Does the U.S. call upon international law only when it works to our advantage? In justification of placing sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, the U.S. has cited the violation of international norms. Yet what gives the U.S. the moral high ground to levy such punishment considering that it has brushed off the same norms in pursuing its military engagements around the world?
If we are to count drone strikes and NATO interventions, our nation has been militarily involved with six countries without complying to international law — Iraq, Serbia, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan — all of which yielded countless more deaths than Russia’s bloodless march into Crimea.
Include the myriad of covert military operations the U.S. has helped stage across the globe, and it’s easy to see that our nation only takes international norms seriously when they apply to our national interests.
Such staggering hypocrisy threatens to undermine the flimsy framework that comprises international law.
Today in the Netherlands, President Barack Obama and the leaders of the world’s most prosperous industrial nations (now known as the Group of Seven) convened to discuss economic sanctions on Russia, as well as suspending the country from G7 participation. Together, the group issued a statement warning Russia of further punitive measures.
“Today, we reaffirm that Russia’s actions will have significant consequences,” the statement read. “This clear violation of international law is a serious challenge to the rule of law around the world and should be a concern for all nations. … We remain ready to intensify actions including coordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation.”
There is something wrong with this picture. Why must a Russian international violation (or any non-U.S. violation for that matter) be met with harsh economic consequences when American international violations go unpunished?
I have come to view such exceptionalism as a consequence of America’s status as a global hegemon. But with great power comes responsibility. If we’re to play our role as “world police,” then we not only have an obligation to enforce international law, but to act in accordance with it. To keep pulling double standards in our foreign policy sets the precedent for other powerful countries to follow suit, thus dissolving political equilibrium between nations.
While I do not entirely condone Russian President Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea, the action is far less black-and-white than the media has lead us on to believe. First off, Putin had nothing to do with the regime change in Kiev that caused the Crimean people to want to rejoin Russia. Moreover, the current government, having passed anti-Russian legislation and ousted the elected president, is hardly legitimate.
When sized up to our global transgressions, Russia’s action seems quite tame, if not permissible. If we’re to be accountable for our past excursions, then the economic sanctions — which would decimate the European and Russian economy — should be dropped.
We either honor the same rules for everyone, or we live in a world devoid of them.
Reach the columnist at Alexander.Elder@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @ALEXxElder