In this paper I argue that the 2003 war on Iraq was illegal, and that this illegality matters. In the first substantive part of the paper (Part II), I consider three legal justifications that have been offered, to varying degrees, formally and informally, for the war. These are self-defence (and its more contentious variants, anticipatory self defence and preventative war), collective security under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, and, finally, the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. None of these provides a secure basis for going to war. The most plausible of these justifications, based on an interpretation of existing Security Council resolutions, is arcane and unconvincing. Part III situates the debate over the war in the context of some recent dilemmas concerning the international order; namely the problem of law in international affairs, the question of novelty, the claims of equality, the assessment of evidence and the presence of hyperpower. Part IV ends by reminding readers of the many and varied ways in which international law does matter in ways that transcend the tedious debates about compliance.
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