The United States and its Western allies are very fond of quoting the importance of adherence to what they call “the rules based international order.” It is for example, central to Australia’s strategy, apparently first used by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, and adopted by his multiple successors.
It is a term that has been embraced by the United States being cited most recently by secretary of state Anthony Blinken in an attempt to distinguish United States from its principal adversaries, Russia and China. The United States has strongly adopted the concept and the pronouncements of its foreign policy team are consistently referring to the rules based international order as a means of distinguishing themselves from their principal adversaries.
But what does the term mean? The answer to that question is best answered by its chief adherents, at least nominally, the United States and its friends around the world. Despite strenuous efforts by some writers to give a universal meaning to the phrase and to embody it with the luminosity of an international rule of law that is used to distinguish the alleged adherents, such as the United States, from other countries, such as Russia and China, which allegedly failed to follow its guidance.
International law does not in fact recognise the concept of the rules based international order, not least because its adherents, notably the United States and its allies, have used it as a vehicle for comparing unfavourably the behaviour of its opponents to this alleged universal order.
In fact, international law is a universally recognised concept. It draws his legitimacy from its recognition by all member states of the United Nations, one of its strongest supporters, and providing an internationally recognised system for the resolution of disputes that may arise between member states of the United Nations.
Many of the most important principles of international law may be found in United Nations Charter as for example in a recognised medium for the resolution of disputes that may arise between members states. Drawing its legitimacy from having a recognised forum for the arguing of international disputes, and the fact that its resolutions are almost universally accepted.
There is no such forum for the “rules based international order” which is a concept used to support a particular point of view, and for condemning those who allegedly fail to meet its self-defined standards.
One of the best ways to gauge the effectiveness of a concept such as the rules based international order is to compare the behaviour of its alleged self-professed adherents with the notion contained within the concept.
One of the most important indicators of a notion of international law is the extent to which its adherents actually comply with its international underpinnings. The peaceful resolution of disputes would be one indicator of a systems utility. When one looks at the actual behaviour of those who argue for its primacy, such as the United States, there is a glaring contradiction between the advocacy and the practice.
The United States has been by a very big margin the foremost violator of international law, at least since the end of the Second World War. It has invaded, attacked and interfered with the internal operations of at least 70 countries since the end of World War II. A country such as Cuba, which has never threatened the United States, has been the victim of sustained attack for least the past 60 years. To add insult to injury, the United States maintains a military base on Cuban territory. That base served as the main imprisonment (without trial) of large numbers of foreigners captured elsewhere and incarcerated at the base.
There is no principle of law, international or “rules based” that would justify the treatment of these men. Many have been released after years of incarceration, but others are left to rot in a judicial black hole. Their incarceration and treatment are a living reminder of the fake claims of “American justice.”
Cuba is not the only place where prisoners are held, without trial and without proper redress to international law for their incarceration.
It is similarly difficult to perceive any notion of law in the multiple United States military bases, located close to the borders of their nominal enemies, that are used for the testing of weapons that are never utilised on American territory. This is in addition to the storing of nuclear weapons in at least five European countries, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey. It is doubtful if the inhabitants of these countries ever gave their approval for this use of their territory.
In addition, there are other countries, including Australia, that provides a base for US ships which are nuclear armed. The Australian people have never given their formal consent to this use of their territory. It makes Australian centres prime targets in the event of a war with Russia or China, the likelihood of which is an ever-present danger.
One of the best ways to avoid this disastrous war is to have a legal system that is universally recognised. The wholly self-serving “rules based international order” is not the appropriate vehicle. The sooner its adherents recognise that fundamental truth and adhere to a truly international rule of law the safer we are all going to be.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.