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Is America a Rogue Superpower?

“Unipolar” used to mean that the United States was, at least in theory, alone in leading the world. Now “unipolar” means that the United States is alone and isolated in opposition to the world.

In global affairs, a hegemon is a nation that leads because it has the consent of the other nations who believe in its goals and values. The United States has recently demonstrated, though, that it has given up any pretense of using its leadership to pursue the goals of the global community, and instead is openly using the global community to pursue its own goals.

In his new book, The Lost Peace, Richard Sakwa explains the distinction between the pursuit of hegemony and the pursuit of primacy. Primacy “entails predominance and the conscious attempt to thwart the ambition of others.” In its recent performance at the United Nations, the United States is performing, not out of hegemony as it usually described, but out of primacy.

As a hegemon, the U.S. wields the power to veto in the Security Council. But in the exercise of primacy, it has recently used that veto to supress the clearly expressed voice of the international community.

After repeated American vetoes of measures calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, in a desperate and seldom used move, on December 12, the General Assembly invoked Resolution 377A in an attempt to circumvent U.S. leadership. It was the response to what was perceived as America’s irresponsible use of its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council.

It does not matter that the vote was on the war in Gaza, nor on whether you agree with the United States. What is significant is the assumption by Washington of the role of roadblock and not leader of the international will.

Article 377A first reminds the permanent members of the Security Council that they are obliged to “to seek unanimity and exercise restraint in the use of the veto” in pursuit of the maintenance of international peace and security. It then gives the General Assembly the right to make “appropriate recommendations to Members for collective measures…to maintain or restore international peace and security” when the Security Council “because of a lack of unanimity…fails to exercise its primary responsibility.”

The world saw the United States, not as a hegemon leading the world in the pursuit of unanimity, but as failing “to exercise its primary responsibility” as a leader on the Security Council.

On March 25, the U.S. went one step further and took a step toward becoming a rogue state who has supplanted international law with its rules-based order. International law is grounded in the charter system and the United Nations and is universally applicable. The rules-based order is composed of unwritten laws whose source, consent, and legitimacy are unknown. To the global majority, those unwritten laws have the appearance of being invoked when they benefit the U.S. and its partners and not being invoked when they don’t.

On March 25, the Security Council passed a resolution demanding “an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire.” The resolution was able to pass because the U.S. stood aside and let the other fourteen Security Council members pass it by abstaining instead of vetoing.

But in her explanation of the American abstention after the resolution passed, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield “surprisingly” said that “we fully support some of the critical objectives in this nonbinding resolution.”

Her claim that the Security Council resolution was nonbinding was not an off script, impromptu comment. It is the strategy of a country that enforces, not international law, but the U.S. led rules-based order.

In a March 25 press briefing following the vote and Thomas-Greenfield’s claim, White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby called the resolution “nonbinding” no less than four times. “Number one,” he said, “it’s a nonbinding resolution. So, there’s no impact at all on Israel and Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas.”

When asked by a reporter, “on the binding thing, is it binding, nonbinding?” Kirby answered, “It’s a nonbinding resolution.” When asked “a technical question” a second time to clarify if the resolution was nonbinding, Kirby again said, “My understanding is it’s a nonbinding resolation—resolution.”

At a State Department press briefing the same day, department spokesperson Matt Miller also called the resolution “nonbinding” three times.

All UN Security Council resolutions are legally binding and have the status of international law. That is why UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “This resolution must be implemented. Failure would be unforgivable.” UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq explained that, “All the resolutions of the Security Council are international law. They are as binding as international laws.”

Others responded the same way to the U.S. claim. On behalf of the ten elected members of the Security Council who drafted the resolution, Pedro Comissario, Mozambique’s envoy to the United Nations, said, “All United Nations Security Council resolutions are binding and mandatory.” He then added, “It is the hope of the 10 that the resolution adopted today will be implemented in good faith by all parties.”

The United Kingdom also did “not share” the U.S. claim, prompting their envoy to the UN to say, “we expect all Council resolutions to be implemented. This one is not any different. The demands in the resolution are absolutely clear.” China, too, did not share the U.S. evaluation. “China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said Security Council resolutions are binding.”

By judging Security Council resolutions to be nonbinding and denying their status as being as binding as international law, the United States has taken the next step from hegemony to primacy to a rogue state that has undermined the foundational role of the Security Council in the international order.

By: Ted Snider

Ted Snider is a regular columnist on U.S. foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets. 

 

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