Statement on the Use of Force in Iraq, December 17, 1998

Year Published
  • 2018
  • English
December 17, 1998

The use of military force against Iraq is deeply troubling and raises serious moral concerns. Our first concern is with those people whose lives are at risk -- innocent Iraqi civilians, the men and women in military service, and others. We pray that every effort will be made to minimize the loss of life and destruction on all sides.

Our wider concern is with the grave implications of choosing military strikes over other measures. While the causes of the conflict in the Middle East are deep and long-standing, the Iraqi government's actions are a primary source of the current crisis. The Iraqi government has a duty to stop its internal repression, to end its threats to peace, to abandon its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction, and to respect the legitimate role of the United Nations in ensuring that it does so.

As we noted last month, our nation and the international community must pursue their legitimate goals in a way consistent with fundamental human rights and the principles governing the use of military force. Even though the decision to use force has already been taken, the questions about just war criteria -- especially non-combatant immunity, proportionality, and probability of success -- raised in November by Bishop Anthony Pilla, then president of the bishops' conference, remain relevant:    

  • How can the international community respond effectively and discriminately, so that the Iraqi people do not bear the brunt of the suffering?   
  • Can the sustained use of military force meet the test of proportionality in enforcing the cease-fire resolutions?   
  • Would military action be likely to reduce significantly Iraq's stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and its capacity to produce them? Would military strikes lead to renewed Iraqi compliance with the cease-fire resolutions or, instead, have the unintended effect of strengthening the regime's power and increasing its intransigence? How would military force and the embargo effect the ultimate goal of reintegrating Iraq into the international community?  
  • What are the implications for peace in this region, respect for international norms, and the credibility of the UN if effective, peaceful ways are not found to respond to Iraq's failure to comply with the cease-fire resolutions?

The answers to these questions are not easy, and people of good will may come to different conclusions. But, in my view, it would seem that these military strikes unduly risk violating just war criteria. We fear that this latest escalation will not succeed in bringing about Iraqi compliance with its obligations and will not strengthen peace and security in the region, yet it will effectively punish the Iraqi people for the actions of an authoritarian regime over which they have no control. For these reasons, I concur with the Holy See's opposition to the use of force.

It is regrettable that the international community has not succeeded in enforcing by peaceful means the cease-fire resolutions that ended the Gulf War, but war is not the answer. It is time for new thinking and new approaches. There are no quick or easy answers to the complex problems in Iraq and throughout the region, but one must be wary of relying on military solutions. As the Holy Father said today, "It is up to the international community in particular to promote solutions that lead to harmony and renewal in social life, and to take responsibility for avoiding deviations that could turn populations into innocent victims."

We hope that the United States, working with the international community, will pursue what will continue to be a painstaking and frustrating process of pressing the Iraqi government to live up to its international obligations through means that do not threaten the lives of innocent Iraqis and that offer more realistic hopes for long-term peace and stability in the region.  

Most Reverend Theodore E. McCarrick
Archbishop of Newark
Chairman, International Policy Committee
U.S. Catholic Conference

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