Why an obsession with sovereignty can harm our security.

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In the lead up to the creation of the International Criminal Court late last century, the US made it clear that it would not sign up. Was this approach counter-productive? I wrote this article at the turn of the century during that debate.

Why an obsession with sovereignty can harm our security.

In the weeks following September 11 many in Western Countries, including a few brave souls in the United States, asked one of the tough questions: Why is it that some people hate the United States so much that they are prepared to die attacking it?
Many feared asking this question as it would bring immediate attacks ‘of terrorists sympathies’ as if it would not be possible to both ask the question ‘why’ and condemn the attacks.
The attacks of September 11 were wrong, and nothing can excuse them. But to not ask what motivates people to undertake these attacks leaves the US open to further strikes – and if Australia is not careful we could become target number two.
A critical analysis of the Untied States, particularly its foreign policy, rapidly reveals a level of hypocrisy that frustrates, aggravates and intimidates the friends of the United States. To its enemies it adds motivational fuel to the fire driving the hatred of people like bin Laden.
Let us look at just a couple of examples.
The US sees itself as the world policeman defending Human Rights and democracy around the world.
In Vietnam American soldiers, lead by Lieutenant Cally, murdered over 150 innocent villagers. Cally was tried, convicted and spent a massive 3 weeks in prison. And the US criticises Indonesia for handing down lenient sentences to the militias responsible for the killings in East Timor.
The US criticises countries like China for detaining dissenters without trial. Yet it detains Al Quaida and Taliban suspects in Cuba without access to legal representation, no trial, no charge and no trial date.
Recently an Australian was detained in Pakistan. He was handed over to the Americans and is now detained in Guantanamo Bay as an Al Quaida suspect. He was not in Afghanistan, did not take part in the September 11 attacks and did not fight with the Taliban. He has no access to a lawyer, no court review, no trial date – nothing.
If it was an objective of the September 11 terrorists to undermine the freedoms, checks and balances of western society, one must now ask if the terrorists have not succeeded. The US is throwing out basic rights like a right to trial and access to lawyers. Yet they still criticise other countries for doing likewise.
Further, the US does not wish to ratify the International Criminal Court Treaty as President Bush says that it will undermine US sovereignty. At the same time the US bombed (rightly) Yugoslavia over the atrocities in Kosovo, regardless of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty, bombed Iraq regardless of Iraq’s right to fly Iraqi aircraft in Iraq, bombed (erroneously) factories in Sudan, regardless of Sudan’s territorial sovereignty.
The US invaded Panama, Grenada, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan and helped coup leaders like Pinochet, all regardless of other nation’s sovereignty.
The US will not subject itself to a review of an international court at the same time that it demands that Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Croatia and other countries do.
It demanded that Libya should handover the Lockerbie suspects to an international trial, but objected to any questioning of US targeting decisions in bombing mainly civilian objects in Belgrade.
I once fond myself sharing a beer with the US Military Attaché to Rwanda. I asked him why the US was so hypocritical in demanding that no-one undermine their sovereignty whilst they bomb so many other’s in the name of Human Rights.
He said that I did not understand. Enforcing Human Rights was something that you did to everyone else, not the US, as the US had the Bill of Rights.
I suppose that explains slavery, erroneous death penalties, their own war crimes and the wonderful harmonious society that the US is.
But US hypocrisy is not limited to Human Rights, look at their actions in Trade. Tell and Australian sheep farmer that there is no hypocrisy in US trade policy. The US puts quotas on our lamb, and demands the EU stop subsidising theirs.
The US demands free trade, but claims for itself the right to fine Australian companies that trade with Cuba, even if those Australian companies have no presence in the US.
Even though the terrorist attacks on the US were unambiguously wrong, it is hard to reject an argument that anger at US hypocrisy is one of the many motivational factors that the terrorists use. Increased hypocrisy, like the refusal to accept an international review over US military or the International Criminal Court, whilst demanding that other countries be punished, only adds to the hatred.
And now we turn to Australia.
Howard has said that speaking to a congress full of interns, fill ins and about 50 congressmen and women was the highlight of his political life. We stand side by side with the US in the fight on terror, he says. We do not question the detention of Australian citizens without trial, lawyer or charge by the US.
And now we see that the US is worried about their sovereignty and will not ratify the International Criminal Court Treaty. John Howard says that he understands the ‘powerful’ arguments of the US and is reviewing our stance. Our sovereignty may be threatened, he says. We may not ratify either.
In the meantime he says we support the US even in attacking Iraq, regardless of their sovereignty.
I ask you, if Australia follows the US line and claims our sovereignty must prevail, but no body else’s can, then are we not guilty of the same hypocrisy? If we are guilty do you think that our national security and safety is being helped or undermined?
Do not get us wrong; to fight terror is a good thing. To fight for Human Rights is a good thing. But to point the finger at others and refuse criticism of us is wrong. It invites criticism and attack, both political and physical.
We can continue to support the US, but we must also reject its hypocrisy. It seems that ratifying the ICC treaty may quickly become our test. To fail to ratify will severely threaten our National Security because it will invite the same hatred of us as many feel for the US. What is good for the goose, is after all good for the gander.

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