Published on Saturday, April 27, 2002 in the Boulder Daily Camera
U.S. Shuns Treaties But Feels Free to Meddle
by Christopher Brauchli
Might is right and justice there is none.
-- Walther von der Vogelweide,Dream Song
The Bush administration is reluctant to sign treaties, and wishes to remove the president's signature from a signed but unratified treaty, but it cheerfully involves itself in the affairs of others when things don't seem to be going its way.
By not signing treaties or ignoring those already signed, the administration undermines the efforts of more civilized countries to strengthen the rule of law. By meddling in the affairs of other countries, it undermines the rule of law. Virtue, if any, is found in consistency.
The Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy have published a report titled "The Rule of Power or the Rule of Law? An Assessment of U.S. Policies and Actions Regarding Security-Related Treaties." The report concludes that the United States has steadily moved away from accepting treaties that would be binding on the United States and has ignored some that have been signed.
According to Nicole Deller, principal editor and coauthor of the report: "The United States has violated, compromised, or acted to undermine in some crucial way every treaty that we have studied in detail." One of the examples given is the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear testing and explosions even for peaceful uses. The treaty was signed by the Clinton administration in 1996 but was defeated in the Senate ratification process in 1999. By refusing to ratify the treaty, the Senate was aligning itself with India, Pakistan, China, Israel and North Korea. Notwithstanding its defeat, the Clinton administration vowed to adhere to the provisions of the ban. Its determination is not reflected in actions of the Bush administration. According to the report, the United States is building a laser fusion laboratory at Livermore, Calif., designed to carry out explosions of magnitudes that are greater than four pounds of TNT equivalent, the widely accepted limit of testing under the treaty to ascertain the condition of nuclear stocks. The Bush administration's adversion to treaties is also found in its refusal to sign the Treaty Banning Anti-Personnel Mines and its refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty dealing with global warming.
On another front, the Bush administration boycotted a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 11 at which delegates from 10 countries deposited instruments of ratification of the International Criminal Court, bringing the number of approving countries to a total of 66. Commenting on the ceremony, Richard Dicker, an expert on the court at Human Rights Watch said: "The International Criminal Court is potentially the most important human rights institution created in 50 years." Commenting on the ceremony, State Department spokesman Phil Reeker said: "It has a number of fundamental problems. It purports to assert jurisdiction over nationals of states not party to the treaty, contrary to the most basic principles of customary international law governing treaties." The United States joins China and Russia in opposing the treaty. In addition to opposing it, Mr. Bush and his advisers are trying to figure out how to remove the signature affixed by former President Clinton.
As recent events in Venezuela demonstrate, the unwillingness of the United States to get too involved in international affairs finds limits when it comes to the internal policies of other countries. Thus it was with considerable enthusiasm that the Bush administration greeted the news that President Hugo Chvez had been deposed in early April. Following his restoration to power, reports emerged that senior Bush administration officials had met several times with leaders of the coalition that ousted him and let those leaders know that they agreed that Mr. Chvez should be removed from office. According to a report in The New York Times one senior U.S. official insisted that the opposition use constitutional means to effect a change in administration. A Defense Department official involved in developing policy toward Venezuela said: "We were sending informal, subtle signals that we don't like this guy. We didn't say, 'No, don't you dare' and we weren't advocates saying, 'Here's some arms; we'll help you overthrow this guy.' We were not doing that."
Otto J. Reich, the chief policy maker for Latin America said, in reviewing the events of the days following Mr. Chavez' removal and reinstatement, that: "I find very little that I would do differently." One of the things he might do differently is use different words. On the Friday following the Thursday coup, he summoned ambassadors from Latin America and the Caribbean to his office. When the Brazilian representative read a communique that stated that his country could not condone a rupture of democratic rule in Venezuela, Mr. Reich said that Mr. Chvez' ouster was not a rupture of democratic rule because he had resigned. Twenty-four hours later Mr. Chvez was restored to the presidency not, it turned out, having resigned at all.
Following Mr. Chvez' brief ouster, press secretary Ari Fleischer said: "The government suppressed what was a peaceful demonstration of the people." As a result, said he, it "led very quickly to a combustible situation in which Chvez resigned." Following Mr. Chvez' restoration to power Mr. Fleischer was asked whether the United States now recognized him as president. He said: "He was democratically elected. Legitimacy is something that is conferred not just by a majority of the voters, however." He was not referring to Mr. Bush's election but to that of Mr. Chvez.
On a Sunday talk show, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice expressed the hope that Mr. Chvez would, in the future, deal with his opponents in a less "high-handed fashion." The United States' allies might hope for the same thing from the Bush administration. Their hopes will be dashed.
Christopher R. Brauchli is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer and writes a weekly column for the Knight Ridder news service.