Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rules must be binding on us and our allies as well as our enemies

"Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response," President Barack Obama 5th April 2009

The North Korean government is a brutal one that uses many of its own people as slave labour in prison camps. It’s missile launches over Japan in the past have been highly provocative. The most recent was of a satellite, but may have involved testing ‘dual use’ technologies that could also be used to launch nuclear missiles.

The trouble is that Obama is selective in who he condemns for breaking which rules

Obama has taken a major step back towards promoting moral behaviour in international politics by stating that US forces will not carry out torture and in closing down the camps at Guantanamo Bay and the CIA ‘black sites’ around the world.

However Israel and Pakistan have both already developed nuclear weapons, yet there’s no suggestion of punishing them for violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Another set of rules - the Geneva Conventions - also ban targeting civilians, yet Obama made no mention of Israeli forces’ targeting of civilians, including UN aid workers and trucks and the main UN aid depot in Gaza, in their offensive into Gaza.
Obama said he was ‘concerned’ and wouldn’t want [Palestinian] missiles falling in his garden and threatening to kill or injure his children, as if some Palestinian groups missile attacks on Israelis justified Israeli forces’ attacks on equally innocent Palestinian civilians and children and UN aid workers. Not only did he not punish the Israeli government for its actions, he hasn’t even ended military aid or arms sales to Israel.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton did condemn Israeli house demolitions in East Jerusalem, but said not a word on Israeli forces targeting civilians, as though Israeli forces only harmed houses, not people.

The morality and legality of missile strikes in Pakistan is also questionable since they kill many civilians. Obama rightly condemned over-reliance on air-strikes in Afghanistan, but it's hard to see what the difference in results between air strikes in Afghanistan and missile strikes by unmanned drones in Pakistan is.

For Obama’s administration to make a real change in US foreign policy internationally accepted rules would have to be as binding on the US and its allies as on it’s enemies.

This is sometimes referred to as Immanuel Kant’s principle of universalisability, but it really doesn’t need such a big word to say that rules have to apply to everyone equally.

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