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Respect for international law and America

2012 September 13
by Ian Welsh

There’s been a great deal of crying about the death of an Ambassador and others in an attack on the US embassy in Libya.

Now I’m a strong supporter of the inviolability of embassies but I wonder why other people should be?

Embassy inviolability is part of one of the oldest strata of international law, but it is a part of international law.

International law also says that aggressive war is a war crime.  Iraq was an aggressive war, and hundreds of thousands of people died as a result (the # is vague, because the US deliberately chose not to count).

International law requires that prisoners of war have certain rights.  If they are judged not be prisoners of war, then prisoners have civilian rights.  Note that the captives in Guantanmo have been deliberately denied both sets of protection.

Drone attacks in countries which do not permit them are acts of war.  The US engages in these all the time, in countries that they are not at war with.  The US gets away with it because those countries know they can’t win a war against the US, so they have to put up with it. Nonetheless, drone attacks are clear violations of international law.

Torture is a violation of international criminal law.  Granted, a lot of countries violate this, but you can’t really be a paragon of international law and torture as a matter of policy.

Meanwhile Egypt just had a revolution.  It was against a dictator who was supported, strongly, by the US.  That dictator engaged in routine torture.

Drone attacks hit funerals regularly, and weddings often enough.  This isn’t against international law, but should people whose families have been killed in attacks on weddings and funerals be respectful of the sanctity of embassies?  Would you?  Really?

If international law doesn’t protect the weak, but only the strong, why would we expect the weak to respect it?  Why should non-state actors care what the rules of states are, when states respect those rules only when it is to their advantage?

There will be more embassy attacks over time.  Bank on it.

12 Responses
  1. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 13, 2012

    So, what else is new/s; we’re a rogue state. Don’t like it; tough shit.
    So, Al Queida, Taliban, and the gods know how many others; line up to get a shot at us.
    We’ve created our own following of fundamentalist stooges who feed our war machine and perpetuate an Orwellian state of fear.
    We’re not the victim; we’re the perpetrator.

  2. Celsius 233 permalink
    September 13, 2012

    My above was from a govern’t POV.

  3. September 13, 2012

    Don’t forget that England was (still is?) considering storming another country’s embassy to get one man that the US doesn’t like, a move likely supported by the United States. Yet now we’re supposed to be shocked–shocked, I say–that another country would violate one of our embassies.

  4. Radical Livre permalink
    September 13, 2012

    To paraphrase the immortal words of a dead Greek dude, “There cannot be justice among those of unequal power. The strong will do as they wish, and the weak will suffer as they must.”

    Of course it’s also true that all the world is low-budget improv, and actors may be forced to play different roles before the curtains fall.

  5. September 13, 2012

    Of course it’s also true that all the world is low-budget improv, and actors may be forced to play different roles before the curtains fall.

    I’m stealing this.

  6. September 13, 2012

    Excellent summary. What always amazes me when attacks like this occur is not the attacks themselves but that they don’t happen more often.

  7. Phoenician in a time of Romans permalink
    September 13, 2012

    To paraphrase the immortal words of a dead Greek dude, “There cannot be justice among those of unequal power. The strong will do as they wish, and the weak will suffer as they must.”

    The weak, having access to box cutters and plane tickets, have demonstrated that the strong can suffer too.

    And, of course, it’s becoming ever easier for the weak to have access to the means for cyberwarfare. genetic engineering of viruses. Dirty bombs. Actual nuclear weapons. Critical infrastructure analysis…

    Have fun comforting yourself that you’re still strong.

  8. Roman Berry permalink
    September 14, 2012

    @Phoenician in a time of Romans…

    You wrote “And, of course, it’s becoming ever easier for the weak to have access to the means for cyberwarfare. genetic engineering of viruses. Dirty bombs. Actual nuclear weapons. Critical infrastructure analysis…

    My response is simple: Yeah…no. The weak aren’t doing much but dying. They aren’t engineering viruses or building nukes. That stuff if the province of the evil that is strong.

  9. Radical Livre permalink
    September 14, 2012

    I’m sorry Phoenician in a time of Romans, I’m sympathetic to your viewpoint, but you severely misunderstand things:

    1.- The people that suffer with terrorist attacks are not “the strong”. At least not most of them. Since you mentioned box cutters and plane tickets, you must be thinking of the WTC strikes. How many of those that died were part of the American power elite? If anything, they provided the perfect pretexts for a new round of imperial warmongering.

    2.- I wasn’t citing Thucydides approvingly. I agree with your basic point that “the weak” won’t just sit there and take it (which was the point I tried to communicate in my second paragraph). Only I doubt cyberwarfare or dirty bombs will be the weapons of choice. Politics is economics.

    3.- I don’t count myself among “the strong” (the fact that I’m commenting on a blog in the Internet should clue you in).

  10. S Brennan permalink
    September 15, 2012

    Ding..ding..ding!

    “I don’t count myself among “the strong” (the fact that I’m commenting on a blog in the Internet should clue you in).”

  11. Phoenician in a time of Romans permalink
    September 16, 2012

    At the moment, the three biggest non-state cyber-warfare actors appear to be

    i, Anonymous
    ii, The Russian underworld and
    iii, A swarm of Chinese nationalists who are tolerated by their government – as long as they don’t act internally.

    We’ll see about the other stuff as time goes on.

    But…

    1.- The people that suffer with terrorist attacks are not “the strong”. At least not most of them. Since you mentioned box cutters and plane tickets, you must be thinking of the WTC strikes. How many of those that died were part of the American power elite?

    The dichotomy was between the US and the rest. The WTC strike proved the fanatical weak could strike back against the US despite its military might. The distinction between the American elite and the American (relatively) innocent is not one Al Qaeda or, indeed, and Iraqi or Pakistani now pissed off at you might be remotely interested in making.

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