ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – ‘International law’ is just political convenience

The following editorial was first published on March 11, 2014.

HYPOCRISY IN POLITICSs is as old as politics itself, but the crisis in Ukraine is taking it to a new level.

On the one hand, we have Russian President Vladimir Putin painting his invasion of Crimea as necessary to protect Russians living in “terror” from civic unrest. “There can be only one assessment of what happened in Kiev, in Ukraine in general,” he says. “This was an unconstitutional coup and the armed seizure of power. No one argues with this. Who can argue with it?”

The U.S. certainly does. We have U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama condemning what they call a violation of international law. “There is a strong belief that Russia’s action is violating international law,” says Obama. “President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations. I don’t think that’s fooling anybody.”

Violating international law is no small thing, and Russia’s acts in Ukraine are certainly to be condemned. But if anyone knows about violating international law, it’s the U.S.

There was, for example, the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, an island of 91,000 people. The U.N. General Assembly called it “a flagrant violation of international law.”

Also in 1983, the U.S. invaded Nicaragua in support of the Contras. The International Court of Justice said it was a violation of international law.

In 1989, it was Panama’s turn, as the U.S. invaded that tiny country and captured its president, Manuel Noriega, a former paid CIA informant. The reason? Safeguarding lives of U.S. citizens, just as Putin is supposedly doing now.

Oh, yes, and the U.N. General Assembly condemned it as a flagrant violation of international law.

Then there was Iraq in 2003, denounced by the Canadian-based International Court of Jurists and the U.S.-based Lawyers Committee on Human Rights. And an independent commission of inquiry set up by the Dutch government found that it violated international law.

Afghanistan, Libya… whether or not you agree with any or all of them, they’re invasions in various forms, just as Russia is invading Ukraine. International law may look good on paper, but when it becomes inconvenient for powerful nations to ignore, well, that’s what they do.

So when the U.S. condemns Russia for violating international law, or when Russia rationalizes its actions with the old “defending thecitizens” routine, it doesn’t sound very convincing.

And, by the way, there was that incident back in 1812 when the U.S. invaded Canada, unsuccessfully. One American historian called that invasion “ludicrous and unnecessary.”

Mel Rothenburger is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served as mayor of Kamloops, school board chair and TNRD director, and is a retired newspaper editor.  He’s been writing about Kamloops since 1970. He can be reached at

About Mel Rothenburger (9634 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

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