Actually, the president can be sort of forgiven if the wording is tricky. After all, nine-tenths of all cases decided in the highest court in our land are all about statutory interpretation. As for interpreting or finding the true intentions of the parties from the words in a contract, that task is bedevilled by another tricky set of baggage: common sense. So if the trainee adjudicator or the odd president or prime minister hasn't learned the rules of statutory interpretation or hasn't got any common sense, resolution 1441 is likely to mean to him what he wants it to mean.
Resolution 1441 starts by reminding the reader that since 1991 the UN security council has delivered umpteen resolutions about Iraq. Then it "deplores" the fact that Iraq has pretty well given the heave-ho to all of them. Then it says the secretary-general is determined to secure full compliance with UN decisions. Tetchy, eh?
Then comes the meat of the resolution. It gives Iraq a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations". There will be an enhanced inspection regime. There will be forthwith a complete declaratory report indicating all aspects of its programmes to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles and more besides. Nobody must get in the way of the inspectors.
Resolution 1441 means plainly and clearly that the UN has to receive reports and then consider what’s to be done to secure peace
And if Dr Blix requires Iraq's weapons to be removed, destroyed or rendered harmless, so be it. Then comes the crunch line. Resolution 1441 says: "False statements, declarations, failure to comply with these requirements will constitute a further material breach and will be reported to the council for assessment … in order to consider the situation and the need for full compliance with all the relevant council resolutions in order to secure international peace and security."
Ah, ha, says George W, that means that if Saddam Hussein refuses to let Dr Blix into one of the presidential palaces the UN will declare war. It also means, says Bush, he can order a war all by himself if he wants to.
Is that what you make of resolution 1441? Is that what is meant by being reported to the council? Does a material breach that results in the UN "considering" the situation mean war? Does the reporting, considering and need for full compliance mean the green light to begin the killing? Resolution 1441 means plainly and clearly that the UN has to receive reports and then consider what's to be done to secure peace. Is another resolution required?
Look, I will accept the notion that a prima facie case has been made against Saddam Hussein. He is accused of crimes against humanity. A man accused is not a man convicted. A man accused is arrested, charged and put on trial. The trial tests a prima facie case. If you complain about the other man not paying you, you are never right until a trial, until a tribunal adjudicates on your allegations. The UN makes allegations against this man. The world says he is bad. But the UN cannot kill him, cannot bomb his town and most certainly cannot bomb his people. The UN resolution has to be for the apprehension, arrest, charge and trial of the president of Iraq. He will be brought to the Hague and prosecuted. And, if he resists arrest, if he gathers friends and relatives, servants and agents to help him resist arrest, the UN will use, like any police service, reasonable force to effect his arrest. If that takes 250,000 soldiers, six aircraft carriers and 400 fighter planes, so be it. And if, when using reasonable force, his friends, relatives, supporters get in the way, the "serious consequences" in paragraph 13 of 1441 will be loss of life, since force will meet force. And if you think that that is the same as war, it is not. It is not declaring war on Iraq's people.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction. You can write to him at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple, London EC4 7EY, or email him on firstname.lastname@example.org.