“Legal Imperialism” and International Law
Legal Foundations for War Crimes, Debt Collection and Colonization
by James Petras
By now we are familiar with imperial states using their military power to attack, destroy and occupy independent countries. Boatloads of important studies have documented how imperial countries have seized and pillaged the resources of mineral-rich and agriculturally productive countries, in consort with multi-national corporations. Financial critics have provided abundant data on the ways in which imperial creditors have extracted onerous rents, royalties and debt payments from indebted countries and their taxpayers, workers, employees and productive sectors.What has not been examined fully is the over-arching legal … architecture which informs, justifies and facilitates imperial wars, pillage and debt collection.The Centrality of Imperial Law While force and violence, especially through overt and covert military intervention, have always been an essential part of empire-building, it does not operate in a legal vacuum: Judicial institutions, rulings and legal precedents precede, accompany and follow the process of empire building. The legality of imperial activity is based largely on the imperial state’s judicial system and its own legal experts. Their legal theories and opinions are always presented as over-ruling international law as well as the laws of the countries targeted for imperial intervention. Imperial law supersedes international law simply because imperial law is backed by brute force; it possesses imperial/colonial air, ground and naval armed forces to ensure the supremacy of imperial law. In contrast, international law lacks an effective enforcement mechanism. Moreover, international law, to the extent that it is effective, is applied only to the weaker powers and to regimes designated by the imperial powers as ‘violators’. The very judicial processes, including the appointment of judges and prosecutors who interpret international law, investigate international crime and arrest, sentence and punish ‘guilty’ parties are under to the influence of the reigning imperial powers. In other words, the application and jurisdiction of international law is selective and subject to constraints imposed by the configurations of imperial and national power. International law, at best, can provide a ‘moral’ judgment, a not insignificant basis for strengthening the political claims of countries, regimes and people seeking redress from imperial war crimes and economic pillage. To counter the claims and judgments pertaining to international law, especially in the area of the Geneva protocols such as war crimes and crimes against humanity, imperial legal experts, scholars and judges have elaborated a legal framework to justify or exempt imperial-state activity.
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