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Why must America break the rules to enforce them?

first_imgAmerica has changed from the champion of international order to its antagonist. Bush has rejected the idea that a set of strong international institutions, built on a set of common agreements about values and the rule of law, is good for America and the world.  First came the unilateral abandonment of the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty so that they could complete testing and then build the first stages of a ballistic missile shield.  There are many problems with this, aside from the fact that the technology doesn’t work. It is preposterously expensive; it does not protect against terrorist attack (the most likely kind); and it is strategically destabilizing. That is a quartet of problems that should have doomed it. But the core message America sent in ditching the treaty it is that their commitments are valid only so long as they are also convenient. The Russians have recently used the proposed first phase construction in Poland as the basis for saying they will not observe their commitments under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.  What goes around comes around.The Administration then announced that they would not sign the treaty establishing the International Court of Criminal Justice.  The ostensible reason for this was to avoid “rogue prosecution” of American soldiers by those who might wish the US harm.  This is, on its face, preposterous.  The standards of the Court were specifically rewritten to respond to US concerns over precisely this issue. Once again, the message is that the US will accept no limits on its power.Then, in an almost offhanded way, the Administration simply rejected the Kyoto Treaty.  Among European countries this was, along with Iraq, the most shocking step.  Absolute and unilateral rejection was far outside the range of what informed observers thought would be the US response.Next the Bush Administration asserted that the Geneva Accords were not binding on US treatment of detainees – and this has only put coalition soldiers at greater risk.  Finally there is the National Security Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction. This paper reasserts the right to preventative war, but a more dangerous element of that same paper was called to my attention by an article in Foreign Affairs by George Perkovich.   One weapon of mass destruction – nuclear – is fundamentally different from chemical and biological weapons, which are absolutely outlawed. The core treaty regulating nuclear weapons is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968. And the core “deal” of that Treaty is that all state signatories agreed not to acquire nuclear weapons and the five nuclear states agreed, over time, to reduce and then eliminate their own nuclear arsenals. But now the Bush strategy calls for assuring US nuclear superiority indefinitely. In order to do this the US will necessarily abrogate its commitments under NPT, including the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the commitment to eventual elimination. In short, in the most dangerous area – nuclear – the Bush radicals have asserted the right to abrogate the Treaty that has worked so much to the benefit of the US. The inevitable consequence of this action will be violation by others, making the world a vastly more dangerous place.For those Americans who believe in a rule of law at home (including protection of civil liberties) there is real risk and real work ahead.  But it is in the international arena where the radicalism of this Administration poses a direct challenge to the world’s security. America will pay heavily – in security, in economic well-being, in their long-term leadership – if it allows this Administration to make the country a rogue state not bound by treaty and unconstrained by the decent opinion of mankind.Sam BrownSam Brown was the Ambassador of the United States to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.last_img read more

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