But if there is a war?

Just like everyone else, I’m worried about a war in Iraq. Wars anywhere always shake up the rest of world in some way, and I’m sure that a war in Iraq would have an effect on Latvia. So I’ve been following the news, reading the statements, listening to the opinions and trying to figure out who really knows what’s going on. And what should be done to fix it. Some kind of resolution is needed, because the global situation is tense and growing more dangerous.

Do I want to see a war in Iraq? Of course not. I’d prefer never to see another war ever again. Wars are lousy ways to resolve human differences.

But what if there is a war? What then? What should be my attitude be toward that war and the people waging it?

The government of the United States has concluded that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world. He’s a bloody tyrant who controls monstrous chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. He’s already used some of them in a war against Iran and on Kurds in Iraq, so it’s no stretch to imagine he could use them again on someone else. Most of the world’s governments seem to agree that something needs to be done about it. Utilizing the broadest international authority they have—the United Nations—they have tried to compel Hussein to disarm for the last 12 years. He has refused.

The Americans say the situation is bad and getting worse. All international diplomatic, political and economic instruments have been used to bring Hussein around, but nothing has worked. So the United States has turned to the world, through the U.N., and asked for a resolution that would call for an allied military invasion of Iraq. There would be three goals: 1) remove Hussein as leader of Iraq, 2) seize and destroy all the weapons of mass destruction, and 3) cut off Hussein’s assistance to international terrorist networks.

It strikes me that all three goals are worthy. But how do we achieve them?

Obviously war means death. Soldiers die and civilians die. Given Hussein’s nightmarish arsenal of high tech death machines, the potential casualty count in a war where these are unleashed could be enormous. But even if there isn’t a war, the threat remains as long as the weapons remain. Washington believes that with good planning, high-tech weapons and coordinated international cooperation, a successful military action could be launched against Iraq. Proponents of an invasion believe the Hussein government could be toppled and the weapons seized with minimal allied and civilian casualties.

Not everyone agrees with the United States on this. Nevertheless, the United States has asked for U.N. support and international co-operation to form a coalition that would combine its military and political resources to bring an end to Hussein’s rule in Iraq. Unity is not only important militarily, it could even be more critical politically. As long as the world’s countries argue among themselves, Hussein can sit and wait till the cows come home. But if a majority of the world’s countries agreed that Hussein had to go and announced their readiness to invade tomorrow, Hussein might finally get the hint and leave the country tonight.

Some find this highly unlikely, but it’s not out of the question. And it is the one sure-fire way of preventing a war.

However, if Hussein follows Adolph Hitler’s lead into a bunker somewhere in the hills of Iraq, the invading forces would have to contend with the Iraqi army and people. How long would they resist, especially if they understood that 1) the world was united against them and 2) the only way they could stop the war and hope to resume normal political and economic ties with the rest of the world would be to abandon Saddam Hussein to the dust heap of history? Do they love their leader or simply fear him? And if it is fear, then the best way to battle it is to eliminate its source.

Once again, there no guarantees that this will happen, but it is a plausible possibility. I’d like to see the United Nations join forces and convince the Iraqis that this is the best way out. But what if it can’t and the United States decides it’s now or never?  How should I react to this war, and how would I want my country of Latvia to react? If the U.S.-led alliance attacks it won’t matter much whether the U.N. has sanctioned it or not. That can be debated by the political scientists and historians later. We will be faced with the fact that several hundred thousand American and allied forces will be putting their lives on the line. A war will be underway, lives will be in danger, and those who are fighting will look to those who support them for help to bring the conflict to a speedy resolution.

Latvia looks upon the United States as an ally. We have applied to join the NATO defense pact so that we could be allied with the United States and 18 other countries. By joining NATO we ask other nations to help us in times when our security is threatened, and thus we promise to help them when theirs is threatened as well. The United States has concluded that its security is threatened, and that world security is threatened. It has asked the world, allies or otherwise, to help it eliminate this threat.

The issue of whether a war is necessary becomes a moot point once it has started. Given Latvia’s foreign policy goals and desire to join NATO, it seems that we have a moral obligation to help our allies in times of war. Sooner or later Latvia’s parliament may have to vote on a request from the United States for military assistance in Iraq. Latvia’s parliamentarians should keep in mind that later this year American parliamentarians—the U.S. Senate—will vote on whether to let Latvia into the NATO alliance. We have asked for their help. We should be prepared when they ask for ours.

Latvia’s president, foreign minister and other officials have told the United States that we will help them in whatever way we can if a war breaks out. I doubt if the United States will ask for much because we don’t have much to give. But I’m glad that we announced our readiness to assist. That’s what good allies are supposed to do.

Nobody wants a war, but if a war breaks out and your friends are involved, it’s important to help them. It’s been said that in international relations there are no friends, but simply national interests. Well, I believe that for some democratic nations like the United States, having friends is part of their national interest.

Over the last 15 years, in restoring independence and securing it, Latvia has not had a more important friend than the United States. We are lucky to have many friends in the international community, but the United States is clearly the largest and most powerful. The United States supported our independence legally, politically and materially, and facilitated the removal of Russian troops from our territory once we achieved that independence. It continues to help us today. (The United States spearheaded support for our NATO candidacy.)

Now the United States has turned to us for help. It still has differences with other allies about the war, but if it does proceed, all indications are that it will lead a fairly broad coalition of democratic countries. The United States is investing the most in material and human resources and faces the greatest losses in a possible war. But it feels it is doing it for the greater good.

I don’t know how to achieve the greater good. I don’t like achieving it through war. But if there is a war, I hope it is short, effective and causes minimal casualties in achieving its goals. And if Latvia can help even a little in achieving these goals, I will feel proud of my country. As we enter our 12th year of restored independence, we will demonstrate that we not only accept help, but can also give it.

(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared in Latvian and in a slightly different form in the Feb. 11, 2003, edition of the daily newspaper Diena.)

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