Martin Kettle welcomes the strengthening of the rule of international law that the Iraq war, he thinks, has willy-nilly achieved. I won't summarize the details of his argument. You can follow them for yourself. I want to comment on just one feature of what he says. Martin registers a problem with Lord Bingham's view, as follows:
The second [objection] is that, in practice, the security council may be incapable of authorising otherwise legally justifiable military action because China or Russia will use their veto to prevent it. In practice, therefore, Bingham seems to be in danger of arguing that lawful military action is military action that Vladimir Putin permits - a position that would make international law an ass.
In the context of his column overall, it puzzles me that Martin should feel able simply to mention this point and then pass on without further ado. For the problem is worse than he says. Not only China or Russia but any of the veto-wielding countries could prevent an 'otherwise legally justifiable military action'. Indeed, no veto might be needed, since there could be a consensus in the UN security council against a military action that had overwhelming moral justification - because (say) only that could put a stop to a genocide in progress.
Like Martin, I think the strengthening of international law is one of the more important political goals of the present century. But the above facts indicate that the existing regime of international law is seriously flawed. One of the ways of strengthening the rule of law is to note when the law is in need of reform and to press for this. Simply to get behind the system as it is does nothing to strengthen that system; rather, it helps to discredit it. A rule of international law that has no effective juridical mechanisms for identifying and intervening in a timely fashion to halt the very worst of crimes is not a rule of law that should be supported unconditionally, but only with clear reservations, both theoretical and practical. Martin's objection, therefore, has a bigger consequence for the rest of his argument than he himself makes room for.