january 2003




Do as I say, not as I do! 11.03.2002

Ever since I was a child I have been perplexed by the attitude that this phrase represents. It started with my Father. We would have horrible arguments over everything. During these arguments we would both interrupt each other, as people often do when arguing. My Father would always tell me not to interrupt him. Yet turn around later and interrupt me. This of course infuriated me. How could he expect me to behave in a certain way when he himself wasn't doing that?

Current events brings me back to that issue. It seems to be a common theme. But nowhere else do I see this issue come to mind more than US Foreign Relations. Especially with regard to the US reaction to the admission by the North Koreans that they had indeed been making nuclear weapons. The US expressed their shock at how the North Koreans were in violation of its international commitments, including the Agreed Framework (an agreement between the United States and North Korea, through which they received aide in return for promising not to make nuclear weapons), The Non-Proliferation Treaty and an agreement it had signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency. How could the North Koreans ignore their international obligations like that?

Perhaps a bit of history should be relevant here. The US Government responded as if it was surprised that any government would not honor its obligations. But the reality of it is this is really not all that unusual. The United States certainly doesn't have the moral authority here in following through with its own obligations. Let's look at a number of examples.

Prior to September 11th, the Bush Administration was working hard to build a missile defense system. Their claim that our greatest threat came from rogue nations like North Korea and Iraq launching a nuclear missile seems almost ridiculous now. As a result of this claim they felt we needed to build a system to shoot down these missiles. One problem. The United States in 1972 signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) with the Soviet Union. The ABM treaty specifically didn't allow either side to build such defensive weapons. The Bush Administration claimed that the treaty was signed with the Soviet Union and since it doesn't exist anymore that it isn't valid. Of course the Russian's begged to differ. They felt they had taken on the obligations of the Soviet Union. In my mind making this claim is a bit like saying that because Bernie Ebbers signature is on a contract with Worldcom and he isn't at Worldcom anymore then the contract must not be valid. Bush has been quoted as saying "No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interests or in the interests of world peace." In the end the Bush administration ended up unilaterally backing out of the ABM treaty.

Now fast forward a bit to the North Korean debacle. Consider for a moment North Korea's Ambassador Choe Jin Su's statement "We told the special envoy of the U.S. president that we were entitled to possess not only nuclear weapons but any type of weapon more powerful than that in order to protect our sovereignty and right to subsistence from an ever growing U.S. nuclear threat." I guess Bush thinks it's okay for the United States to back out of treaties because we feel threatened and can't live within them but it's not okay for the North Koreans.

But it's not as if the ABM treaty is an isolated incident of the US failing to fulfill their international obligations. The US has violated numerous treaties with regard to its implementation of the death penalty. Consider the foreign citizens who now sit on death row and had their right to contact their own government violated. Or consider the minors who are put to death for their crimes, despite the Senate ratifying the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights in 1992.

The US long withheld their dues from the United Nations. From time to time offering to pay up some but never all of the dues. Often times with various strings attached to such payment. But we're still not up to date with the agreed upon percentage of payment.

Now some could say that these were all past behaviors and that we're getting better. But don't kid yourself. There is no sign that the US is going to clean up its act with regard to its international obligations. The Bush administration is now considering developing "mini-nukes" which could be used to destroy buried bunkers. Possibly backing out of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the process. But even if we don't back out of that treaty the development of these types of weapons would certainly be a violation of the spirit of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Simply by making it easier to justify the use of nuclear weapons.

The truth is that the United States often engages in policies which ultimately come down to "do as we say, not as we do." It's not just a matter of following treaties either. Consider the Intellectual Property restrictions we are pushing on the 3rd world. When we were developing the United States routinely violated similar arrangements from other countries. Yet we demand that the developing 3rd world pay us royalties.

We present the front of the moral authority to the world. We act as though we always do what is right. But let's not forget. We don't always do what is right. We don't even always follow our Constitution which says in Article VI "This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land." Let's just hope that we realize that we don't always have a moral authority and that dictating our will on the rest of the world just makes us look like the evil imperialists that our fore fathers fought to break away from.