Lindsey Graham on All Options Open re Iran and Nukes
Tod Lindberg, editor of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, reports in the Weekly Standard on a blunt message delivered by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-NC) at a discussion meeting of senior transatlantic policy makers, the Halifax International Security Forum. It’s not a forum that would attract a lot of attention, but the attendees are very senior in transatlantic relations and NATO. Quoting from Graham:
Nobody would like to see the sanctions work any more than I would because I’m still in the military [Graham is a colonel in the Air Force reserves who has served active duty during Senate breaks in Iraq and Afghanistan] and I get to meet these young men and women on a regular basis, and I know what it’s been like for the last nine years. So the last thing America needs is another military conflict. But the last thing the world needs is a nuclear-armed Iran. And if you use military force, if sanctions are not going to work and a year from now it’s pretty clear they’re not going to work, what do our friends in Israel do? So I would like the president to make it abundantly clear that all options are on the table. And we all know what that means.
Tod LIndberg’s report adds that Graham was just winding up:
And if that day ever came, my advice to the president, in open session here, if you take military action against Iran as the last effort to stop their nuclear ambitions, you do open up Pandora’s box. But if you let them acquire nuclear weapons, you’ll empty Pandora’s box. So my view of military force would be not to just neutralize their nuclear program, which are probably dispersed and hardened, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force, and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard. In other words, neuter that regime. Destroy their ability to fight back and hope that people . . . inside Iran would have a chance to take back their government and be good neighbors to the world in the future. So that’s what I mean by being tough, sir, that everything is on the table and that we need to start talking more openly about that because time is not on our side.
From the standpoint of OJ as an international law blog, I suppose I’d note this as in the long tradition of state practice and opinio juris on what the use of force under the Charter actually means. The diplomats and officials there might have been shocked and disturbed at the prospect that the US might decide to attack Iran and seek to end its ability to acquire nuclear weapons; that some international lawyers might regard it as per se illegal under the Charter does not seem to have been the source of their dismay. One can continue to argue the literal words of the Charter and express concern about violations of them; one can go with the Justice Sima route and note that state practice suggests that literal reading is not plausible any longer; or one can go full-on desuetude as Michael Glennon does. What I don’t think works is simply to ignore the record of state practice and recite the formula of the Charter; I accept the Glennon view while others might sharply disagree, but in any case, it seems to me not possible now, if it ever was possible, not to address the facts of how states behave in this of all matters.
ps. I should belatedly add two things. I’m not commenting here on Graham’s views on the politics of the situation, inside or outside Iran; I think it would be hard to come up with an international action with more possible unintended and unforeseeable consequences. On the legal issues, I’m here referring not just to things like Israel bombing nuclear facilities, but Michael Glennon’s claim about the “desuetude” of the legal rule regarding the Charter role of the Security Council – a broader claim about state practice and opinio juris than this situation, but also one that his paper (and in his new book, Fog of Law) limits to that particular Charter rule.