Chomsky Responds to Queries
about the Bombings and International Law


Isn't the bombing a violation of international law?
Is anyone bringing charges?
What are the reactions to that in the U.S.?

That the bombings are in gross violation of international law and the founding documents of NATO itself (which subordinate NATO to the UN Charter) is not seriously denied. About a legal challenge, one has brought to the World Court by Yugoslavia. Similarly, the Indian commission of jurists has brought to the World Court a legal challenge to US/UK bombing of Iraq, also in gross violation of international law. Sudan has demanded a Security Council inquiry on the US destruction of half of its pharmaceutical and fertilizer supplies by terrorist bombing (also transparently illegal), but US pressure has succeeded in keeping the matter off the agenda.

As for reactions here, they are interesting. The U.S. has been radically opposed to international law since its modern foundations were established under U.S. initiative in 1945. In the early days, that was kept to internal (now declassified) documents, such as the first Memorandum of the newly-formed National Security Council (NSC 1/3), calling for military action in Italy if the left won the election (I've written about this in Z, reprinted and extended in "Deterring Democracy"). With the Kennedy Administration, disdain for international law became quite public, in particular, in speeches by senior Kennedy adviser Dean Acheson. The main innovation of the Clinton/Reagan years is that it has become entirely open. In fact, the US is the only country to have vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe international law -- mentioning no one, but everyone understood who was meant. There's a brief review of these matters in an article of mine in Z in May.

It's entirely obvious why the powerful should have contempt for international law, and why the weak (particularly the former colonies) should generally favor it. The powerful do what they want anyway; treaties and systems of world order don't offer them any protection. They do, however, offer at least some limited protection for the weak. That is why the real "international community" is quite commonly opposed to the resort to violence by the US/UK (and now their NATO partners). In the U.S. the term "international community" is used to refer to NATO, but we can surely dispense with that racist/imperialist jargon ourselves.

An intriguing aspect of the post-Cold War scene is that the US attack on the UN (which has been going on since Washington lost control in the '60s, with decolonization), the World Court, treaty obligations, etc., has become far more extensive. The reason is straightforward: the old pretexts ("the Russians are coming") had lost their utility, and in the absence of a deterrent, the U.S. was much more free to resort to violence than before. That was evident at once. And it is entirely obvious now -- even called a marvellous "new paradigm."

It's important to bear in mind something that even much of the left prefers to ignore. There is only one "really existing alternative" to the weak, fragile, and in many ways very defective system of world order: the powerful will do as they wish. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is not exactly my favorite commentator on world affairs, but he does have it basically right this time: "NATO is imposing on the whole world and the next century an ancient law...whoever is strongest is right." Hardly surprising, then, that the strongest are the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the "new paradigm."

We need only add another virtual truism: the task of the respectable intellectuals, as always, is to portray whatever happens as angelic, or maybe an understandable "mistake," if the consequences become too hard to suppress. That's as old as recorded history.