it more difficult to identify sites. Certainly, it will be even more difficult for western undercover intelligence teams to find out about sites.

Perhaps Saddam is calculating in just that way, that the strikes may bolster his own popularity and, when they are over, make Unscom's job even harder.

What exactly is the nature of western interest? Security of oil supply at acceptable prices is a candidate, but it provides no clear criterion of how far to go in pursuit of just what kind of order in the Gulf.

The old Alan Clark policy of keeping a local balance of power by covertly encouraging the continuation of the Iran-Iraq war failed and there is no other obvious local balance to buttress.

If local balance of power is not the aim, and if the Arab world is not to be left with the unshakeable belief that the West is seeking to ensure security through reinstated western hegemony, then someone in the Clinton and Blair administrations had better tell the world just what kind of local and regional security - and for whom - they believe will follow the end of the crisis, and how both the military actions proposed and the diplomatic settlement envisaged would serve that goal.

Like peace treaties, wars and crises that only narrowly avert wars have to be legitimate. In the age of Clausewitz and Kissinger, peoples in the West might have been prepared to take on trust the strategic sense of their leaders and the views of the Arab peoples might have been ignored.

But not today in the age of global media. The goals of any war in the Gulf will be achieved as much by what the ordinary Saudi, Kuwaiti and Iranian believes as by anything that can be achieved by "brilliant" missiles or last-minute diplomatic manoeuvres.

Perri 6 is director of policy and Research at the independent, cross-party think-tank, Demos.

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