The New Observer Uncategorized ‘Double-standards’ undermine the claim to follow ‘international law’

‘Double-standards’ undermine the claim to follow ‘international law’

We recently reviewed Richard Sakwa’s book, The Lost Peace – How the West Failed to Prevent a Second Cold War. The central theme of this book is that the West, the US in particular, has substituted its own version of world governance for the UN system. This system prioritises US liberalism and the US led global economy. The US system, the liberal international world order, was always a sub-order within the totality of the UN system, but since the end of the Cold War it has come to displace the actual UN system, with its respect for international law and institutions, and the sovereignty of nations, regardless of their internal political disposition. Professor Sakwa calls this the Great Substitution. Linguistically, this substitution is massaged by deployment of the phrase “the international rules based order”. This linguistic fudge allows them to do what they are doing; seek to enforce their own world order, (based around liberalism, the export of the democratic system and the US dominated global economy), while still pretending to be following UN principles.

This trick / hoax (a kind of magician’s illusion), results in all too glaring “double-standards”. This is an example.

The International Court of Justice ruled in March 2022 that Russia’s “invasion” of Ukraine was illegal. In May 2024 the same court ordered Israel to halt its invasion of Rafah in the Gaza strip. These are the UK government responses to these similar rulings:

On Russia:

In these proceedings, the ICJ issued a significant ruling on March 16, 2022, which orders Russia to immediately suspend its military operations in Ukraine. We welcome the Court’s ruling and strongly urge Russia to comply with this legally binding order.

On Rafah:

The reason there isn’t a pause in the fighting is because Hamas turned down a very generous hostage deal from Israel. The intervention of these courts – including the ICJ today – will strengthen the view of Hamas that they can hold on to hostages and stay in Gaza,.. and if that happens there won’t be either peace, or a two-state solution.”

The Guardian has an article which states, “US and UK to back Israel over ICJ ruling after blurring their Rafah red lines”.

I can’t actually find a direct quote from a UK government minister saying “we reject this ruling”. They are, presumably too canny for that. Nonetheless, the criticism from the Foreign Office (quoted above) amounts to a rejection. But, the law is the law; and what you think the possible consequences may be of any individual ruling, is irrelevant. By making such criticisms, rather than simply urging compliance with the court ruling, the UK is in effect rejecting the ruling. They are indeed openly “cherry picking” which parts of International Law they obey.

This, (for those who need it), is an illustration of what Richard Sakwa means by the Great Substitution.