The state of international law is largely a tangled web of treaties and agreements between different states that often contradict various other agreements and representing a converging cesspool of confusion and, ultimately, inaction and non-compliance. The fact that the findings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) become optional through the ‘optional clause’ further illustrates just how little opportunity for enforcement exists by the international community. A prominent example mentioned is the United States v. Nicaragua court case tried by the ICJ. The Reagan policy of containing and preventing the spread of communism was to aid anticommunist rebels in various countries, and this battlefield reached Nicaragua in the early 1980’s. The ICJ rejected an onslaught of US jurisdiction inquiries regarding the ICJ’s right to hear the case and issued a preliminary opinion ordering the United States to stop mining the harbors of Nicaragua. However, due to the optional clause, the United States completely ignored the ruling. Two years later in 1986, the ICJ ruled that the United States had in fact violated international law. However, the United States again ignored the ruling. Finally, the matter was brought before the United Nations Security Council as to whether to impose sanctions on the United States for its explicit and complete ignorance of both the rulings of the ICJ as well as practices in Nicaragua and of course, the United States exercised it’s veto power and the matter was ended right there. There are other examples of this kind of behavior by the permanent members of the United Nations who have this veto power, but the point isn’t the infraction. The point is the attitude and power attributed to and wielded by these select five nations that is causing this imbalance in international law implementation.
How is this causing an imbalance in the implementation of international law? The answer is two-fold. First, there is no organization or body that can actually enforce what the ICJ decides in these cases. Secondly, as a result of the immense power the permanent members have on the Security Council, it has created a system in which these five significant members are the arbiters of not only if international law is to be followed, but also how it is going to be enforced. These five members have no greater power to check them than themselves, and even if a few of these five members want to act against another of the permanent members, the latter can always use the veto power given to it to end any inquiry or attempt at action. To go a step further, as a result of this model, there isn’t a group that can legally do anything about any international law violations by this group of five because any judgment or enforcement on international law is directly required to be confirmed by the potential aggressor. For example, US drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan are surely a violation of a states sovereignty as well as arguably being a tool for civilian murder, yet besides a hollow condemnation or two, there is no remedial action taken and these drone strikes continue unabridged. The United States has a foreign policy in Latin America of shipping arms, supporting illegitimate and oppressive coups, as well as squeezing smaller Latin American economies all of which had a devastating affects on a humanitarian level for millions of people in the region. Yet there is no check or balance to this abusive exercise of power and frankly from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to Iraq, there hasn’t been one.