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Defying the Rule of Law

The World Court is right in ruling that the U.S. war against Nicaragua violates the Charter of the United Nations. The rejection of the authority as well as the findings of the court by President Reagan in no way diminishes the importance of the case. The defiance of the rule of law by the U.S. Administration is all the more regrettable now that it has been reinforced by a majority vote of support by the House of Representatives.

Some will seek to dismiss the court’s action as unrealistic, given the deteriorating situation in Nicaragua where the promises of democracy that accompanied the overthrow of the Somoza dictatorship have been eroded by ideological authoritarianism and repression. But that is a separate issue. There are agreed treaty obligations and procedures for addressing threats to security in the hemisphere. The United States has not used the legally sanctioned mechanisms because it knows that it is isolated and alone in its determination to overthrow by force the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Instead, the United States has chosen to act alone, as in mining the navigable waters in and around Nicaragua and in working through the contra armed forces waging a costly war of attrition at terrible cost to the already impoverished people of Nicaragua.

The decision of the World Court will not, it is now clear, deter Reagan in his single-minded campaign to impose his policy on Central America. But it will serve at least to hold high the principles of international law, the fragile but important steps that have been taken in establishing a rule of law. Citizens of the United States, so committed to a rule of law, can take no satisfaction from this turn of events, in which their nation has chosen brute force rather than the legal instruments of redress to confront a crisis in the region. The rule of law is the weaker for that, and the United States is no stronger.


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