The Antitraveller
Voyaging Is Victory


you know it all, but here it is again for you



Hegemonic stability theory states that a degree of order among the anarchic international system of nation states can be achieved by a predominant military and economic power, that can dominate the “rules and arrangements by which international relations, political and economic,are conducted”. The hegemon uses its unrivaled power to maintain a form of global order conducive to its national interest, that also is relatively conducive to interests of the other major powers, both state and non-state. Note that justice over atrocities, predominantly in developing states, is not necessary to the maintenance of this order except in cases where failure to act would be detrimental to the order.



Of course nothing is black and white in the flexible push-and-pull of international power relations, particularly among the most powerful states. And the emerging hegemony of the US has at least a half century of progress in international law to maintain, and/or remould where necessary, for continued expansion.


Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations Paul Heinbecker was right that “fundamental principles of international law and the place of those principles in the conduct of global affairs are in question”. He was stating this as the Security Council passed Resolution 1422 (2002), effectively granting the US total immunity from prosecution by the “first new major international institution of the twenty first century”, the International Criminal Court.


As the curtain fell on the most atrocity-soaked century in human history, seeds of hope sprouted with the forces of international human rights law that began to stamp its existence in the real world and not just in the “rhetoric of politicians and the pipe-dreams of professors”. So in the spirit of the post-Second World War Two war crime trials, and the ad-hoc tribunals established by the UN for the former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Rwanda in 1994, in 1998 world governments and NGO’s nutted out the ‘Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court’ to bring global justice over genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole’.


But for all the well-intentioned energy, what “should have marked the triumph of international law over superpower expediency, in fact demonstrated how far the human rights movement has yet to go before reality catches up with its rhetoric”. Though an overwhelming majority of states voted in favour of the Statute, concerns voiced by the US that eventually turned into outright opposition has left the ICC and everything it signify’s philosophically, “global justice, human rights, and the rule of law”, in question. If global justice is meant to be truly universal, how can one state, and most importantly the most powerful single state to have existed in human history, be exempt from its jurisdiction? US opposition to the ICC represents with stark clarity the battle between power and law in international relations.


There are no hidden meanings in the US position. John Bolton, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, and now US Ambassador to the UN, repeats the reason ad nauseum in his speeches and writings about it – national interest. The ICC is “an agreement that is harmful to the national interests of the United States and harmful to our presence abroad”, it limits the “independence and flexibility that America needs to defend our national interests around the world”, it threatens with prosecution “our country’s top civilian and military leaders, those responsible for our defense and foreign policy”, it will have a “highly detrimental impact on the conduct of US foreign policy”, and concluding with his President’s words “we will take the actions necessary to ensure that our efforts to meet our global security commitments and protect Americans are not impared …”. For ‘protect Americans’ read ‘protect American political and economic interests’.


For anyone committed to international law or even just elementary moral principles these words are chilling. But I would propose that given the hegemonic reality of the evolving global system, the US position is at once understandable, logical, and justifiable.


So Bolton accuses the proponents of the ICC with their “optimistic rhetoric” of fundamentally confusing the “appropriate roles of political and economic power, diplomatic efforts, military force, and legal procedures”. Only the cushioned mouthpiece of a superpower could get away with sentences like this. With a perplexing barbarity of words Bolton reasons that even military might can’t deter atrocities from being committed, so “why should anyone imagine that bewigged judges in The Hague will succeed where cold steel has failed?”. He reminds us, “much to the dismay of moralists and legal theoreticians”, that foreign policy is a messy business, “painful and unpleasant”, and those mere “mortal policy makers” must make “tradeoffs among inconsistent objectives” when faced with the “irritating facts of human complexity, contradiction, and imperfection”.


But while my heart certainly doesn’t weep for the war-rooms in Washington DC, far from their targets of death and destruction, I am forced to concede that Bolton’s argument is logical.


In ‘The Risks and Weaknesses of the International Criminal Court from Americas Perspective’ Bolton writes that the “cognoscenti”, “academics and activists” severely misinterpret the very real limitations of international law. People with a weakness for multilateralism and legalist thought seek to “constrain nation states, to limit their ability to act unilaterally, especially in the use of military force”. The fact that there is no coercive authority to enforce international law, and the “decentralized and unaccountable” way in which international law is made, leaves it “abstract to the point of irrelevance from real international relations”.


By arguing that there is in reality no such thing as international law, then it follows that no institution can enforce something that doesn’t exist in the ‘real world’. Here is the error in “trying to transform international matters of power and force into matters of law”.


But just because the institutions that make municipal law legitimate aren’t there in the international arena, does not mean that the rules of international law are not law. Orders backed by threats and violence do not amount to law either.


In fact international law works effectively well across a wide variety of areas – telecommunications, postal services, carriage of goods and passengers, trade, the use of the sea and airspace, to name just a few. Most of these rules generally enforce themselves by voluntary compliance because they contribute so much to the maintenance of nation states existence, and so states find identical and complementary interests in the rule of law.


This is especially true of a hegemonic power. Here we need to dismiss any notion that the US is opposed to international law per se. International law is paramount to maintaining its dominance. For powerful states international law is a tool used for creating regulation in certain areas, pacifying other states, and as a means to stabilise their power. Instrumentalisation of law is key to ‘hegemonic strategy’, and we see this in the raft of international treaties and multilateral agreements that the US is the prime global creator of. The US has been the driving force in the creation of economic, trade, and investment laws especially, and is their most avid pursuer.There is very little US scepticism in this realm of international law.


But in other areas of international law the US shows a fervent reluctance to enter into any multilateral treaties, primarily in the areas of laws on war and human rights. It is a powerful organiser and persuader for other states to enter into such agreements, but with the frequent use of reservations steps back to ensure it is not bound by them.


In ‘going it alone’ in this area of international law the US has put itself above major arms control treaties, environmental treaties, the UN Convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, and the International Labor Organisation. The US also challenges the UN Charter articles on the use of force, the Geneva Conventions for the protection of combatants, civilians, and prisoners of war during conflict, and of course aggressively opposes the ICC.


One of the most shrill opponents of the ICC and its goal of universal jurisdiction is Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor. Kissinger expresses concern for the “intimidating passion” with which human rights advocates have pushed for heads of state and senior public officials to have the same standing as outlaws before the bar of justice, and accountable for human rights violations they commit anywhere in the world.


His feelings of intimidation are well founded. During his years at the levers of US power Kissinger earned an impressive resume of involvement in human rights atrocities that stretched across the globe: mass killing of civilians in Indochina, mass murder and assassination in Bangladesh, the overthrow and murder of a democratically elected leader in Chile, and incitement and enabling of genocide in East Timor.


Caught off guard at a press conference in New York to promote his book Democracy in 1995, Kissinger was questioned by Constancio Pinto, a Timorese former resistance fighter about his support of Indonesia around the brutal 1975 invasion of Timor. Seemingly backed into a corner after another member of the audience, Allen Nairn, a journalist caught in the 1991 massacre in Dili piped up and asked,


“Would you support international war crimes tribunal…on the subject of East Timor, and would you…abide by its verdict in regard to your own conduct?”


Kissinger’s on the spot answer is revealing,


“I mean, uh, really, this sort of comment is one of the reasons why the conduct of foreign policy is becoming nearly impossible under these conditions”.



Krisch writes that the US “seeks to evade international law’s pull toward equality” and establishes “hierarchies in many areas of the international system,and often its actions amount to the exercise of quasi-governmental functions”. Here we see a dilution of other state’s sovereignty at the behest of the expansion of US sovereignty, amounting to the evolution of a world government. Going beyond Morgenthau’s concept of the UN as world government by the Security Council permanent members, the US position has entangled the world in its web of power exercised across a wide degree of international law and politics. Necessarily quite different from any form of government yet experienced in history, and still in an infant decentralized stage, yet evolving to incorporate functions of governance in legislation, and adjudication. Here the US had moved away from international law to increase its use of its domestic law to control international relations. In this role it is able to free itself from the constraints of international law, the ICC for example, on the grounds that it has “special responsibilities” in the world.




These responsibilities, like Kissingers difficult foreign policy to protect the global ‘national interest’, require it to commit human rights abuses, mostly in ‘third-world’ countries.




This privileged position is accepted as so by the other large powers. The hegemonic web offers as much protection and enhancement of interests for the powerful states entangled as it offers despair and misery for the weak trapped in its hierarchy of exploitation and anonymity. Ikenberry describes it as a ‘liberal hegemony’, which since the Second World War has “facilitated cooperation and integration among the major industrial countries”. The development of liberal institutions to “address problems internal to Western capitalism and industrial society”, made up of security and economic institutions with constitution-like characteristics.



But there is a global force quite apart from the acceptance (be it avid or resigned) of US hegemony and its Napoleon-like self-crowning of the right to do as it pleases. And though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights may be “mind numbing” for John Bolton, there has continues to grow the aspirations of millions of people who pledge support for its principles, that “everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised”. Perhaps rare in the pragmatic moral vacuum of politics, these principles nevertheless are being pursued in a growing body of international law like the ICC, struggling to counter the darkness of hegemony, and on the streets in the defiant optimism of the anti-corporate globalisation movement, whi




ch quickly morphed into the anti-war movement after September 11 2001.




I also think its necessary to de-personify the ‘US’ as the axis of this engulfing roll-back of Enlightenment humanism. Along with US government policy is complex network of transnational corporations with very real interests in the continued expansion of military and economic human rights abuse. It includes too the muted compliance of the global media in deflecting focus to only occasional fashionable atrocities. And their sseemingly disciplined agreement among each other to never write that the Emporer is without clothes.







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