Many major wars result from aggression. If Saddam Hussein launches a further attack against his neighbors, he will be to blame for the resulting war and the massive destruction of life and property it will bring. But wars also arise from human folly. President Bush and his advisers need moral courage to resist the siren voices that say a major war against Iraq is both inevitable and desirable.
Remember, in the East-West confrontation in Europe far vaster firepower has been arrayed along the battle lines for decades. Yet the powers involved managed to find honorable alternatives to war -- containment, deterrence and crisis management. Since Stalin the world has stood up to a series of ruthless dictators, yet avoided the bloodshed of a general war. In the often tense, armed truce between the major powers, the Soviets invaded Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. But if the West had met those aggressions by all-out war, the world would have been destroyed many times over.
We should now be urgently deploying the well-tried techniques of international crisis management to avoid the catastrophe in the Middle East. The United Nations Security Council has made an excellent start by imposing the toughest-ever sanctions on an aggressor andA coup against Saddam, not a preemptive attack . . .now looks set to back these up by U.N. authorization for a blockade using minimum force. And America acted with commendable decisiveness in sending a task force to boost the defense of Saudi Arabia.
Indeed President Bush's swift military deployment is the perfect answer to the ultra-hawks' argument that if Saddam, like Hitler in the 1930s, had been stopped earlier, a general war would have been avoided. Saddam has been stopped in his tracks. These are alternatives to major conflict.
One of these is the technique of military containment. A fence should be placed around Saddam to deter him from further adventures. Weak points, such as Jordan and the lengthy frontier with Saudi Arabia, should be strengthened both by military and politico-economic means. The impressive U.S. and multinational firepower now converging on the region will probably soon be sufficient to convince Saddam that the costs of any further aggression would outweigh possible gains.
But in order to deny Saddam any rewards from his aggression against Kuwait we need to ensure that he is unable to use the oil wealth and the control over oil markets he so hungers for. This requires that the whole international community cooperate in enforcing a 100 percent siege of his economy. This strategy is swiftly draining the lifeblood from Saddam's already sickly economy. The sanctions being imposed by the United Nations are so unprecedented, so tough, that I believe Iraq's ability to sustain itself has been grossly overestimated. It is this above all that will bring Saddam's downfall and removal from power -- probably by a coup -- rather than a preemptive attack, which would only tend to unite some sections of the Arab world behind him and would smash the vital consensus in the Security Council.
If this strategy of economic siege is to work, however, the international community does need to keep all the lines of diplomatic communication open. We should not discourage those, like the Soviets and Jordan's King Hussein, who are willing to try to find some formula that may enable Saddam to back off from his invasion and save face. We should remember that Saddam, though ruthless, is above all a survivor. If he can reverse his policy on concessions to Iran after eight years of the bitter and destructive Gulf War, I am sure he can find his way out of Kuwait if he has to.
A main argument of the ultra-hawks in Washington and Israel is that if Saddam is not toppled now it may be impossible to remove him in two or three years time, when he has the nuclear weapon. But this ignores the danger that a general war in the Middle East tomorrow could rapidly escalate to involve chemical and nuclear weaponry. If Israel became drawn in and was threatened by chemical weapons, it might feel compelled to resort to a nuclear weapon. And in any case two or three years gives long enough for the international community to introduce the badly needed enhanced controls over nuclear materials and technology that would deny Saddam his ultimate weapon. And are the ultra-hawks seriously suggesting that the United States should resort to preemptive attack every time a Third World dictatorship looks close to obtaining a nuclear capability? That would indeed be the recipe for Armageddon.
The greatest political weakness of the ultra-hawks is that they misunderstand U.S. public opinion. The polls show that Americans strongly back a policy of firmness in the Gulf but are overwhelmingly against a reckless pursuit of war, with all that would imply for the lives of U.S. troops and U.S. civilians trapped in Kuwait and Iraq.
The president, with his long experience of foreign and security affairs, must surely assess the long-term political, diplomatic and strategic costs of the "quick-fix" preemptive strike policy. Cautious realism, U.S. national security and America's long-term interests in strengthening rather than undermining the world rule of law should be overriding. Military containment and deterrence combined with a siege of Iraq's economy is the only viable alternative. It provides the diplomatic flexibility to manage the crisis, stand up to Saddam's aggression and avoid the crisis manager's nightmare of a major war that would escalate to a general conflagration in the Middle East. The writer is a professor of international relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland.