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The Four-Law Street

By vetoing the Syria-Sudan resolution, US has given Israel a licence to kill Arafat.

The Four-Law Street
illustration by Jayachandran
The Four-Law Street
ON September 15, the United States took the world a step closer to what English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had called "a state of nature". In the Security Council, it vetoed a Syrian-Sudanese resolution that would have restrained Israel from taking any steps to remove Palestinian president Yasser Arafat from Palestine. Given Israel's appetite for "removing" people permanently with missiles fired from hovering aircraft, a cabinet 'decision' had immediately raised the fear that it intended to kill Arafat. This was specifically not ruled out by an Israeli spokesman shortly after the cabinet took the decision. But it was only when Israel's deputy prime minister Ehud Olmert explicitly ruled assassination in that Syria, with the support of the entire Arab world, decided to take the matter to the Security Council. By vetoing the resolution thus, the US in effect sanctioned Arafat's killing.

The US is, of course, hotly denying any such intention. Its ambassador to the UN, Nicholas Negroponte, justified the veto by claiming that the resolution was one-sided because it did not contain an explicit condemnation of the suicide bombings in Israel by the Hamas and al Jehad. But this is just electronic chaff. Had the US had any intention of joining the world in restraining Israel from committing an act that would be totally against every existing interpretation of international law, it would have moved an amendment designed to restore the balance it claimed the resolution lacked. Had it done so, there can be no doubt that a modified resolution that still exercised restraint on Israel would have been passed.

But it didn't bother to do so as it had no interest in seeking a consensus with other nations, even those of the now severely strained Atlantic alliance. Negroponte underlined this by cautioning Israel, in his speech at the Security Council, that the US wouldn't approve of any steps it took to remove Arafat from Palestine. In sum, he made it clear that while the US would continue to protect Israel from the censure of the world, it expected Israel to do the US' bidding. With its powerful lobby in the US, Israel's had no difficulty in ignoring American diktats in the past. It'll experience no such difficulty in the future. Washington knows that. That is why its veto on Tuesday virtually conferred on Tel Aviv a licence to kill.

The American veto has done more than that: it has written one more law of the international order that the US is putting in place after it destroyed the Westphalian order in existence for almost 400 years. This new order was unveiled by President Bush almost exactly two years ago, when he announced the US' new National Security Doctrine. The doctrine had announced that as a method of maintaining international peace, deterrence was passe. Peace could only be maintained by waging preemptive war on all those who meant to break it. Indeed, waged by the right people—those who had justice and morality on their side—war was peace.

Six months later, the US put its new doctrine into practice and invaded Iraq, claiming it was manufacturing wmd, and had established links with Al Qaeda and therefore qualified for preemptive invasion. It did not matter that both these allegations turned out to be absolutely false. The invasion had sent America's message to the world. National boundaries were no longer sacrosanct. National sovereignty was no longer inviolate. The taboo against interference in the domestic affairs of another country no longer held. In short, Article 2 of the UN charter with all its sub-clauses was now obsolete. This meant the UN, as it had been conceived in 1945, was also defunct. That was the first law of the New International Order.

The second law followed hard on the heels of the first.The Westphalian order had distinguished between states and individuals. States could be held culpable but individuals acting on its behalf, or on its instructions, were exempt. A major exception inscribed in international law was the commission of war crimes, and this principle had been extended by degrees to cover various other violations of human rights. All this had happened within the shell of the Westphalian system by a process of evolutionary consensus-building. The new law, promulgated by the US for Iraq, was that virtually everyone who had belonged to the ruling party and had held a position of any importance was guilty of crimes until they had proved themselves innocent. Applied in Iraq, it led immediately to the collapse of the state, and anarchy.

The third law is enshrined in unsc resolution 1483, passed shortly after the war finished. The original UN was dead but an organisation called the UN would nonetheless continue to exist. However, it would be subordinated to the needs of the embryonic World Government that would be presided over by the US. This was conceded by unsc resolution 1483 which retrospectively legitimised the invasion of Iraq by making the US and UK responsible for restoring peace and stability. It also brushed aside legal quibbles like the need for certification by UN weapons inspectors, and hastily lifted the economic sanctions on Iraq solely on America's say-so.

The latest US veto formalises a fourth rule that the US was already implementing in Iraq. It's all right to hunt down and kill individuals in enemy states. Even heads of state are not exempt. No trial is needed. And if you kill the wrong people because of faulty "intelligence", that's just collateral damage. To sum it up, in the new world order, if you have the power you can do anything. Life has become "nasty, brutish and short".
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