Reflections on the Gulf War Experience
Force and War in the UN System
The most ambitious aim of progressive international law is to outlaw war as an instrument of policy available to sovereign states. Resort to force in foreign policy is unconditionally prohibited in modern international law except in situations of self-defense. This legalist undertaking remains unfulfilled, existing in a domain of jurisprudential traction: It is neither repudiated nor implemented. Implementation would require several fundamental political adjustments: a real shift in the practice of powerful states with respect to force as an international policy option; a limitation of expenditures and deployments to accord with a purely defensive role for weaponry; and a commitment of resources to establish a collective security system to protect weak countries against aggression.
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 challenged and tested the willingness and capacity of the United Nations to mount an effective response through collective security. The results were definitely mixed, and the reality is too recent and unresolved to yield anything as definitive as "the lessons of the Gulf War." Nevertheless, it is time to reflect upon the experience: to identify strengths and weaknesses, and to offer some preliminary appraisal from the perspective of international law.
At the outset, it seems clear that if the UN Security Council's response had achieved unconditional Iraqi withdrawal without recourse to counterwar, it would have greatly strengthened tendencies toward the renunciation of force and increased overall confidence in the potential role of the UN in the war-peace area. Such a result would encourage the view that the political situation after the cold war was open to a collective security approach to combat aggression.
Prior to the Gulf crisis, collective security was generally discred-