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Lawless World

Entry 185, on 2005-06-20 at 15:30:32 (Rating 4, Politics)

This morning I listened to an interview with leading international lawyer, Phillipe Sands, who is the author of a new book called Lawless World. He commented on how the most powerful countries, especially the US, have chosen to ignore many international laws, even laws they created themselves, and how this has become particularly obvious since 9-11.

Its not that the US ignores all the rules, it follows the ones which suit its current political aims (for example free trade deals that allow US investment overseas), and ignores those that don't lead to any advantage (for example, the rules for detention of political/military prisoners).

Sands thinks this behaviour can't continue indefinitely, because popular opinion and informal mechanisms lead to the necessity of following global rules in the long term. For example, the US will eventually have to adopt the Kyoto Protocol (or something very similar) because already states within the US are adopting similar regulations, and the international community will eventually follow the lead of countries like New Zealand.

In the longer term some of the most prominent world leaders might be made to account for their actions too. For example, Rumsfield has signed memoranda which allow torture and are contrary to International law. Sands believes could lead to some sort of punishment or censure in the future.

He claims that there is no justification for producing the repressive laws being introduced in the US and UK now. A famous Israeli supreme court decision mentioned that it is the "lot of an democracy to fight with one hand behind its back". In other words, the good guys should play by the rules, even if the bad guys don't, otherwise how do you tell the difference?

Sands says there is no real danger to Britain from terrorists, the real danger is from the laws being enacted which are designed to mitigate real or imagined threats from these terrorists.

He was asked whether the end justifies the means in Iraq, in other words is the US decision to start an illegal war and kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians OK because the dictator has been deposed and democracy established?

First, we have no reason to believe that democracy will survive long term. And even if it does, is it the right government form for a country very different from the western world?

Second, deposing Saddam Hussein was not necessarily such a good idea. He was not a good leader, we all know that, but the atrocities attributed to him were in the past (while an ally of the US) and there was no sign of further major breaches when the war started. Also, there were far more obvious candidates for despotic regimes the US could have attacked if it really felt the need. So even on that count, the war can't be defended.

I look at it this way: we don't like terrorist or agree with their tactics, but we can't claim the moral high ground when western nations are doing far more damage around the world than the terrorists ever did.

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Comment 1 (68) by SBFL on 2005-08-09 at 19:01:56:

Too true. I probably support the US in the regime change in Afganistan, but not in Iraq. What is frustrating is not so much they they disregarded the rest of the world (and UN) but that it has all just been such a waste. What has the US achieved in Iraq? What benefits for American people?

I wish the US would stop wasting so much of their wealth on pointless military interventions and so-called "aid" to Israel and pump the cash into programmes to eliminate (or at least reduce) poverty in Africa and Latin America. I know they give more aid than anyone else, but proportionately it is pathetic.

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Comment 2 (71) by OJB on 2005-08-10 at 19:38:22:

Yes, its very frustrating to think what a mess the world is, and how much better it would be if the resources of the Earth were more sensibly distributed. For example, if there was a decent investment in science we could solve many of the environmental, energy production, and health issues of the world.

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