The US has been targeting China by expressing a concern that China does not or will not act according to a ‘rules-based’ order. This column examines how well the US follows the rules, especially international laws, it played a key role in developing. For example, two key articles in the United Nations Charter stress the importance of non-intervention.
Among other points in Article 2 in Chapter I states:
“The Organization is based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.” and
“All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.”
Chapter VII of the UN Charter also states that any intervention requires the approval of the UN Security Council. Article 51 of this chapter does allow a nation to promptly act in self defense against an armed attack until the Security Council can act.
These are some crucial planks of international law describing how nations should relate to one another. The sovereign equality of all nations helps to protect smaller nations from attacks by more powerful nations.
Shameful US Record
Unfortunately we have seen numerous occasions when the US has failed to comply with international law, and this failure has often led to disastrous results for the victims of US crimes. William Blum’s powerful and informative 2004 book “Killing Hope” documents over 50 US interventions since 1945. The 2003 US-led attack on Iraq, without support of the UN Security Council, is one of the more egregious 21st-century war crimes committed by the US. This attack led to the destabilization and devastation of much of the Middle East.
Besides this devastation, US violations have greatly undercut international law and made a mockery the idea of a rules-based order. Making matters worse, the US has faced no punishment for its war crimes, including no requirement to pay just reparations for its wanton destruction of nations.
Undermining Responsibility to Protect
Another piece of international law adopted in 2005 is the responsibility to protect people at risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. This principle calls upon international intervention to pressure an offending nation into stopping the abuses. Unfortunately the legitimacy of the implementation of this law has been weakened due to its politicization by the US and its NATO allies as well as by the horror at the level of devastation wreaked on the targeted nations. Libya and Syria are two appalling 21st-century examples of nations that have been targeted and devastated.
Even if US forces and drones were not continuing to terrorize peoples around the world, the US would still be at war, conducting lethal and illegal economic warfare through the use of its unilateral sanctions. The US began employing unilateral sanctions before the demise of the Soviet Union, and it continues to commit these crimes with little-to-no concern about the suffering they cause. In fact, 39 countries with about 1/3 of the world’s population are currently sanctioned by the US.
To sell its sanctions to the public, the US usually claims a humanitarian reason for imposing sanctions against other nations. The US corporate-controlled media dutifully plays its role in the public relations campaign. In addition, due to media dereliction, the public seldom discovers that the real goal of the sanctions program is often to coerce a change in policy or the overthrow of a government that is not sufficiently subservient to US corporate interests.
Sanctions are often the weapon of choice of the US policy elite. The imposition of sanctions doesn’t require a military intervention and thus it is wrongly viewed as being a peaceful alternative to war. US soldiers don’t get killed and, as a result, the US media and public generally pay little attention to the imposition. In addition, the US public is also kept in the dark about the enormous price civilians in these other nations are paying as a result of the illegal sanctions.
For example, UN Special Rapporteur Alfred De Zayas visited Venezuela soon after the imposition of U.S. financial sanctions in 2017. “Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns,” De Zayas wrote. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.” De Zayas’s report recommended that the International Criminal Court should investigate U.S. sanctions against Venezuela as a crime against humanity.
From an article in the March 18, 2020 Lancet, the authors wrote about the sanctions against Iran during the covid crisis:
“Although sanctions do not seem to be physical warfare weapons, they are just as deadly, if not more so. Jeopardising the health of populations for political ends is not only illegal but also barbaric. We should not let history repeat itself; more than half a million Iraqi children and nearly 40 000 Venezuelans were killed as a result of UN Security Council and US sanctions in 1994 and 2017–18, respectively.
The global health community should regard these sanctions as war crimes and seek accountability for those who impose them.”
Complicity of Western Media and Human Rights Groups
The US and other Western media play vital roles in these crimes by hyping US claims of alleged human rights abuses in an attempt to create popular support for these interventions. Disappointingly, human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also have a very spotty record of calling out alleged abuses of nations the US views as enemies while often downplaying those of the US and its allies.
As a result of this complicity, the US public in particular is kept in the dark about US war crimes and crimes against humanity. If the US public believes anything, it’s that the US is acting for a good cause in its interventions, whether they be the use of military force, the use of sanctions, the use of threats, or the plotting and implementing coups against non-compliant leaders of other nations.
People of other nations understand better the criminality and reality of US actions. They also are concerned about the stationing of US troops in a large number of nations around the world. Thus when US political and military leaders and pundits pontificate about the rules-based order, people around the world are not taken in by US hypocrisy. Instead, they view the US as the biggest threat to world peace and as the biggest threat to democracy according to surveys.
Unless the US public finally learns the truth and forces our leaders to join the community of nations working collaboratively on climate change and the prevention of nuclear war, the future is incredibly bleak.
Ron Forthofer is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado