US Air Strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan: Vital Questions and Important Lessons

15 Sep, 1998    ·   142

Seema Narain says U.S. action when viewed from a broader strategic perspective moral and legal appropriateness, seems glaringly irrational

Pre- emption rather than 'deterrence' seem to be the buzzword of U.S. administration. The recent U.S. missile strikes on the suspected W. M. D. facilities in Sudan and on terrorist bastions in Afghanistan are pointers towards the policy shift in U.S. military strategy in the post cold war era. Earlier, the U.S. mounted a pre-emptive attack on Iraq for the liberation of Kuwait . This has been widely documented. The Western community even considered similar attacks upon North-Korean nuclear installations. TO my mind, the U.S. action can be interpreted in two ways.



Firstly, viewed from the logic of U.S. perspective, domestically, as well as from the point of view of systemic changes in the international system in the post cold war era, an U.S. action seems rational.



In the aftermath of the Soviet disintegration, U.S. remains the unchallenged 'hegemonic' power in a predominantly unipolar world.



U.S. enjoys overwhelming superiority in conventional military force and the U.S. defence budget is three times that of any potentially "hostile" power.



U.S. has led the information revolution as well as a revolution in military warfare and surveillance techniques. It wields both 'hard' as well as 'soft' power. Its unrivalled military technological superiority and a domestic thrust for a proactive foreign policy has alerted military planners to keep adversaries from using WMD to counter American conventional power.



The U.S. is the only state, which has assumed the role of policing outside its region and enforcing order in international relations. The U.S. thus becomes the target of those state and non-state actors whose aspirations are thwarted by it.



The de-emphasis on nuclear weapons in the aftermath of the cold war has been accompanied by a shift in the priority of WMD from nuclear to chemical and biological weapons. These weapons are easily procurable and have a great 'kill' capacity. They are not only the weapons of the weak (2nd class military powers) but because of their easy accessibility and easy institutional infrastructure for storage, these WMD become attractive to terrorists and non-state actors.



The American military establishment has geared itself to meet this 'new threat' and there has been a policy shift to wards pre-emption to deal with a changing security environment. The exhibition of unilateral force has also been possible because the U.S. faces no competition and no state has been able to deter its overwhelming military/conventional superiority. 'Counter proliferation' is the new industry in the U.S. and 'pre-emption' the latest buzzword.



However, there is a second side of the argument. U.S. action when viewed from a broader strategic perspective moral and legal appropriatencess, seems glaringly irrational. A distinction has to be drawn between what is a U.S. specific unilateral use of forcem totally inconsistent with the established norms and procedures of international law, and concerted international action to counter the problem of global terrorism.



U.S. missile strikes represent a clear violation of Pakistan 's air space as also the rights of a sovereign independent country. Pakistan has already registered a complaint to this effect with the U.N. Security Council.



It has also abrogated the sovereign rights of Sudan and Afghanistan by mounting a military assault on them with out any provocation.



The U.S. ventures is 'risky' also because the U.S. missile which hit, Pakistani territory, could have been miscalculated as an Indian assault in view of the enduring 'adversarial' relationship between the two neighbors, often characterized within the U.S. intelligence, DOD and the U.S. media as potentially the greatest nuclear 'flash point.'



The missile strikes are totally unjustifiable on grounds of "self-defence" vide article 51 of the U.N. because such actions can only be taken in the event of an armed attack against a member state.



Although India has been a major victim of international terrorism in Kashmir a distinction has to be drawn between unilateral use of force and multilateral action. U.S. actions do not reflect a broad based, integrated and co-operative approach. It is unilateral because it deals with the problem of terrorism selectively and is not based on shared international concern for the global fallout of terrorism.



The response of the international community also remains mixed. Some were muted. Others, ambiguous. The international community has not come out with any equivocal statement of support. The NAM meeting at Durban has condemned U.S. unilateralism.



The U.S. Precedent also sets the tone for other states to use unilateral force as an instrument of diplomacy as well as to deter states from thwarting their national interest, pre-emptively. 'Might' will then establish 'right' in international relations. Anarchy will remain the organization principle.



In conclusion, the U.S. action raises vital question of international law, Important lessons can be drawn from it.



International action to be universally acceptable has to the broad based and consistent with accepted norms of international law.



The air strikes also highlight attention to the indecencies of the prevailing international mechanisms to cabinet terrorism.



It urges the need to commit and strengthen institutional mechanisms and procedures for collective action to make a more effective international regime to counter international terrorism and the proliferation of WMDs.



The precision and accuracy of cruise missiles is debatable as targeted missiles deviated markedly from their guided trajectory.



It is time to democratize and strengthen the United Nations system to deal effectively with global issues in an era of complex interdependence, and reinforce its continued relevance. Better late, than never.