Nobel Prizes and Power: The UN, International Law, and Hegemony, Part 2
As IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei is about to receive the Nobel Prize at the same time as he announces that the international community is losing patience with Iran’s intransigence over its nuclear program, I’m prompted to continue thinking about the relationship between international law and US power. Now, it’s true that the IAEA has had numerous successful instances of preventing nuclear proliferation. However, one has to distinguish between the easy cases, where states would prefer not to proliferate but feel pressured by the security dilemma to do so, and the hard ones, where states really do want nuclear weapons. Getting Brazil and Argentina to step back from their nuclear arms race, or convincing Ukraine and Kazakhstan to return their newly acquired nukes to Russia, while admirable and important efforts, are not the same as preventing an aggressive rogue state from proliferating. When the chips are down, as with Iraq (before the invasion), Iran, and North Korea, the IAEA’s effort has been less than stellar.
There is a good chance that matters with Iran will come to a head. If Iran continues to refuse to give up its “right” to uranium enrichment and refuses the recent proposal to use fissile material enriched in Russia, what will the IAEA and the international community do? Will it be capable of enforcing its own rules and regulations and slap sanctions on a country that violates its clear commitments and duties under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty? The institutional structure of the UN means that any and all punitive actions to be imposed by the IAEA have to go through the Security Council where it subject to veto by, in this case, Russia. Even if sanctions are imposed, will the UN be able to keep them in place? As the oil-for-food scandal makes clear, sanctions create a powerful moral hazard by raising the price of goods and creating the opportunity for huge profits, encouraging defection and cheating.
Regardless of whether you agree with the logic of the invasion of Iraq, there is an important lesson there that is relevant to the problem of Iran. If the UN is unwilling or incapable of enforcing its own rules and international law, the US as global hegemon and police enforcer may take matters into its own hands. Iraq is not the only pertinent example: the NATO bombing of Serbia to protect the Kosovars is another example of the US (in cooperation with other actors) picking up the slack where the UN was incapable of living up to its ideals and laws. As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, hegemony and the willingness to use power outside of the framework of international law may be necessary for those laws to be enforced. If you don’t think that the US should use force to enforce international law, how else can the law be respected?