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America, international institutions, and the strategy of the weak

July 17, 2020

> The UN and its ilk are nothing more than New World Order wannabes – their power/influence must be clipped <


International Criminal Court Building, The Hague, Netherlands (Photo credit: OSeveno)

On June 23, sixty-seven countries signed a statement of support for the International Criminal Court (ICC), in response to President Trump’s Executive Order which threatened sanctions against the Court. The statement epitomizes a discourse being promoted by many in Europe and the American Left, which prioritizes international institutions and consensus over national sovereignty and security. This discourse, which reflects a time-honored strategy of weak nations, is based on a fundamentally false conception of international institutions as unbiased and non-political bodies and is one that the United States must actively oppose.

The signatories to the June letter declared:

We remain committed to an international rules-based order. The ICC is an integral part of this order and a central institution in … the pursuit of justice…. By giving our full support to the ICC and promoting its universal reach, we defend the progress we have made together….

The worldview expressed in this letter is one which aims to build a new global order based on the ‘enlightened’ pillars of international law, institutions, and consensus. In this worldview, a country is expressly prohibited from taking unilateral action in connection with any other country. Even internal decisions should be based on the ‘international consensus.’ Hard power is viewed in a negative light. When faced with a military threat, countries should always prefer to negotiate, regardless of the threat’s lethality, the identity of the aggressor or its history of violence.

This discourse and worldview are highly problematic for several reasons. The first is that they ignore the fact that international law and institutions have actually done little in the past decades to prevent conflict or severe human rights violations.

However, the danger of this discourse goes much deeper. At its core is an entirely false and misleading view of international institutions and their role in the international order.

The founding charters and slogans of international institutions generally express lofty ideals and noble aims. For example, the UN Charter states that its aim is to “reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights,” to “establish conditions under which justice … can be maintained,” and to “maintain international peace and security.”

As a result of what psychologists term the ‘halo effect,’ these noble ideals are translated into the widespread but false belief that the actions of such institutions reflect elevated ideals and truths, objective analyses and a genuine commitment to promoting human rights and justice. The decisions of such institutions are therefore accorded the stamp of ‘international legitimacy,’ even when facts determine a contrary response.

This belief could not be further from the truth. In reality, the agendas of these institutions are governed by political coalitions which take advantage of these forums to promote national and regional interests. The supreme decision-making bodies of these institutions are generally made up of member states, which shape the institutional agendas through horse-trading, back room deal making, and economic and political levers. They are, by definition, political bodies.

As Hillel Neuer, a veteran human rights activist and head of the UN Watch organization, describes with regard to the UN’s Human Rights Council:

Many people, especially in Europe, imagine that the UNHRC is a council of wise sages…. But the reality is that the council is a political body made up of 47 countries, elected by other countries…. In addition, they bargain using oil or sovereign wealth funds…They go to countries and say vote for us. We will give you oil, investments and votes….

This description applies equally well to other UN bodies such as the UN General Assembly and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Another prime example of this reality is the World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized agency of the UN. The organization’s supreme policy-making body is the World Health Assembly, comprised of its 194 state parties. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, the WHO’s activity reflected its political nature. For example, the WHO refused to allow Taiwan to participate in its proceedings, even as an Observer State, due to Chinese pressure.

The political bias of the WHO has been further highlighted by its response to COVID-19. While WHO Secretary General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus declared that, “this virus does not respect borders,” and the WHO claimed it was, “working to connect all nations to beat the virus,” the organization continued to deny Taiwanese representatives the right to participate in WHO meetings. At the same time, the global health organization went out of its way to praise China’s response to the virus in spite of clear evidence of concealment.

The WHO’s politicized nature is also reflected in its discriminatory treatment of Israel. For example, of the twenty-one agenda items at its May 2019 Assembly, only one focused on a particular country: Israel. The item called, inter alia “to provide health-related technical assistance to the Syrian population in the occupied Syrian Golan,” i.e. the Israeli Golan Heights, while completely ignoring the devastation of Syrian hospitals by Syrian strongman Assad, or Israel’s provision of medical treatment to Syrian civilians fleeing the war.

Furthermore, the WHO continues to refuse to include Israel in its Eastern Mediterranean Region, due to the objections of Arab states, despite the regional grouping including all of Israel’s neighbors and the Palestinian Authority (and even the more physically-distant but religiously-Muslim Pakistan.) Instead, the WHO classifies Israel as part of Europe. As such, its classifications embody blatantly political positions, rather than public health considerations in combating a virus which does not discriminate on the basis of national borders or religion.

The historian Robert Kagan has argued that the discourse which idealizes international institutions and law is a strategy used by weak nations. A powerful nation, such as the United States, “remains mired in history, exercising power in an anarchic Hobbesian world where international laws and rules are unreliable….” Weaker nations, such as those of Europe, have an interest in “building … an international order where international law and international institutions matter more than the power of individual nations, where unilateral action by powerful states is forbidden.…”

The International Criminal Court (ICC) represents the epitome of this strategy. It is not surprising that the countries with the world’s most powerful militaries – most obviously the US, Russia, China and India, but also others such as Turkey, South Korea, North Korea and Pakistan – are not members of the court. While the vast majority of the world’s countries – 123 nations – have ratified the ICC’s Rome Statute, the majority of the world’s military might has not. It is interesting to note that among all the world’s declared and suspected nuclear powers, only France and the UK have ratified the Rome Statute.

The United States must lead those democracies which understand that “international laws and rules are unreliable” in opposing the ICC’s unfounded assertions of jurisdiction, and other examples of international institutional overreach. It must declare that any UN-linked body, including the WHO, is inherently political and therefore cannot be viewed as an unbiased body. Ultimately, the creation of truly independent and unbiased expert institutions will require detaching them from the UN and similarly structured political bodies.

Samuel H. Solomon is engaged in human rights advocacy in defense of democracies and has founded several non-profit organizations to address these issues. Sam has an MBA in Finance, a Masters in Philosophy and Theological Ordination. He may be reached at


From → World Watch

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