Thursday, December 29, 2016

Obama Drives a Nail into the Coffin of our International Legal Order - Jordan Blashek

by Jordan Blashek

While the bi-partisan backlash has so far focused on the damage to Israel and the peace process, the longer-term casualty will be the international legal order itself.

President Obama is clearly not yet finished destroying what remains of the U.S.-led international order. By allowing a harmful UN Security Council resolution to pass declaring Israeli settlements to be “a flagrant violation under International Law,” he reverses decades of U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and makes a future negotiated settlement even more difficult for the parties to achieve. More importantly, the move strikes a devastating blow to the credibility of the UN and international law.

Eight years of Obama’s foreign policy have left the world on fire. Now, with his final foray into geopolitics, he has attacked the last remaining vestiges of a rules-based order.

For a president who prides himself on the long-game, this was an incredibly short-sighted and selfish move. 

While the bi-partisan backlash has so far focused on the damage to Israel and the peace process, the longer-term casualty will be the international legal order itself. Why? Because going forward, the three major global powers – the U.S., Russia, and China – will concurrently disregard international law as they pursue their own interests. While we expect this from Russia and China, President Obama just all but guaranteed that the Trump Administration will follow suit. 

International law only functions properly and effectively when the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, France and the U.K – unanimously agree to uphold its sanctity. Since World War II, international law progressed slowly and unevenly because the U.S., the Soviet Union, and China each exercised their veto powers in pursuit of geopolitical interests. Nevertheless, the United States unswervingly lent its power and legitimacy to the United Nations because we believed that it enshrined our values. We accepted the short-term limitations imposed by international law because of the long-term benefits offered by a rules-based liberal order. 

Today, however, the international order is neither rules-based nor liberal.

Russia and China are revisionist powers who seek to reshape the global order in their image. They have consistently violated international law to promote their own interests, while using their Security Council vetoes to hamstring the United States from taking actions that would uphold the global order. In just the past 4 years, Russia has annexed Crimea, sold advanced missiles to Iran, and bombed civilians in Syria on behalf of Bashir al-Assad. China has similarly waged covert cyber war against the U.S., constructed fake islands to claim new exclusive economic zone rights, and continued their ethnic cleansing of Tibet. At the same time, the two countries have systematically prevented the U.N. from taking any action regarding Syria, including the referral of Bashir al-Assad to the ICC for his use of chemical weapons against civilians.

For his part, President Obama has fecklessly used the UN Security Council to circumvent our own system of checks-and-balances. In 2011, President Obama justified his military intervention in Libya through the U.N. Security Council without seeking approval from Congress. In 2015, he again used the Security Council to ratify the Iran Nuclear Deal without submitting the treaty for approval to the Senate. Now, President Obama has used the Security Council to punish Israel, despite the protests of the incoming president and both parties in Congress. Never before has a lame-duck president attempted to tie the hands of his successor in such a dramatic fashion. 

The American people will have to decide going forward whether the UN is still an institution that enshrines our values. This latest vote suggests otherwise. The resolution was sponsored by Venezuela, a failed socialist state in the midst of an economic crisis. Votes in favor were cast by Egypt, which has had two coups in five years and ethnically cleansed its Coptic populations; Russia which recently annexed Crimea and continues its covert war against Ukraine; and China, which currently occupies Tibet and has ethnically cleansed its population. Lastly, the resolution targets Israel, the only liberal democracy in the Middle East and among the U.S.’ most loyal friends.

President-elect Trump has already made clear where he stands. After slamming the vote, he tweeted: “As to the U.N., things will be different after Jan. 20th.” Members of Congress and leaders from both parties immediately started calling for reprisals against the international body. At least on this issue, Mr. Trump will almost certainly disregard the recent U.N. resolution by working with Israel to negate its consequences. Mr. Trump lobbied fiercely against the resolution, calling it an obstacle to peace. David Friedman, his newly selected Ambassador to Israel, is also an unabashed supporter of settlements. 

The question is – will a President Trump ignore the U.N. more broadly? He has excoriated the U.N. in the past for not being a “friend of freedom.” His “America First” doctrine also places him at odds with many UN members and institutions. But it has been an open question whether a President Trump would try to work with the U.N. in the future. With this vindictive last act, President Obama has all but guaranteed that Mr. Trump will be at odds with the organization from the beginning.

The international legal order cannot survive without U.S. support, since U.S. military power and moral authority undergird its legitimacy. It also cannot function if the three global powers – the U.S., China, and Russia – each ignore its structures in pursuit of their own world views and geopolitical interests. Obama’s foreign policy has left us with a world in which Russia and China already do so. 

Now, with this act, President Obama has driven a knife into the heart of the international legal order by poisoning the well for the incoming Trump Administration. This is a tragedy for the U.S., for Israel, and most importantly, for people all over the world longing for liberty and security. 

It’s deeply ironic that a man who came into office so committed to the integrity of international law has now caused its downfall.

Jordan Blashek is a former Marine Corp Infantry Officer and counter-terror policy advisor. He is currently a JD-MBA candidate at Yale Law School and Stanford Graduate School of Business.


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1 comment:

Alexander said...

The whole thing is totally surreal. How can obama be this blind? (Dumb??).

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