European Stars and Stripes, Darmstadt, Germany
THE HAVOC wrought by the eco-war waged by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait continues to rage long after the cease-fire.
Firefighters still are battling more than 600 burning oil wells. Workers in Saudi Arabia still are trying to save oil-damaged coastal marshlands and fishing waters. Acid rain still is falling in neighboring countries.
And on the sidelines, the rest of the world grapples with the concept of “environmental terrorism” on an unprecedented scale.
“War is hell, but it is supposed to be a kind of organized hell,” a Saudi official lamented after millions of barrels of oil began pouring into the Persian Gulf.
Still, environmental warfare isn’t a new concept.
Sherman’s devastating march to the sea during the Civil War was a potent strategic and psychological weapon, and Stalin’s scorched earth retreat denied the Nazis much of the spoils of their early victories.
The atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki affected the health and ecosystem of Japan for generations. And it may be that long before anyone can fully assess the damage wrought by the massive use of Agent Orange and other defoliants in Vietnam and Cambodia.
But none of those events seems the equal of what is occurring in the Persian Gulf.
Never before has there been such a large-scale destruction of the environment for military means, asserts Michael Bailey of the environmental group Earth Trust.
Saddam Hussein’s deeds were not without some military objective.
The torching of the oil fields created a dense smoke cloud that at times made it difficult for allied pilots to see targets in Kuwait and southern Iraq, U.S. military spokesmen said.
Opening the oil valves at the Sea Island terminal created a 9-mile wide band of oil that would have complicated an allied-amphibious assault, had such an attack been launched.
The Geneva Convention of 1977 added environmental damage to the list of unacceptable war tactics. However, the Convention condemns only those attacks on the environment that cause mass destruction or injure civilians, such as the poisoning of city water supplies, said Michael Renner of the Worldwatch environmental group.
“We must have stronger language that makes it clear that purposeful damage to the environment is a war crime,” Renner said. “I’m not certain that what Iraq did violated the present rules. ”
The Persian Gulf ceasefire agreement, U.N. Resolution 687, states that Iraq is “liable under international law for any direct loss, damage, including environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources,” resulting from the invasion of Kuwait.
The ceasefire created a fund by which Iraq is supposed to repay countries for the damage caused by the oil spill and oil well fires.
However, it probably will be years before the multi-billion dollar debt can be paid.
The continuing U.N. economic sanctions prevent Iraq from exporting oil, thus denying the country its pimary source of revenue to make war reparations.
Bailey noted that if there is anything positive to come out of Hussein’s holocaust, it is that world attention has been focused on the environmental issues.
Changes in the rules of war may result from the plethora of commissions and scientific research teams forming to study what Iraq has done.
“I think this time we’ve got people’s attention,” he said.