Rogue States? America Ought to Know
Rogue States? America Ought to Know
We hear a lot about rogue states these days. You know, the rogue states that refuse to ratify important treaties, the ones who refuse to allow international inspections of their weapons of mass destruction, the ones who ignore UN resolutions, who violate human rights with impunity and who refuse to sign on to human rights conventions? You know, those rogue states.
Let's get down to specifics. What would you call a country that produces the highest levels of dangerous chemicals in the world but abandons key negotiations aimed at reversing global warming? How about a country whose leader blithely announces that he is abandoning a quarter-century old arms control treaty, one the whole world understands to be the key to preventing complete nuclear madness? And what about a government that walks out of talks to enforce the biological weapons treaty because it doesn't want international inspectors peeking at its own weapons production facilities? That same country keeps rejecting human rights treaties, even the ones protecting the rights of children.
Sounds pretty roguish, don't you think? Iraq, maybe, or one of those other evil-doers like Iran or North Korea? But oops - wrong guess. This particular rogue state would be the United States of America.
It's hard for most Americans to think of the United States as a rogue state. We're a democracy, after all. Our elections are free and fair (well, some of the time).
But our foreign policy is far less accountable to democratic ideals, or to the global community than we like to think. The problem isn't isolationism - we're engaged (at least our military forces and our US manufactured weapons are) all over the world. The problem is unilateralism - our tendency to act out our unchallenged 'super-power of super-powers' role without concern for what others in the world think.
When the Bush administration came into office last year, unilateralism was suddenly on everybody's radar screen. One of the administration's first acts was to cut off US support to any international family planning institutions that also might provide any separately-funded information to their patients about abortions. Then, what really caught the eye of policymakers and pundits, were Bush's rapid-fire moves to abandon the Kyoto protocol on global warming and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.
The United States produces by far the largest amount of greenhouse gases in the world - the stuff that is destroying the ozone layer and causing dangerous global warming. In 1998, the Clinton administration had already angered most other countries when it refused to sign on to the Kyoto agreement that aimed to roll back greenhouse gas emissions. But international talks had continued, as had efforts to get the United States on board. Until Bush took office. Then, all of a sudden, Kyoto was off Washington's agenda.
In January 2002, the administration rubbed salt into the world's wound, dissing the whole Kyoto process by announcing a separate, unilateral plan. The new plan would, coincidentally, leave current US greenhouse gas levels and the resulting increase in global warming virtually unchanged.
Then came the problem of weapons of mass destruction. In October 1999, the US Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a long-sought effort at keeping the US and Soviet nuclear genies closer to their bottles. The world was not amused. Many, especially in Europe, were outraged, seeing the rejection as the arrogance of what the French had begun calling the "hyper-power". So when Bush announced, in early 2001, that he planned to unilaterally abrogate the 25-year-old ABM treaty, it wasn't only Moscow that felt betrayed. The ABM treaty had served as the linchpin of strategic arms control for a generation. Bush's claim that it was "irrelevant" in the post-Cold War era fooled no one. The only thing that had become irrelevant - to the United States - was international concern about the Pentagon's war drive. Our super-power rival had collapsed more than a decade ago, but the government had no intention of changing its own aggressive behavior.
In the summer of 2001, the United States walked out of another international conference, this one on how to enforce the 1972 treaty prohibiting biological weapons. Everybody agreed there needed to be stronger inspections of potential sites where germ weapons could be produced - what Washington is always accusing Iraq of hiding. But this time it wasn't the Iraqis, it was us - the US delegation walked out because they refused to accept international inspections of American production facilities which the United States demanded for everyone else.
On the issue of human rights, when it comes to real commitments, backed up by international agreements, Washington falls way behind. Take the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That one should be a no-brainer.
The Convention is, according to UNICEF, "the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty in history..". The Convention sets norms for what governments should provide for parents and their children - adequate nutrition, compulsory primary education, adequate health care, safe access to play, art, and culture. Only two countries in the world have refused to sign on - Somalia and the United States.
Unilateralism didn't begin with the Bush administration. Several years ago, the United States antagonized much of the world, including some of our closest allies, when it refused to sign the convention banning anti-personnel landmines.
For years the world had known that the mines - cheap, easy to use - were responsible for far more civilian than military deaths. The campaign to prohibit them, led by civil society organizations and governments such as Canada, was based on the vast suffering of civilians, most often children, in places where low-tech, high-casualty wars were taking place, often outside CNN's camera range.
The world needed a ban - but still today the United States refuses to sign. Why? Because the Pentagon says it needs those anti-personnel mines to protect US troops. What a heartless message our powerful military is sending around the globe, specifically to the legions of landmine victims, children with missing limbs growing up in the poor, mine-infested countries of the world.
Then there's the International Criminal Court. The United States spent years demanding that the world create such a court to insure that those guilty of genocide or war crimes would be held accountable. When the new court was approved, delegates from 120 countries stood and cheered. Only seven countries voted against - led by the United States at the head of the rejectionist front. Who were Washington's bedfellows? Those stalwart democracies such as China, Israel, Libya, Iraq.
As it turned out, the United States never had any intention of signing on fearful that it would expose American troops around the world to prosecution outside the US justice system. It just demanded a court for the rest of the world. The world cried foul. Finally, in the last days of his presidency, just hours before the signature deadline, on December 31, 2000, lame-duck President Clinton reluctantly signed the treaty endorsing the court - but he explicitly rejected ever presenting to the Senate for ratification. For the United States, signing the treaty was just a way of making sure it could keep on calling the shots in future negotiations.
The United States is the strongest country in the world - economically, militarily, strategically. But that doesn't mean we can ignore the international laws and treaties and UN resolutions that we demand others obey.
We're still part of the international community - we still need the UN and international law. We face consequences when we throw our weight around - being kicked off the UN Human Rights Commission last spring was one example. After September 11th most of the world's criticism of our unilateralism and arrogance was silenced. But now we stand in danger of losing the human sympathy that followed those attacks. Haven't we - and the rest of the world - had enough of Washington's rogue behavior?
Copyright 2002 TomPaine.com