I don’t necessarily have too much trouble with hypocrisy. Any adult realizes that we’re all hypocrites to some degree. But we should know what we’re doing. And the level of hypocrisy illustrated in today’s video is pretty extraordinary. Yemen and Ukraine are two of the world’s hot spots. Essentially the same thing is happening in both countries. A more powerful neighbor is trying to invade and change them. If we care about international law, we should be more willing to make these comparisons more often.
Also, watching today’s video, I realized that I’m being deeply hypocritical in the video. I was so excited to make this comparison that I left my own country out of the analysis. The United States invades countries more frequently than anybody else does. The vid should definitely have mentioned that. But I think the point still stands. One day the US might be able to be constrained by international law as well. If we’re going to get there, we have to be willing to try to look at all conflicts with a little more objectivity. Which is hard for hypocrites like us…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. In the United States we talk about Human Rights and international law a lot. Last month we bombed Syria supposedly because Assad violated an important international norm on chemical weapons. That’s not true of course, but rather than dive back into that, today I’d like to talk about the situations of two other countries that are treated as very, very different, yet are almost exactly the same from an international law perspective.
Now a YouTube video is the wrong place to talk about International Law. There are treaties, and multilateral organizations that codify bits of it, but international law is extraordinarily complex, with different countries signing on to different treaties, and at the end of the day international law is dependent on what parts of international law the United States chooses to enforce, by itself or through the United Nations. What I’m going to talk about today is one of the most important aspects of international law, the idea that aggressive war against your neighbor is illegal. This tradition has grown up from the Kellog-Briand pact, through the Nuremberg trials, and has had a lot more impact than is traditionally recognized. There is a fantastic article in the London Review of books this month on this topic that I’ll link in the description to this video.
The long and very short of it is, that unlike all of human history up to that point, since 1945 there has been very little invading of other countries. Yeah you can talk about neo-colonialism or whatever, but the fact is that in 2018 there is very little straight up international conquest going on, and that’s a very very good thing. It’s made the world a much, better place.
This tradition is the reason the US first got involved in Iraq back in the early 1990s. This tradition is why the US has had to be so covert in its efforts to overthrow Assad in Syria. Today this tradition is under assault, in two places more than anywhere else .
The first big breach came in 2014, with the Russian invasion of Crimea. Now I’m a lot more sympathetic to Russian concerns than most. I think the crisis in Ukraine is more NATO’s fault than anybody else’s. That doesn’t make what Russia did right, however, and Russia knows it. The annexation of Crimea was carefully covered up by a referendum in favor of it from the locals. Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops were on the ground in Eastern Ukraine, even though most agree that they were.
It’s to the world’s credit that it has refused to buy Putin’s story. Russia’s stealth invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and annexation of Crimea set a tremendously dangerous precedent. In fact, It’s an especially dumb thing for Russia to do. There are parts of Western Russia where China could probably win a referendum of the locals today, and that’s only going to get more true as time passes. So while I see Russia’s interests in Ukraine, I wholeheartedly support the world’s condemnation of Russia’s actions there.
But what we should ask now, is why we don’t see the same condemnation of the Saudi coalition’s actions in Yemen? This three year old intervention undermines the exact same international law tradition. It’s actually a lot more egregious than what Russia did. Russia at least has some people on the ground in Ukraine that agree with them. The Saudi intervention was launched In the name of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, the former president of Yemen, who resided in the Saudi capital back when the intervention started, and still lives there today. The mythical President Hadi hasn’t even managed to retain control of the small section of Yemen that the Saudi coalition savagely took through a brutal siege and nearly indiscriminate bombing. Yet we’re still told that he matters somehow. This is meant to hide the simple truth. The Saudi coalition did not like it’s neighbors politics so they decided to invade to change them, exactly like Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine.
This is providing precedent and legitimacy for strong men all over the world who might want to invade their weaker neighbors. And the US government and media is encouraging it. That’s something worth considering. Next time we’ll talk how one of Saudi Arabia’s allies may be winning the war in Yemen, even though the Saudi coalition is losing.
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