The pros and cons of going to war

15 May 2015

Professor Alexander Gillespie, expert on the laws of war.

When Al Qaeda is telling ISIS to calm down, you know you've got problems. University of Waikato professor of law and expert on war Alexander Gillespie, outlined the background to the crisis in the Middle East at a public lecture in Hamilton last night.

He spoke to an audience of about 280, the group equally split over whether or not New Zealand should have sent troops to Iraq. Giving no opinion himself, but laying out the reasons for and against, Professor Gillespie said Al Qaeda was more refined and more disciplined that ISIS whose troops were more street smart and appealing to a wider class.

"ISIS don't follow any conventions, they have put the rules of war into the bin, they have no respect for humanity and have committed every atrocity known to man," Professor Gillespie said.

"And with cities like Mosul facing 50% unemployment, ISIS has no shortage of volunteers. What's happening in the Middle East is the biggest war we've seen since the Cold War… and there are more refugees, as many as six million from Iraq and Syria, than at any point since 1945."

Professor Gillespie said this is a war that should be being fought at UN level, "put on the blue helmet and use force", but the Security Council is being stalled by Russia and so the problem "continues to bleed".

"But we could say that it's not our fight … this is just the beginning, and if you're training the army you're in the war. Once the Americans are keen to get more troops, New Zealand will be asked to supply more. Do you want to get in front when there's no exit point?" Professor Gillespie said.

"We have no definition for peace. We want to rebalance Iraq, but what about Syria? Yemen? Egypt? Libya is pretty close to being a failed state. This is just the beginning."

And citing examples of terrorist acts in Australia, London and France, Professor Gillespie said we have to accept that terrorism doesn't just happen far away, that it's getting closer to New Zealand.

View the full lecture recording here: