Committee on International Relations
U.S. House of Representatives
Henry J. Hyde, Chairman
CONTACT: Sam Stratman, (202) 226-7875, April 3,
Atlas before the court
Peace and stability in the world are mainly due to the U.S.
By Henry J. Hyde.
U.S. Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) chairs the
House International Relations Committee
Once again, the United States is being castigated for its supposed
"unilateralism" and its determination to
act without the approval of the international community. Although the focus
of this disapproval is on our
having bypassed the United Nations in taking action against Iraq, the deeper
criticism is that the U.S. is
proceeding in defiance of international law.
Those who would accord international law a supreme place in maintaining peace
and security in the
world are not ill-intentioned, but merely indulge the delusion that the
ambitions of rulers and states have
been tamed after millennia of war and competition.
Unfortunately, the record reveals that hope to be illusory.
The League of Nations was the first effort to institutionalize the concept of
a higher law governing the
behavior of states. The league emerged out of a determination to prevent a
repetition of World War I
that had been produced by the reckless competition of the European powers.
The effort was a noble
one, but history lists few, if any, significant successes on the part of the
league. Its many failings,
however, have earned a permanent place in the record of nations.
Japan's invasion and annexation of Manchuria in 1931 was one of the few
international threats that
prompted the league to action, in this instance producing condemnation and a
economic sanctions be imposed. Unfortunately, the impact on Japan proved to
be virtually nil, and failed
to prevent its further aggression against China in 1937.
A more momentous failure was the impotence demonstrated by the league
following Italy's invasion of
Ethiopia in 1935. The resulting crisis and inability to generate any pressure
against Italy effectively
eliminated any remaining hope that the league could ever play an important
role in world affairs.
The league's failure was a major influence on the design of the United
Nations, which was in large part
motivated by President Roosevelt's determination to extend the cooperation of
powers into the post-World War II era. Although a no-nonsense realist,
Roosevelt convinced himself that
the major powers would share a common interest in maintaining stability
around the world. He was
wrong in this assumption primarily because he believed that a murderous
dictator like Stalin would share
the same interests as the liberal democracies. That fatally flawed view of
the world remains the basis of
the United Nations and of international law.
While the UN has proven to be of some use in areas such as disease
prevention, its role in reducing conflict in the world is little
better than that of the league. Far from disposing of global threats, its
most recent failure was its inability to broker a compromise
between the Greeks and Turks on the island of Cyprus, despite the fact that
virtually all of the parties involved wanted a
The reality is that the United Nations and international law work only if
everyone wants them to work. But that is rarely the case.
The mechanisms easily break down in the face of determined resistance. Of all
the weaknesses of international law, the principal
one is the lack of an enforcement mechanism. That function can only be
carried out by countries such as the United States.
The United Nations could have passed an unlimited number of resolutions
denouncing Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, but, had
the freedom of the Kuwaiti people depended upon the UN's taking action, they
would even now be living under Saddam Hussein's
tyranny. Hussein was driven out of Kuwait only by force, largely that of the
United States. Former President George Bush was
able to utilize the UN in putting together an international coalition against
Iraq, but the resulting effort still relied largely on U.S.
plans and forces. Even if forced to do so alone, the U.S. would have
Some people maintain that if the UN and international law cannot uphold peace
and order by themselves, they nevertheless must
be respected as the only source of legitimacy.
But what legitimacy could possibly be bestowed by the current roster of
non-permanent members of the UN Security Council:
Chile, Angola, Cameroon, Guinea, Mexico, Bulgaria, Pakistan and Syria? Some
are authoritarian regimes guilty of considerable
oppression and human-rights abuses at home and possess only tenuous claims to
The other two members--Spain and Germany--are substantial countries, yet
Germany has refused any significant responsibility for
maintaining peace and security in the international system. No reasonable
person would assert that this group is capable of
conveying a legitimacy of any meaning.
Nevertheless, these are the countries the U.S. was forced to lobby in a vain
attempt to secure their permission to allow us to take
action to safeguard the international community from Saddam Hussein's weapons
of mass destruction. And a majority of the UN
Security Council members said no.
A larger, if silent, majority also said no to doing anything to stop the
genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, to free the tens of
millions of people ruled by communist dictatorships, to prevent North Korea
from acquiring the capability to produce nuclear
We must remember that shameful record as we approach the post-Hussein era.
Since the UN has refused to assist or support our
efforts to oust Hussein, we would be foolish indeed were we to entrust it
with any significant role in helping to establish a free and
democratic government for the Iraqi people.
Whatever peace and stability the world has enjoyed since World War II has
rested on a determination by the U.S. to defeat
aggression and ensure order, and to do so by force if necessary. We have no
option but to accept the fundamental reality that our
security and much of that of the world depend upon the willingness and
ability of the United States to act, and act alone if
We might wish it were not so, that a magical and easy solution exists that
will allow us to end our watch and rest our fate in the
protective embrace of international law. But the world remains forever ready
to teach its harsh and fatal lessons to those who
would make themselves safe by fleeing.