Around 2,000 years ago Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger said: “We are mad not only individually but nationally. We check manslaughter and isolated murders, but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?”
Here we are in 2022, and we have apparently learned very little.
Why is that? Part of the reason is the selective enforcement of international law since World War II. For example, no U.S. leader was sanctioned, or even tried, for the blatantly criminal and unwarranted U.S.-led attack on Iraq. The message seemed to be that international law doesn’t apply to nuclear powers.
Russia has now launched a horrific and illegal attack on Ukraine. Unfortunately this invasion, as with most other conflicts, didn’t need to have happened. There were several times when a reasonable compromise on the part of the U.S., Ukraine and Russia could have prevented this current crisis. In particular, if the 2015 Minsk II agreement, supported unanimously by the U.N. Security Council, had been strongly pushed by the U.S., this agreement probably would have prevented this abominable attack.
This ongoing criminal Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t the only current violation of international law, but it’s by far the most widely covered. For example, Saudi Arabia, strongly supported by the U.S., continues its appalling attack on Yemen. Israel, with U.S. support, continues its illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territories. The U.S. continues its illegal occupation in parts of Syria and fighting continues in Libya. Morocco continues its illegal occupation in Western Sahara. Fighting also continues in many places on the African continent.
Russia, similar to the U.S., attacks cities with overwhelming power. The current Russian attack on Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities are unconscionable examples of this type of attack — and these attacks have been rightly widely criticized.
However, many reporters and people in the U.S. orbit seem to have forgotten about the destruction caused by similar U.S. attacks, particularly in Iraq and Syria. Fallujah and Mosul were two Iraqi cities destroyed by the U.S. military. In addition, U.S. forces devastated Raqqa in Syria. Reporters also seem to have forgotten about Israeli attacks that devastated Beirut in 1982 and 2006 and Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014 and 2021.
One must also not forget the U.S. firebombing of German and Japanese cities and the use of nuclear weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For example, the U.S. firebombing of Tokyo alone killed over 100,000 people, destroyed over 16 square miles in central Tokyo and left over 1 million homeless in just a single night.
As if the senselessness of modern warfare is not bad enough, there is the use of unilateral and multilateral sanctions not approved by the U.N. Security Council. These sanctions constitute a violation of international law.
The U.S. has used this criminal form of economic warfare against many nations whose leaders do not agree to U.S. demands. Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan, Russia and Iran are some of these sanctioned nations.
In an article on antiwar.com, Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, wrote: “Far from being a humane substitute for war, economic sanctions impose some of the worst impacts of conflict on civilians. Nor have American officials hesitated to accept even heavy collateral casualties. Madeleine Albright is responsible for a string of arrogant and thoughtless comments on foreign policy. Perhaps her most famous gaffe — that is, telling an inconvenient truth — was her response to a question about the death of a half-million Iraqi babies due to sanctions: ‘We think the price is worth it,’ she said.”
War does not solve problems. As former British politician Tony Benn said: “All war represents a failure of diplomacy.”
This is certainly true of the current crisis of this abominable and illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. However, it is not too late for diplomacy. The sooner Ukraine and Russia negotiate painful compromises, the sooner the terrible suffering of the Ukrainian people and the destruction of Ukraine will end.
Perhaps wars will finally end when there are significant consequences for all those who cause conflicts. As long as there is selective enforcement of international law, respect for and compliance with it are undermined and wars will likely continue.