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September 22, 2020

Challenging US unilateralism


September 22, 2020

The great Greek philosopher Thrasymachus once opined that justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger party. Historians have come up with various interpretations of this saying. It seems they all agree that Thrasymachus alludes to the ruthless power employed by the powerful in the name of justice to protect their interests. Some maverick thinkers have also described law as a web where the weak get caught while the strong manage to escape by tearing it down.

In international affairs and relations of states, it is not the moralistic philosophy of Socrates that seems to be triumphant but the bitter reality of power that holds sway. Here the ethical values of Plato’s mentor do not matter but the realistic observation of Thrasymachus seems to be valid everywhere. The world looks like an arena where the strong must do what they can and the weak must suffer what they must. This is what the US has demonstrated in its recent decision on imposing UN sanctions on Iran unilaterally disregarding all international norms and traditions.

The mighty state of the US has once again tried to employ sledgehammer tactics to thrust decisions on a weak state. This past Saturday, the Trump administration unabashedly decided to reinstate a number of UN sanctions against Iran, asserting that it had the authority to do so as an original signatory of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA. The move has even left the allies of Washington flabbergasted who argue that the sole superpower does not wield any such authority at all.

Jittery leaders of major powers from Europe sprang into action issuing a joint statement, declaring that the move has no legal effect. France, Germany and even the pliant UK have challenged this decision of the Oval Office, asserting that any attempt by the US to impose its own sanctions on countries not complying with the reimposed UN sanctions was also legally void. The other signatories claim the US left the JCPOA in 2018 and therefore no longer has a unilateral legal right to either declare Iran in breach of the agreement or reimpose sanctions in the name of the UN.

In recent decades, it is the first time that three major European powers have openly come up against the decision of Washington that more or less acted as a fatherly figure during the cold war. Their opposition seems to be in line with international laws and traditions.

The joint statement further said, “The United States of America ceased to be a participant in the JCPOA following their withdrawal from the agreement on May 8, 2018. Consequently, the notification received from the United States and transmitted to the member states of the [UN] Security Council, has no legal effect. It follows that any decision or action which would be taken on the basis of this procedure or its outcome has no legal effect. Our goal remains to preserve the authority and integrity of the United Nations Security Council. The E3s remain committed to fully implementing Security Council resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA in 2015. We have worked tirelessly to preserve the nuclear deal and we remain committed to continuing to do so.”

The US justifies its decision, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirming that the US had reimposed UN sanctions, expecting “all UN member states to fully comply with their obligations to implement these measures”. This seems to have isolated Washington in the international community that is fed up with American unilateralism.

But Trump does not seem to care about this global opposition. His pro-Israeli administration does not want to leave any stone unturned in appeasing the war-mongers sitting in the power corridors of Tel Aviv. The US has already earned the ire of some European powers by throwing blanket support behind the illegal actions of Netanyahu, who has been ratcheting up tension in the region to mask his corruption but it seems for the first time since the demise of the Soviet Union, Washington is likely to face stiff resistance from its foes and allies.

The US actions amount to provoking Iran that is already threatening dire consequences in case Trump goes ahead with the implementation of these illegal actions. First the US coerced some Arab states into hobnobbing with Tel Aviv without convincing the Zionist state to stop its illegal construction in the occupied territories, and now it is trying to tighten the noose around Iranian clerics; that is likely to trigger a backlash. Tehran has demonstrated great restraint in the aftermath of its general’s killing. It did not attempt to destabilize the region. It is time that such restraint is rewarded instead of pushing Iran against the wall.

The joint statement by the European powers is a welcome move. It must be appreciated by all those who believe in the supremacy of international laws and want to prove that the iron hand of the law is not there to protect the interest of the stronger only. The US has already expressed its disdain for global bodies and international laws several times in the past. When the UN is ready to toe Washington’s line, it becomes a respected organization in the eyes of hawks allied to the military-industrial complex but when it defies American dictation, it turns out to be irrelevant.

So, the US actions have not undermined the international law but the authority of the UN as well. Therefore, the global body should join hands with the European powers, Russia and China to come up with a joint strategy against this lawlessness. There seems to be a mutual distrust between China and European powers on one hand and Moscow and Brussels on the other. The EU picked fights with Moscow unnecessarily to appease Washington. It also infuriated China for the sake of its friendship with the leader of the free world. But America under Trump is ready to ditch any state that does not toe the whimsical line of the erratic chief executive of the world’s sole superpower.

It is the time for Europe to mend its differences with Moscow and Beijing because the impending sanctions against Iran will not only affect Iran but also harm European businesses. Although the US depends on Middle East oil, it can become self-sufficient in energy whenever it wants. It is the European states that are not only dependent on Gulf oil but Russian gas and Chinese products as well. Therefore, any tension that might flare up in the Middle East would greatly affect Europe, threatening its economic interests.

The EU should play its due role in foiling these illegal attempts of the Trump administration to weaken international laws. If the European powers are really serious about opposing these US moves, they must reject them in the Security Council and help Tehran raise the issue at all international forums. The Western media should also spring into action, informing its viewers about these illegal actions of the US that have the potential to inflame an already volatile region.

Countries like India should not try to become a second Israel by throwing support behind Washington over this issue; they should rather side with those states that are seeking to challenge these illegal actions of Washington because any disturbance in the Middle East would not only affect Europe and China but the rising economic power of India as well.

The writer is a freelancejournalist.

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