Saturday, September 07, 2013
How Relevant is the UN? A Comment on Hathaway and Shapiro
to Tulane’s summer abroad programs, I have spent three weeks every July for the
last five years in countries where, seemingly, everyone believes that the 2003
Iraq War violated international law. The
basic argument, reviewed in the recent NYT op-ed by Oona Hathaway and Scott
Shapiro, is that a war violates international law unless it has been approved
by the UN Security Council. (To be sure,
there are other ways for a war to be lawful under international norms, but no
one thinks they apply either to Iraq or Syria).
So Hathaway and Shapiro’s concern that any strike on Syria not authorized
by the Security Council will undermine the structure of international law
strikes me as a bit overwrought. We’ve
been round this bramble bush before and darkness did not descend.
I think this is absolutely correct empirically. The charitable reading of Hathaway-Shapiro is that an American unilateral attack would be a significant blow to any remaining legitimacy that the "UN system" retains. Even if, as Steve argues, it's not a true "collective security" regime, it is designed to rein in sheer unilateralism.
It is a mistake to fixate, as Samantha Power does, on Russian intransigence in presumptively using its veto power. Is there any reason, for example, to believe that a majority of the current Security Council or a majority of the General Assembly, whether by number of states (including Fiji) or population (including India) would support military intervention in Syria? I assume one could get an anodyne resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons, but that's altogether different from supporting an armed attack.
The fact is that President Obama, as the result of a mixture of sheer ineptitude plus high moralism, has put himself and the US very far out on a limb, with extraordinarily little support (other than the French). If we did have stronger support, especially from the Arab League, I think it would be perfectly "proper" to ignore the UN, as occurred in the "illegal but legitimate" intervention in Serbia. But that is light years from the present case.
Isn't it just a comment on the moral depravity of the U.S. that no one cares that the Iraq war was an illegal war of aggression, for which the U.S. would, if there were an actual international legal regime, have to pay reparations for? If there's a mistake in the Hathaway-Shapiro line it's that there is an international legal regime. But they are clearly correct that an attack on Syria is unlawful, and I would also venture that they are clearly correct, from a purely utilitarian point of view, that the vast majority of humanity would be better off if countries actually did not launch wars of aggression based on their idiosyncratic rationale du jour.
I also have to ask, and I hope you'll forgive me Steve, but were you seriously endorsing this self-serving nonsense from Obama:
“Whatever mistakes we have made, the plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms. The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.”
The prospect of the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaging in a nuclear conflict did impose some stability to the international order, though each country reeked terror on countries within its sphere of influence. Since 1991 things have been different, of course. The war of aggression against Iraq would not have occurred if the Soviet Union had still existed, but that is just one example.
Part of establishing global security was the Reagan Doctrine of eliminating the USSR by regime change. Since the Soviet Empire was replaced with democracies (albeit imperfect ones), there is no more talk of nuclear terror or wars between European powers.
Ditto Iraq. No one considers democratic Iraq a threat any longer.
Rudolph Rummel was essentially correct - democracies do not war against one another.
Putting to one side the correctness of the "democratic peace" thesis, about which there is a rich literature, no sane person would consider Iraq to be a "democracy."
Sandy seems with this comment:
" ... no sane person would consider Iraq to be a 'democracy.'"
to abandon his recent "strange bedfellow" with an accurate observation.
We are in no position to judge other democracies, especially Iraq.
Iraq has more political parties and more voter participation than the US, especially in comparison to our 2012 election, where millions more than usual simply sat out the election out of disgust at their choices.
Sounds like our SALADISTA may be lining up a visa to flee (at least until Obama's term is over) our democracy for the more democratic Iraq. Alas, his DUI legal skills may go for nought there. But he might enjoy the Iraqi pastime of shooting weapons in the air (even though the Iraqi constitution lacks a provision comparable to our lesser democracy's 2nd Amendment). At least he won't have to shave to feel at home. Might BB's many references to "Baghdad Bart" become reality?
I think Sandy is right that Obama is out on a limb. It looks like he may be retreating under fire (so to speak) if Jack Goldsmith is right over on Lawfare.
I don't think the US is moral depraved re the UN -- what, the whole population? It would be more accurate to say that many different public officials abdicated their responsibility to explain to the American people why the US sticks with the UN, despite many valid criticisms. Not too much honesty there, so why would you expect the public to understand?
I don't think Obama's Nobel Prize speech was self-serving. It was in service of a very common view, perhaps more common among conservatives (who praised the speech) than Vietnam-era liberals (and I don't know Brian's age). That view has some large problems, but it is noteworthy that at least some of our allies would at least partly agree with what Obama said.
At least he won't have to shave to feel at home. Might BB's many references to "Baghdad Bart" become reality?
# posted by Blogger Shag from Brookline : 2:56 PM
The idiots who still think that invading Iraq was a good idea should be required to move there.
Also, anyone who thinks that Blankshot would oppose an attack on Syria if President McCain was calling the shots should be forced to spend some time in Baghdad with Bart.
Over at TomDispatch.com:
consider Andrew Bacevich's "The Hill to the Rescue on Syrian?" - the views of a Professor of history and international relations. Whether intentional or not, Obama has started a long overdue debate on the imperial executive. If Congress approves, Obama will most likely go ahead. If Congress does not approve, the test of the debate will depend on whether or not Obama decides to go ahead. In the past, presidents have proceeded with or without UN approval, with or without congressional approval, so Obama has many political executive precedents he can rely upon. Will the imperial executive prevail? Much will depend upon Congress, to which Obama has turned. Will Congress finally challenge the imperial executive? If so, how may Obama respond?
Perhaps constitutional scholars should be concerned with views outside of their expertise.
Thanks for your reply, Stephen.
I was not born when the United States invaded South Vietnam in 1962 to prop up a dictator, and I was 12 when the war ended. So I am not a Vietnam-era liberal (I'm also not a liberal, except in a thin sense about some rights). The claim that the U.S. is morally depraved is not a claim about the whole population obviously; it is a claim about the general public culture. The failure of the public culture to appreciate why, since Hitler, there has been an international norm against wars of aggression is a moral failing, and, yes, it is certainly one for which public officials are largely responsible.
I am surprised you take the self-serving rhetoric seriously; it seems to me factually incredible, and not to well describe the effect of U.S. arms abroad or to take account of the carnage the U.S. has wrought since it began occupying the world after WWII.
It would be interesting to see empirical support (e.g., poll data) showing that the population, even in our allies, views the U.S. in the benevolent way you do. As I recall--perhaps inaccurately--there was massive popular opposition to the war of aggression against Iraq, even in countries that were part of the Coalition of the Billing, like Britain.
Michael N. Schmitt's "The Syrian Intervention: Assessing the Possible International Law Justifications" provides a concise - 13 page - review. My download does not include the URL but it can be linked to at Larry Solum's Legal Theory Blog. [Cite: 89 Int'l. L. Stud. 744 (2013).]
I have read the comments, and I must say, it is really interesting for me to know the meaning of people who are older than me, as, maybe I am not that good in politic affairs.
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I did not take a course in International Law in law school. So Prof. Schmitt's concise article was most welcome. His discussion addresses providing assistance to the Syrian Rebels (p.p 751-2) as a possible violation of international law unless the rebels are accepted as the government of Syria, which the U.S. has not done (because some of the rebel groups are nasty people). Surprisingly, to me, his discussion of Humanitarian Intervention (p.p.752-755) seems strong based upon the British view, even though international law does not widely accept such as a legal right.
Michael Ignatieff's NYTimes Op-Ed today "The Duty to Protect, Still Urgent" looks for humanitarian intervention in Syria.Post a Comment