The arrogant disregard of several international treaties by the Bush administration has drawn fire from several sources in recent weeks, the most recent an op-ed piece in the New York Times by David J. Scheffer, chief American negotiator for the International Criminal Court during the Clinton administration.

In that column, Scheffer warned that President Bush is contemplating action that would nullify President Carter’s signing of the Treaty of Rome that established the International Criminal Court. Such an act, Scheffer warned, “would not only devastate America’s credibility as the champion of international justice,” but reveal an American denial of reality. “The treaty will take effect in a few weeks no matter what the United States does, because several countries are ready to be the 60th to ratify it, and 60 ratifications is the threshold,” he said. (See story page 3)

Jayantha Dhanapala, United Nations undersecretary general for disarmament affairs, voiced his concern that the Bush administration is on a dangerous slide into a power-based world. In a recent speech to the Arms Control Association. Dhanapala said he feared that the Bush administration had sidelined international arms control agreements as a consequence of the war on terrorism.

These concerns were underscored by release of a study of U.S. compliance with various arms control treaties, conducted jointly by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) and the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP). The study, which examined U.S. compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and treaties outlawing anti-personnel mines as well as chemical and biological weapons, charges the United States has “violated, compromised or acted to undermine” every treaty the groups studied in detail and concludes that these policies, including refusal to abide by the United Nations Convention on Global Climate Change, are jeopardizing global security.

The study, titled “Rule of Power or Rule of Law? An Assessment of U.S. Policies and Actions Regarding Security-Related Treaties,” says the still-secret U.S. Nuclear Posture Review violates U.S. commitments made at the U.N. 2000 NPT Review and adds: “Recent shifts of U.S. policy toward greater reliance on military force, including nuclear weapons … sets a dangerous course and a poor example.”

Dr. John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee, says the Nuclear Posture Review “makes a mockery” of U.S. commitments under the NPT. “The disclosure of a variety of options for use of nuclear weapons, including by preemptive attack, against non-nuclear weapon states, are contrary to a commitment to a ‘diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policy’ made less than two years ago,” he said.

The study concluded that five of the signatories to the CTBT – the United States, France, Britain, Japan and Germany – “appear” to be in violation of the treaty by building, or helping to build, laboratories where thermonuclear explosions can be simulated in huge laser devices.

Failure to abide by provisions of both the NPT and CTBT places the United States in direct conflict with a 1996 opinion in which the International Court of Justice (World Court) ruled unanimously that the NPT requires nuclear weapons states to achieve nuclear disarmament “in all its aspects.”

Using the same principles of law that apply to war crimes and crimes against humanity, the court held that “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.”

The decision went on to say, “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”

While the 1996 decision still stands, little progress has been made in implementing it, primarily because of the refusal of countries in the Nuclear Weapons Club to enter into serious negotiations aimed nuclear disarmament. The situation is further complicated by the fact that all five of the major nuclear countries have veto power in the U.N. Security Council, thus limiting the power of the U.N. to enforce the ruling of the World Court.

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries