Victors’ Justice: From Nuremberg to Baghdad

Chase Madar writes:

The US invasion of South Vietnam, the bombing campaigns against North Vietnam and Cambodia, and the invasions of the Dominican Republic and Panama; the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan; Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus; Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor: the catalogue of wars of aggression, many leading to more fatalities than the invasion of Iraq, is long and depressing. Yet we continue to talk about international law as if we believed in its global, god-like authority. It is a habit that Danilo Zolo would like us to forgo. ‘No one expects the United Nations, or the international criminal courts, to ensure a stable and universal world peace,’ he writes, ‘for this is a Kantian utopia devoid of theoretical and political interest.’ Rather than trying to reinforce the authority of the Security Council, Zolo says we ought to give up on it. He also believes it’s time we abandoned our faith in the UN’s ad hoc criminal tribunals, in the reheated medievalism of ‘just war’ theory, and even in the notion of universal human rights, a doctrine increasingly weaponised and called ‘humanitarian intervention’. International law has failed to prevent countless atrocities, and the great powers suffer no significant penalty for launching wars of aggression, ‘preventive’ or otherwise.

(LRB 22 April 2010)