oa Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Operation shock and awe: its implications for the future of multilateralism and international law

Volume 37, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



This article discusses the implications for the future of multilateralism and international law posed by the strategic doctrine of pre-emption of enemy states as graphically demonstrated by 'Operation Shock and Awe' in Iraq. This doctrine posits that the United States of America needs to intimidate countries with its power and assertiveness - always threatening, always denouncing, never showing weakness and by demonstrating that a massive military power can keep the United States of America safe. In its avowed war on terror, the Bush administration has fashioned a one-dimensional view of the world: 'there is no neutral ground, either you are with us or against us'. In this scenario, the Bush administration has appropriated the prerogative to 'smoke them out', 'remove the axis of evil' and to 'crash the shadowy foe, real or imagined'. With the United States-led attack and occupation of Iraq (March 2003-June 2004) as an example, the focus of this article is the question whether a single member state of the United Nations or the so-called coalition of the 'willing' can decide whether the US could take military action, without prior authorisation of the Security Council, either for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security or, for the enforcement of international law in general. It is argued that the self-proclaimed right to strike pre-emptively at any danger violates the most basic rules of international law and inter-state relations with respect to the sovereign equality of nations, political independence and the territorial integrity of weaker states. It also severely compromises the system of collective security so carefully crafted after World War II and is centralised in the Security Council. In conclusion, it is submitted that the answer to the apparent failure of the Security Council to discharge its primary responsibility lies in the proposed re-structuring and repositioning of the council, and not in unilitateral and selective action by a single member or a motley collection of members of the UNO.

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