01 Oct The U.S. Embargo on Cuba May Be a Bad Idea, But It Doesn’t Violate the UN Charter
The UN General Assembly is set to vote once again (for the 24th consecutive year) on a Cuba-sponsored resolution condemning the United States’ economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba. This resolution will probably get near majority support, and perhaps even unanimous support. Indeed, there are rumors that the U.S. government itself may abstain from voting against the resolution, which is certainly odd and perhaps unprecedented. Cuban President Raul Castro’s speech at the UN reiterated his demand that the U.S. end its embargo and sanctions on Cuba.
I don’t want to get into the merits of whether the U.S. should have an embargo on Cuba here, but I am baffled by the implication that the embargo violates international law. The GA resolution doesn’t quite condemn the US embargo as illegal, but it comes close. From last year‘s resolution:
2. Reiterates its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation;
Now Cuba has long called the U.S. embargo a “blockade”, which would be illegal under international law. But despite some economic penalties on third-party countries trading with Cuba (largely never applied and always suspended), the U.S. does not actually prevent, militarily or otherwise, other countries from trading with Cuba.
I am heartened to see that the GA thinks the UN Charter reaffirms the freedom of trade and navigation, but I am not aware of any authority for the proposition that a country’s choice not to trade with another country is a violation of the Charter’s non-existent textual references to the freedom of trade and navigation.
Here’s the problem with U.S. (and other nations’) acquiescence with the Cuba resolution’s language. It strongly suggests that a country cannot impose a unilateral embargo on another country without somehow violating its UN Charter obligations. This can’t possibly be something the EU or Canada can or should sign onto as a matter of principle. And it is even odder for the U.S. administration to agree to this idea, when its main policy for dealing with foreign aggression (e.g. Russia in Ukraine) is the unilateral imposition of sanctions.
So I think it would be perfectly appropriate (and indeed necessary) for the U.S. and other countries that impose unilateral sanctions to oppose this resolution on principle. They won’t of course, but they should.