The United States claims exceptionalism among the nations of the world. It maintains that our burning cause of world freedom is supported by our religious and moral convictions, and therefore we have a right and a duty to support freedom fighters wherever they may be. I wonder, does our exceptionalism give us free rein to violate international law?
This plea seems to be spreading rapidly, as we see in the extensive use of drone aircraft over nations in situations where our jurisdiction is unestablished, or nonexistent. We may soon pay the price for our continued excursion into the affairs of others.
Iran in recent days captured a U.S. stealth drone spying in the skies over that sovereign nation. Iranian ministry made the response that, “The move is in violation of all international conventions and runs counter to regional and international peace and security. Surely the responsibility for the illegal move lies with the U.S. authorities.” Iran has denounced the growing U.S. “provocative and secret moves” against the country. Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Kossari says the Iranian response will be “terrifying.” In the event of further provocation, Iran will “[t]arget all U.S. military bases around the world.” The Iranian ambassador said, “In the continuation of such trend, ['provocative and covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States'] an American RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, bearing a specific serial number, violated Iran’s air space. This plane [flew] 250 kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas, where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The ambassador said the “blatant and unprovoked air violation” is tantamount to an act of hostility against Iran in clear contravention of international law; particularly the basic tenets of the UN Charter.
Similar drone surveillance and air attacks have caused Pakistan to consider deployment of air defense weapons to the Afghan border. Pakistan, growing daily more hostile to the United States, refers to NATO airstrikes such as the ones last month that the Pakistani military claims were pre-planned and that killed 24 of that country’s soldiers. The U.S. denies that the deaths were intentional, and is still struggling to maintain a working relationship with Pakistan.
The University of Pittsburg School of Law has deemed the air strikes over Pakistan as being in violation of international law. Their report refers to the intense anger in Pakistan:
The recent killings of 24 Pakistani soldiers by NATO air strikes at the Salala check point in Mohmand has caused intense anger in Pakistan, leading to the government boycotting the Bonn talks. As part of its protest, Pakistan has demanded that the US vacate the Shamsi Air Base within 15 days. It is widely believed that the Shamsi base has been regularly used by the US for drone and associated surveillance flights.
US drone strikes in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are deeply resented by the Pakistani population. Officially, the government has vociferously condemned these operations as illegal under international law and a violation of its territorial sovereignty. In the absence of certain extenuating circumstances, the overwhelming majority of international law experts would find the drone strikes in FATA to be illegal under international law. They do not qualify as acts of self-defense as definition under Article 51 of the UN Charter and thus violate Article 2(4), which upholds the territorial integrity of a state.
The drone attacks also fail to meet the self-defense standard of customary international law, which requires immediacy, necessity and proportionality for using force in self-defense. Firstly, there is no instant or overwhelming danger posed to the US if it does not conduct drone attacks in Pakistan.
Who can deny that the world is polarizing? The nations of the world as we speak are reaffirming old alliances, forming new ones, even as close as Venezuela and Cuba, and forming sides for what may erupt into a global firestorm. In spite of the good intentions of the United States, Egypt is doomed to fall to the Muslim Brotherhood, a violent Islamic force. Muslim fundamentalists are taking control of more parts of the world, and are developing weapons of mass destruction. We set up free elections, and our sworn enemies take power.
We have to wonder what went wrong in Pakistan. We have been lied to as to the death of Osama bin Laden, and the disposition of his body. Common sense would mandate the terrorist’s body to have been taken to a US military hospital for identification and autopsy. Instead it was “buried at sea.” Details of the death of bin Laden changed with each passing day.
Many would think that if a firestorm develops, it will develop in Israel or in Great Britain. America has been fortunate; our wars are often fought in distant parts of the world. Americans may have developed a false sense of security.
Helen Thomas felt that a world war may be avoidable. She suggested in all pragmatism that the Jews in Israel might simply relocate from the sacred areas of religious history. She was condemned for that thought. The Jews’ movement into Palestine was consistent with the movement of the human race to all parts of the world. Scientists believe the first humans, in Africa, migrated, eventually to cover the globe, even to Australia and New Zealand. This was over thousands of years. The Hebrew flight from Egypt to the Mediterranian region was of a similar sort. But some still see the Palestinians as the indigenous people of the region, and the Jews as trespassers. The ancient Palestinians agreed to let the Egyptians stay, provided they assimilated into the ancient religions and traditions. This was anathema to the Jews, and to a large extent remains so.
America feels her good intentions justify extremism, and her strength gives her entitlement to ignore established law. We need hope for wise leaders in the coming years, or a worldwide confrontation seems unavoidable.