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US: Global Leader or Global Cop?

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The U.S. public and policymakers face a fateful choice: will our government be a global leader or a global cop?

The Bush administration says there's no alternative: our homeland security, international peace, and our standard of living depend on the United States policing the world. According to this doctrine, spelled out by the White House in its National Security Strategy, the United States must maintain global military dominance and the right of preemptive military attack against any country it regards as a current or even a potential threat. Under this radical foreign policy doctrine, U.S. national security and interests require that we deploy our forces around the world.

Dangerous and Alarming

We find this a dangerous and alarming concept of peace and security, and we believe that this radical foreign policy doctrine is not America's only option.

It is alarming because the first-strike doctrine ignores international law, dismisses the precepts and procedures of collective security established by the UN Charter, and establishes the United States as an international vigilante--acting at once as cop, judge, and executioner. It is dangerous not only because it will rush the United States into unnecessary wars but also because it provides a precedent for extraterritorial operations by other nations and nonstate actors. There is another choice--a foreign and military agenda in which our power is exercised responsibly, our leadership fosters respect, and our goals are commonly shared among our partners.

At the beginning of the 21st century, our nation and our world face stark and growing threats. These include terrorists with global reach, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, unprecedented global environmental crises, and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality. None of these deepening problems can be addressed by U.S. military prowess alone. None can be addressed by any one country alone, even a country as powerful as the United States.

Yet in the face of these threats, the Bush administration has launched a new foreign policy based on U.S. supremacy and exceptionalism. Despite the passionate opposition of its closest allies and the international community, the Bush administration has set our country on a dangerous and alarming course. It has:

Abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty while squandering billions in chasing the chimera of national missile defense.

Undermined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty while expressing support for testing new nuclear weapons and refusing to rule out a nuclear first strike against nonnuclear nations.

Derailed negotiations to improve international inspection systems to monitor and prevent the production of biological and chemical weapons.

Repudiated an international scientific consensus and withdrawn from global efforts to curb global warming.

Renounced the U.S. signature on the treaty to create an International Criminal Court and campaigned aggressively to exempt all U.S. personnel from its jurisdiction, even threatening to veto UN peacekeeping operations if it does not get its way.

Dismissed the need for broad international cooperation in its war on terrorism, preferring to act alone or with selected allies.

Treated human rights as an obstacle to rather than an essential component of civic security at home and abroad.

Undermined the Oslo peace process, condoned the Israeli reoccupation of Palestinian territory, and rejected UN Security Council resolutions supported by previous administrations that provide a framework for conflict resolution containing strict security guarantees for both Israel and the Palestinians.

Slighted global efforts to mobilize an offensive against the spread of AIDS, instead privileging the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies over the need for affordable life-saving medicines.

Suspended U.S. support for the UN's family planning programs and balked at supporting the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Continued to pursue a global economic agenda that is of, by, and for transnational corporations and blocked efforts to build international rules to enforce labor and consumer rights and environmental protections.

A Framework of International Cooperation

In the waning days of World War II, a key turning point in global affairs occurred. The United States, as the dominant power, committed itself to a new international system whose aim was to bring the world's nations together within a system of agreed rules and norms for collective security. The United Nations and the other global agencies that it spawned were, of course, imperfect, as are all human creations. Power imbalances, wealth gaps, and cold war rivalries often mocked the ideals on which these institutions were founded. Nonetheless, this new framework of multilateralism marked a significant step toward genuine international cooperation as an alternative to a past dominated by nationalism, empire, and militarism.

This framework is now in danger of being irretrievably undermined. There is no mandate in the United States for this radical departure. After all, in 2000, candidate Bush promised "more humility" in foreign policy, close cooperation with our traditional allies, and a commitment to the pursuit of national interests, narrowly defined. Yet since the September 11th terrorist attacks, the language of consultation and diplomacy has given way to one of command and unilateralism.

The U.S. government must act resolutely to protect itself from terrorism and to bring to justice those responsible for the September 11th attacks. But the Bush policy has done more to isolate the United States than to isolate the terrorists. By demanding the right to act unilaterally, by changing the target from the perpetrators of 9-11 to a purported "axis of evil," by scorning both multilateral alliances and the UN system, and by refusing to comply with international law in its treatment of prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the Bush administration is undermining the very cause it claims to serve.

Toward a Real Security Agenda

World peace depends on strong collective security mechanisms. The new threat of international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the existence of repressive, militaristic states like Iraq underscore the continuing need for multilateral responses to security threats. The U.S. military must be prepared to protect the nation against external threats. But U.S. military might is an insufficient guarantor of national and international security. Well-funded international institutions and international cooperation in intelligence gathering, peacekeeping, and arms control are essential components to any real security.

The United States should adopt a real security agenda--one that addresses the actual dangers that Americans now face--by using its leadership to mobilize international action against these global threats. Such an alternative approach would include:

Renewing efforts to mobilize a global consensus and global action against all forms of terrorism at home and abroad.

Increasing our commitment to the UN security system and international law, while urging UN action against threats to the peace.

Committing the United States to the fundamental principle of international justice--that no country is above international law.

Strengthening multilateral, verifiable arms control regimes that aim to curb weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems.

Exercising leadership for protection of the environment through the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and other international environmental agreements while protecting existing multilateral environmental agreements from challenges by free trade agreements.

Increasing support for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as other international efforts to respond to the AIDS pandemic.

Supporting efforts to promote corporate accountability at home and abroad while working to insure that the global governance mechanisms of the international economy--including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO)--are embedded within a framework that effectively addresses the poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, and social disintegration that are among the greatest threats to security in the world today.

In the past several decades, the international community has made progress in reaching effective agreements in the areas of human rights, environmental protection, arms control, and collective security. We turn our backs on this progress at grave risk to ourselves and humankind. This framework of international cooperation can help us address current threats such as international terrorism, arms proliferation, and deepening global poverty. Rather than spurning multilateralism, U.S. leaders should dedicate themselves to reforming and reinvigorating the processes and structures of international problem solving. As a world power with national interests around the globe, the United States has the greatest stake in building international institutions, fostering international cooperation, and instituting the international rule of law.

A good-faith effort in this regard would include:

Remitting all unpaid UN dues and making regular and timely payments of future assessments to UN programs, including those for peacekeeping operations.

Committing to help reform UN decisionmaking to reflect the new realities of world power and population distribution in the 21st century.

Strengthening international justice by ratifying the International Criminal Court.

Expanding the international human rights regime by ratifying such key international human rights covenants as the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the International Labor Organization's core labor rights conventions; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Now, more than ever before, U.S. foreign policy should draw inspiration from the deep but often suppressed democratic and internationalist foundations of this nation. Borrowing a phrase from the Declaration of Independence, this administration needs to show "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind."

We are compelled--both by our consciences and our hopes for future generations--to call for a new foreign policy that successfully meets the new challenges that threaten global security, peace, and development. Threats to our common security need multilateral responses. Not in our name can the U.S. government ignore world opinion, reject international treaties, adopt first-strike prerogatives, and put power before reason. We stand behind a foreign and military policy that uses U.S. power responsibly--one that wins respect at home and abroad through its commitment to global partnerships and prudent international leadership. It is precisely such a policy that will best ensure America's own well-being and protect our own security.

Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a joint project of the Interhemispheric Resource Center (IRC) and Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), initiated this statement for a new foreign and military policy. We offer it for consideration by policymakers, other policy reform organizations, and constituency groups that share similar concerns. We believe that a unified response is needed to oppose the administration's radical policies and to propose principled and effective alternatives.

Please follow this link to sign this petition:


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Lawyers Statement on

UN Resolution 1441 on Iraq

The Bush administration claims that it does not legally need Security Council authorization to attack Iraq if the United States concludes that Iraq breaches its obligations to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions. As Professors of Law and practicing attorneys, we believe that the administration's legal position is incorrect and poses a grave danger for the future of international law, the United Nations, and a peaceful international order.

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter prohibits any nation from using force. The Charter contains only two exceptions: when such force is employed in self-defense or when it is authorized by the UN Security Council. Thus far the Security Council has been unwilling to authorize a U.S. attack against Iraq. This refusal, reflecting the widespread international sentiment against war with Iraq, makes any unilateral U.S. attack on Iraq illegal under international law.


Article 51 of the Charter sets forth the exception for self-defense. A nation can employ self-defense only "if an armed attack occurs," or, as a number of authorities have argued, in response to an imminent attack. None of the reasons given by the Bush administration for attacking Iraq, including destruction of claimed weapons of mass destruction or overthrowing Saddam Hussein, constitute self-defense under the UN Charter. The Bush administration has presented no evidence that Iraq currently presents an imminent threat of attack against the U.S.

UN Authorization

Throughout the now more than decade-long dispute over Iraq's compliance with its disarmament obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 687 which ended the 1991 Gulf War, a majority of both the Security Council- and a majority of its permanent members- have consistently argued that it is for the Security Council as a whole, and not individual states such as the U.S. or Britain, to decide how to enforce its resolutions. For example, during the last crisis with Iraq over inspections in 1998, a majority of the Security Council disagreed with the U.S. position and argued that no existing Security Council resolution authorized the U.S., Britain, or any other member state to enforce Iraq's disarmament obligations imposed by Resolution 687. France, Russia, China and other nations argued that only a new, explicit Security Council resolution authorizing force against Iraq could provide a legal basis for such U.S./British action.

On November 8, 2002 after almost eight weeks of negotiation and tremendous pressure by the United States, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1441, which set a new timetable and a new regime of inspections for Iraq. That Resolution does not authorize the United States to use force against Iraq.

Resolution 1441 represents a compromise between the French/Russian view and the American/British perspective. The Council acquiesced to the U.S. by deciding that Iraq "was and remains" in "material breach" of prior resolutions, and recalls that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face "serious consequences" as a result of its continued violation of its obligations. Although, the "material breach" and "serious consequences" language will be used by the United States to argue that the Security Council has implicitly authorized the use of force in response to any Iraqi non-compliance, that is not a legally correct interpretation of the Resolution. Let us be clear: The Security Council resolution does not change the decade-long position of the Security Council that only it can decide how to enforce its own resolutions.

Although the resolution does not explicitly require another Security Council vote on authorization of military force, it is significant that Paragraph 4 of Resolution 1441declaring that any failure by Iraq to comply with the resolution will constitute a "material breach" does require that such a breach "will be reported to the Security Council for assessment in accordance with paragraph 11 and 12" of the resolution. Those paragraphs require the Chairman of the Inspection Team to report to the Security Council, which will itself convene "immediately" to consider the situation and decide what to do.

It is clear from the resolution that no individual member state is authorized to use any violation by Iraq, whether very minor and technical or more serious, as legal justification to attack Iraq. The resolution requires the Security Council to meet immediately and decide what to do about an Iraqi violation--a requirement inconsistent with member states taking unilateral action. Indeed, France, Russia and China, which provided the critical votes to pass the Resolution, issued a statement upon its enactment that "Resolution 1441...excludes an automaticity in the use of force" and that only the Security Council has the ability to respond to a misstep by Iraq. Mexico's Ambassador was explicit in casting his country's vote for the resolution. He stressed that the use of force is only valid as a last resort, "with the prior, explicit authorization of the Security Council."

As law professors and practicing lawyers, we are encouraged that the Security Council has placed itself front and center for the resolution of this issue concerning the disarmament of Iraq. The United Nations charter is a treaty binding on the United States and is part of our supreme Law of the land, by virtue of Article VI of the United States Constitution. We urge the Bush administration to comply with the Constitution, to comply with the UN Charter, and not unilaterally attack Iraq.

(Drafted by Jules Lobel, Professor of Law, University of Pittsburg, November 27, 2002.)

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