[...] Thats before we discuss that war crimes dont apply to winners, only losers, the UK could happily throw biological weapons at Bolivia and broadcast footage of its soldiers gang raping children and the world would send us a letter asking us to be nice but being clear that there would be no action beyond further letter writing.
This recent comment (on another blog) is a perfect example for the disrespect for international law (IL) which I only seem to encounter in English communication. I'm not sure that it's an anglophone issue, but it sure looks to me like one.
Maybe it's the veto power in the UNSC that corrupts the trust in international law to such a degree. If you can make a mockery of a rule, why should you take it seriously?
International law as we know it is largely an invention of the late 19th century when European nation states agreed on conventions. The naval arms race of 1898-1916 and the near-bankruptcy of several nations after the First World War led to some early arms control treaties. The near-civilisation-breaking experience of the First World War also led to the first general ban on wars of aggression and the League of Nations attempt at uniting the nations in peaceful co-existence.
All readers do most likely know the United Nations (and its charter) which were created in consequence of WW2 and some later elements of international law.
The purpose of international law, international treaties is almost exclusively to improve our ability to live in peace and some degree of fairness. This is quite noble and its ability to attract contempt is not obvious.
This cooperation-oriented approach failed to prevent WW2, but so did the large military establishments. It's not obvious why exactly the cooperation-oriented approach should be believed to be a failure.
I may be biased because of my German background. Germany places great emphasis on multinational cooperation and very little on overpowering strength nowadays. I can attest that this approach works better for us than my grandparents' and grand-grandparents' generation's approaches. Their approaches included attempts at the application of overpowering strength.
The cooperative approach also seems to work better for most small nations, which now often have the same weight of vote as larger ones and the ability to abstain from a project.
In the end, only some great powers might think that a rule of force approach is more favourable than a cooperative approach to foreign affairs. Yet, even they follow routinely the cooperative approach and invoke rule of force only in exceptions, shielded by their UNSC veto rights. In other words, their policies are hypocritical.
This leads to the next question. Is there really no effective sanction for (winner's) crimes against international law for great powers?
Well, there's obviously not going to be some sort of embargo or outlaw status for that kind of guilty country as it happened to Iraq in 1990.
Is this everything we should consider?
Certainly not. Maybe I'm insulting here, but I think that only primitive minds could fail to see beyond such superficialities. Nobody is going rape someone else, get away with it in court and not feel any repercussions.
What do you think why exactly the U.S. foreign policy and the Russian foreign policies are such a mess, with strings of failures to influence other nations during the last ten years?
Why exactly is the economy suffering, tourism dropping, why are travellers facing problems in many countries? I met many American businessmen and representatives on conferences and most if not all of them made sure that everyone knew they were not supporting their countries' foreign policy. They were clearly fearing repercussions, albeit certainly not from the UNSC.
Let's not forget the role of aggressions in Al Qaida propaganda and motivation. It's much easier to paint some power as evil if it does evil things. I know that the idea that the AQ mess is not self-inflicted is quite popular in the U.S., but I can affirm that this idea is quite widespread if not dominant elsewhere. The AQ mess is not a direct consequence of a breach of IL alone, but it's an example about how backlash may work even without losing in the UNSC.
Finally, there's such a thing as "reputation" in foreign policy. It's - to use a nice word - optimistic to expect others to fulfil treaty obligations that benefit you if you break treaties at will, guided by self-interest. The opportunity costs of IL violations are certainly impressive.
Yet, even IF there were no sanctions in IL because no enforcement mechanism is effective: Would this turn IL into something that should be despised and ignored?
I strongly suggest you think twice here if you thought "yes", because there's a huge catch!
International law is not just international law. Signed and ratified treaties usually become national law as well. Those people who despise international law because they see no enforcement would need to despise their national rule of law as well for the very same reason. hands up - who wants to live in a nation without the rule of law?
The Kellogg-Briand Pact - as old and as often violated as it is - is still in force as a federal law in the U.S., for example. The case is very complicated for the UK because of its strange constitution-free legal system, but the case is very clear in regard to the U.S.:
Article Six of the United States Constitution clearly declares treaties such as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the Charter of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty to be "supreme Law of the Land".
Quote Article 6 of the U.S. constitution, with my emphasis:
[...] This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding. [...]
In other words: Every bit of cruise missile diplomacy and every bit of war of aggression - even preparation or threat of the same - turns a U.S. President into a law-breaker. He's just not being convicted, the law is just not being enforced. Actually, the order to kill humans in an illegal war is incitement to mass murder because no illegal war can provide legality for such a demand.
Now I ask my belligerent American friends: Does this mean that the U.S. constitution is a piece of crap, to be despised, ineffectual, a wrong approach, to be ignored at will?
The Article 6 issue also counters another extremely popular assertion in regard to the asserted rule of force over the rule of (international) law: This is the assertion that the U.S. constitution is ranked higher than IL and thus the U.S. can do in international affairs whatever it wants. Seriously, that's an argument which I've faced more than a dozen times already from different people. It seems to be deeply embedded in a general, yet very U.S.-specific fear of "world government" which seems to border on paranoia in many cases.
It's of course irrelevant whether IL or the constitution are higher ranked if both agree with each other anyways!
Wars of aggression have been outlawed in international law and in most national law systems. Those who argue in favour of wars of aggression (veiled in misinterpretations of resolutions or not) are the outlaws - warmongers in pursuit of criminal aims. These people are to me pretty much on the same level as mass murderers.
I think I made my opinion clear enough, and you can clearly read here where this opinion stems from.
I cannot stand the opportunism, in-consequence, disdainfulness, hypocrisy, disrespect and mass murder intentions of those who believe that International law is de facto not in effect and not to be observed and that wars can be waged at will as long as you "win" and are covered by a UNSC veto.
Their stance is not only fantasy, but outright stupid and short-sighted. Policies which follow such thoughts harm their own country, in addition to even greater harm to foreign people.