Thursday, March 27, 2003

Reuters, I know, but still. Raises important issues that we've discussed, and you can read it with however much salt you think appropriate:

US Action opens debate on war rationale:

Few nations have flouted the U.N. charter that lays out specific conditions for the use of pre-emptive force. Two extraordinary exceptions are Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's OsIrak nuclear plant and the 1967 Six Day War, said Reus-Smidt."The major innovation of the Bush doctrine is the idea of prevention, and the war in Iraq can be seen as the first example of this," said Reus-Smidt.He said Washington, rebuffed in the U.N. Security Council in its quest for world backing to pre-empt Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons program, had opted to act preventively.That opens a Pandora's Box."It's not clear what the limits are," said Hilary Charlesworth, professor at the Center for International and Public Law at the ANU. "This leaves the perception of threat in the eye of the beholder."

It reinforces fears of the United States going it alone, snubbing the international community when it suits it, for example on the Kyoto treaty on global warming or the International Criminal Court.The United States has acted as other countries have throughout history, which is to look for the international law that suits them. And it was that free-for-all approach that the U.N. charter was aimed at halting."We could be going back to a pre-U.N. charter world and I find that worrying," said Charlesworth.Of course, what goes unspoken is that the United States regards itself as an exception, and knows that it can probably get away with a preventive war because it has more toys, and more powerful ones, than anyone else in the playground.

"The related political and diplomatic question is 'are we redefining sovereignty?"' said Bhaskar. "It's an Orwellian kind of sovereignty in which some are more sacred than others."Analysts believe that deterrence may work in this new world, and thus a nuclear-ambitious North Korea may not be next. But what, asked one, would stop China taking a swipe at Taiwan?"What will be the restraints?" said Charlesworth. "International law is enforced by a sense of reciprocity and this is doing away with the fabric of international law."Some say international law may have to change to ensure relevance in a world threatened by rogue states and suicide hijackers.

In the comment thread on Kopp below, several readers crisply dismissed the question by tossing out the argument that what Kopp didn't have was "legimate authority." Well, "legitimate authority" is context-dependent, isn't it? So, within a global context, who has "legitimate authority" to pre-empt another nation's perceived threat or violations of human rights?