Last week during a pause in hostilities Israel started exchanging Palestinian Arab prisoners for Hamas’s Israeli hostages. Obviously, the “international community” has been pressuring Israel to make this concession, one that most Israelis know is dangerous, given the moral hazard of rewarding Hamas’ war-crimes, the certainty that any stop in the fighting will allow Hamas to regroup and rearm, and the Palestinian Arabs’ sorry track-record of serially violating every “agreement” it’s made with Israel, as well as transnational covenants like the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, Hamas is already violating the provision of the agreement that forbids evacuated Gazans from returning to the north.
The broader issue, however, is the continuing fealty that Western nations have to the “rules-based international order,” one predicated on dubious, if not empirically falsified assumptions about state behavior and human motivation; and on a questionable faith in “diplomatic engagement” and treaties to deter aggression and keep the peace. No global conflict illustrates this truth more than the war between Palestinian Arabs and Israel, one that has been going on for at least 75 years.
The failure of the postwar “new world order” and its most consequential institution, the UN, was obvious a few years after its creation, and Israel bore the brunt of that failure. After the Arabs rejected UN Resolution 181 in November 1947, and Israel declared itself a state six months later, five Arab states, four of whom were signatories to the United Nations Charter, invaded Israel.
This resort to violence was a blatant repudiation of the “rules-based international order” and its fundamental principle that no nation should use force to seize territory from another nation. Yet the challenge of this bedrock principle by four UN members was shrugged off, and offenders were not sanctioned or punished.
Several weaknesses of the “new world order” also were exposed, the most serious being the absence of any reliable or consistent provisions for enforcing the UN’s resolutions. Member states’ national interests and passions, no matter how illiberal or totalitarian or destructive, took priority over principle. The UN had begun its transformation into what Churchill feared in his 1946 Fulton, Missouri speech: “a cockpit in the Tower of Babel.”
Next, the “new world order” criteria for intervention or censure were similarly inconsistent and held hostage to the national interests of the members, particularly those sitting on the Security Council with its five permanent, nuclear armed members, each with the power to veto resolutions. Israel has suffered the most from this flaw, and no state since the UN’s birth has been as relentlessly demonized and censured as Israel.
These dysfunctions are the consequence of the foundational ideals of the “new world order.” International laws and institutions assume a “harmony of interests,” “long-standing custom,” and “global norms” among the world’s 195 countries, each with its own complex, irreconcilable diversity and often conflicting national interests.
But as Robert Bork wrote in Coercing Virtue, “There is nothing that can be called law in any meaningful sense established by custom. If there were, it would not restrain international aggression; it is more likely to unleash it . . . if custom is what counts, it favors aggression.” This judgment is empirically validated by the incessant warfare, ethnic cleansing, civil wars, invasions of neighbors, and genocide that have challenged the modern international order since its birth in the 19th century.
Indeed, just since World War II, several nations have invaded and occupied territories and whole states, without any serious repercussions from the UN or any other globalist institution. In 1950, China invaded and annexed Tibet after its government signing the Seventeen Point Agreement, and China bullied the 14th Dalai Lama into ratifying it. Tibet hasn’t been free since, but when do we see global protests about this “illegal occupation” with the frequency and intensity as Israel’s critics? And Israel was created not by invasion and occupation, but by the League of Nations and international treaties that oversaw and directed the dismantling of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and German empires after World War I, and then creation of new states in their stead.
More recently, in 1974 Nato and UN member Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus, for centuries part of fellow Nato member Greece. Turkey ethnically cleansed 200,000 Greeks, and in “settler colonialism” fashion, replaced them with Muslim Turks. Over 300 orthodox Christian churches were vandalized or destroyed, and thousands of Greeks are still unaccounted for. Yet Turkey faced no meaningful punishment, either from the UN or Nato, for violating the fundamental principle of respect for national sovereignty and borders.
Or how about Russia’s territorial grabs in Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 and 2014? Putin violated not just “global norms” supposedly codified in the UN, but also the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that gave “security assurances” to Ukraine in exchange for the surrender of its nuclear arsenal after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yet Putin faced no consequences other than diplomatic bluster and a school-marmish, question-begging scolding from Barack Obama, who said, “Russia’s leadership is challenging truths that only a few weeks ago seemed self-evident––that in the 21st century, the borders of Europe cannot be redrawn with force, that international law matters, that people and nations can make their own decisions about their future.” Such aggression, Obama went on with another begged question, “is not how international law and international norms are observed in the 21st century.” It took the full scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 before the West took action, and even that response has supported Ukraine only enough to create a stalemate that favors Russia’s oil revenues and huge advantage in manpower.
This international reticence about punishing violators of the “rules-based international order,” however, has not applied to Israel, which incessantly has been hounded and attacked and smeared by the UN and numerous governments, including those of its fellow liberal democracies. One of the worst scandals of this scapegoating of Israel has been the UN Human Rights Commission, and its replacement the Human Rights Council, which has become just as bad in its blatant double-standards and politically driven investigations of offenders.
Both institutions have been notorious for focusing the lion’s share of their censure on tiny, beleaguered Israel, even as serial human rights violators like China, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba get a pass or slaps on the wrist. The Human Rights Council continues to strain out the Israeli gnat, while swallowing herds of totalitarian camels. And to add insult to injury, Iran, the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism, was recently appointed the chairman of the UNHRC’s Social Forum.
But it’s not just those two UN departments. As the Heritage Foundation reports, “Since 2015, the U.N.—comprised of 193 member states and two observer states—has adopted 140 resolutions against Israel. In 2022, the U.N. General Assembly adopted more resolutions critical of Israel than against all other nations combined.”
In short, the “rules-based international order’s” signature institution has failed to act decisively to concentrate the minds of violators, from adventurist land-grabs to horrific genocides. The reason is simple: as George Washington said, “It is a maxim founded on the universal experience of mankind, that no nation can be trusted farther than it is bounded by its interests.”
After all, sovereign nations by definition prioritize their national passions and interests, and use international covenants and supranational institutions as tools for pursuing both, which most of the time do not include spending money and manpower on stopping aggression against other nations. Hence the selective demonization and egregious double-standards of the “new world order” that have made Israel the “Jew of nations,” an international pariah and scapegoat.
These political calculations of national interests, then, when camouflaged by public protestations of adherence to lofty “international norms and law,” have opened up Western nations to the charge of hypocrisy and cynicism, and consequently eroded their moral authority when preaching about human rights and democracy. Given that “international law is not law but politics,” Bork writes, “it is dangerous to give the name ‘law,’ which summons up respect, to political struggles that are essentially lawless.”
Israel cannot be kept safe by such “accords” or treaties, or by concessions of more of the territory that their ancestors have inhabited for 3000 years. Nor can Israel rely on the so-called “rules-based international order” to have its back; more often the “global community” sticks a knife in it. They will not and have not consistently deterred or punished violators of “agreements” and treaties, even as it singles out for demonization Israel’s efforts to protect its own citizens against terrorist violence, the most important obligation of any state.
Such “parchment barriers” like the “rules-based international order” will not keep Israel or any nation safe. The only thing that can is a willingness to use mind-concentrating force––with all the risks and tragic, unforeseen consequences that always accompanies such violence.