Iraq/US: Contempt for the United Nations

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Posted by andreas from ( on Monday, September 16, 2002 at 1:38AM :


September 13, 2002

Iraq and the US:
Contempt for the United Nations

by Adam Jones

On September 12, U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the General Assembly of
the United Nations. He was there to make the case for vigorous action against
Iraq. Bush told delegates that the U.N. had been born in "the hope of a world
moving toward justice, escaping old patterns of conflict and fear." He then reeled
off a list of Saddam Hussein's transgressions against Security Council
resolutions. Hussein's actions, the president said, proved "his contempt for the
United Nations." "Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or
cast aside without consequence?" Bush asked. "Will the United Nations serve the
purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?"

Much the same question could have been asked in 1986, and was asked by a few
dissident voices. In June of that year, the International Court of Justice (also
known as the World Court)--the leading institution for the adjudication of
international law--issued its verdict in the case of Nicaragua vs. the United

The U.S., under President Ronald Reagan, had spent the first half of the 1980s
waging a massive campaign against the revolutionary Sandinista government of
Nicaragua. U.S. strategy included direct attacks by CIA operatives, and tens of
millions of dollars in support for the U.S.-created and -trained "Contra" rebel

The World Court found that the U.S. actions constituted "an unlawful use of force
.... [that] cannot be justified either by collective self-defence ... nor by any
right of the United States to take counter-measures involving the use of force." A
good argument can be made that the court was, in fact, convicting the United
States of international terrorism, which the U.S. Congress has defined as "any
activity that ... appears to be intended ... to intimidate or coerce a civilian
population ... [or] to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or
coercion." The court ordered the United States to pay reparations, estimated at
between $12 billion and $17 billion, to Nicaragua.

All of this was, of course, irrelevant to the course of actual events. The United
States had announced, as soon as the World Court accepted jurisdiction in the
case, that it would boycott the proceedings and not recognize the verdict. Two
weeks after that verdict was issued, the U.S. Congress voted an extraordinary $100
million for the "Contras," thereby expressing its determination to pursue the
terrorist campaign regardless of international law and global public opinion.

It is true that the U.S. did not have to worry about ignoring Security Council
resolutions, as Saddam Hussein has done over the last decade. As a permanent
member of the Council, the U.S. can simply veto any resolution it dislikes.
Shortly after the World Court decision, Nicaragua appealed to the Security
Council, with a motion calling on all states to respect international law. The
U.S. killed the resolution (the vote was 11-1, with 3 abstentions). Nicaragua then
took its case to the General Assembly, where it secured a 94-3 vote demanding that
the U.S. respect the World Court's verdict. The Assembly, though, had no way of
enforcing the resolution, given the U.S. veto in the Security Council.

"From these events," wrote Noam Chomsky in 1988, "we perceive with great clarity
the self-image of American elites: the United States is a lawless and violent
state and must remain so, independently of such nonsense as international law, the
World Court, the United Nations, or other international institutions ... Meanwhile
starry-eyed ideologues pay their tributes in awed and reverential tones to our
unique commitment to the rule of law."

In 1990, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua was defeated in elections and
replaced by a coalition headed by Violeta Chamorro. That government agreed to
abandon Nicaragua's claim for compensation, in return for a paltry $60 million in
U.S. aid to assist with the program of economic privatization and "shock therapy"
then being imposed on Nicaragua's long-suffering population. This did not,
however, affect the World Court's verdict, which still stands. It serves as a
lonely reminder of the U.S.'s "unique commitment to the rule of law"--unique, that
is, in the U.S.'s determination to preserve its immunity from the rule of law.

On the same day as President Bush's speech to the General Assembly, The Washington
Post published an article about Nicaragua's plight today. It noted that the
country is now the second-poorest in the western hemisphere, after Haiti. The
dramatic improvements in nutrition, health care and literacy associated with the
Sandinistas' first years in power were crushed by the U.S.-led terrorist campaign,
and further "rolled back" after the U.S.'s favoured politicians took power in

Violeta Chamorro was succeeded, in 1996, by Arnoldo Aleman. Aleman, according to
the Post article, now stands accused of looting more than $100 million U.S. from
the country's scarce resources during his six years in power. He had been vocally
supported by the United States throughout the period of his alleged thievery. As
the Post put it: "Aleman was long a protege of the United States, which focused on
his staunch anti-Sandinista credentials rather than the mounting evidence that he
was fleecing his country."

Nicaragua's new president, Enrique Bolanos, inherits the automatic U.S. support
given to any conservative politician in the Third World who conforms to
Washington's agenda, at home and abroad. But even he seems unable to wring much in
the way of assistance out of the United States. With a loan of $100 million,
Bolanos says, "I could work wonders." This is approximately equal to the money
that Arnoldo Aleman is said to have stolen from his people, with enthusiastic U.S.
support. It is a small amount compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars that
the U.S. devoted to overthrowing the Sandinista government in the 1980s, and a
tiny fraction of the billions owed to Nicaragua under the World Court verdict.

Nonetheless, it appears doubtful that the money will be provided, even as a loan.
"I'm not sure that just giving him [Bolanos] $100 million is going to solve his
problems," said an anonymous U.S. official. George Bush, meanwhile, was telling
the U.N. General Assembly of America's "commitment to human dignity," and its
"joining with the world to supply aid where it reaches people and lift up lives."

This cynical record--of trampling international law, ruining a small Third World
country perhaps beyond recovery, and then looking elsewhere while starvation and
misery reign in the aftermath--should be borne in mind when we listen to the Bush
Administration's lectures on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. It is hardly a coincidence
that many key personnel associated with U.S. policies toward Central America in
the 1980s--policies that directly contributed to the deaths of hundreds of
thousands of people, in Nicaragua and throughout the region--have returned to
power under George W. Bush. (Think of Otto Reich, Elliott Abrams, and the former
ambassador to Honduras, John Negroponte--today, U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations.) There is no reason to expect that the commitment of these figures to the
rule of law, and that of others within the Bush Administration, will be any less
selective this time around.

The world community should not allow its agenda to be dictated by a U.S. regime
that sees international law and the United Nations as useful weapons to be used
against designated enemies, but nuisances to be ignored in conducting its own
foreign policy.

Adam Jones is professor of international studies at the Center for Research and
Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. He is editor of the forthcoming
volume, "Genocide, War Crimes, and the West: Ending the Culture of Impunity" (Zed
Books). Email:

-- andreas
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