Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

  By letter dated 16 April 2002, the Clerk of the Foreign Affairs Committee sought a memorandum "setting out the Government's interpretation of the circumstances in which further military action against Iraq—unrelated to ongoing reinforcement of the no-fly zones—would be covered by existing UNSC Resolutions, if so, by which Resolutions such action would be covered; and if not, on what legal basis such action might be carried out".

  We should first of all emphasise that the Government has not decided to take fresh military action against Iraq, and military action is not imminent. As we have made clear, we intend to consider the way forward in a calm, measured and sensible but firm way.

  The Committee will appreciate that it is difficult to answer a hypothetical question precisely. In general terms we would regard the use of force against Iraq, or indeed any State, as lawful if it had been authorised by the United Nations Security Council, or were in exercise of the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence, or, exceptionally, were carried out to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe.

  As to the relevant resolutions, following Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait, the Security Council authorised the use of force in resolution 678 (1990). This resolution authorised coalition forces to use all necessary means to force Iraq to withdraw, and to restore international peace and security in the area. It provided a legal basis in addition to the right of collective self-defence for operation Desert Storm, which was brought to an end by the cease-fire set out by the Council in resolution 687 (1991). The conditions for the cease-fire in that resolution (and subsequent resolutions) imposed obligations on Iraq with regard to the elimination of WMD and monitoring of its obligations. Resolution 687 (1991) suspended but did not terminate the authority to use force in resolution 678 (1990).

  A violation of Iraq's obligations which undermines the basis of the cease-fire in resolution 687 (1991) can revive the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 (1990). Most recently, in resolution 1205 (1998) the council condemned Iraq's decision to cease co-operation with UNSCOM as a flagrant violation of resolution 687 (1991). This had the effect of reviving the authorisation to use force in resolution 678 (1990), which provided the legal basis for our participation in operation Desert Fox. (It was, incidentally, this action to which the Defence Secretary was referring in his evidence to the Defence Select Committee rather than the Gulf War, which was launched in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait not its pursuit of WMD).

  We do not rule out the need to take further military action in future. Whether further action by the Security Council was needed, would depend on the circumstances at the time. But as we have always made clear, any military action the UK undertakes anywhere in the world will be carried out in accordance with international law.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 20 June 2002