In a May 31 op-ed penned for the New York Times titled "What America Will and Will Not Do in Ukraine," U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized that Russia's invasion of Ukraine could spell the end of the "rules-based international order." Biden stated that Russia's impunity could encourage other states to commit acts of aggression, which could have disastrous consequences for the entire world. At first glance, these statements will, of course, make a lot of sense but given the U.S.’s poor track record of violations of the rules of the aforementioned international order, these words quickly lose their meaning.
The United States regards itself as the sovereign of the international order, even though its recent history includes a long list of how Washington has flouted these rules—most recently, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. would constantly act like: "If the rules are to be violated, then I will be the only one to do it, and I will not be held accountable by anyone."
As seen in the example of Russia, the United States itself, which is quick to recommend that war crimes committed by other states be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC), does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court.
In her June 2 article published in the New York-based "The Nation" magazine, Andrea Mazzarino stated that hundreds of thousands of civilians lost their lives in the operations carried out by the U.S. as part of the so-called "war against terror." Mazzarino, who runs the "Costs of War" project at Brown University, pointed out that in numerous countries people are killed while sitting at home, walking down the street, grocery shopping, having fun at weddings, driving to school or work, or working in the fields. According to her, between 2004 and 2014 alone, more than 2,600 innocent civilians were killed in attacks carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions. Mazzarino drew attention to the humanitarian catastrophes caused by impunity and a lack of accountability in wars. She looked no further than her own country: America.
Another notable statement in Biden's op-ed was that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was called an "unjustified aggression." In the U.S. mainstream media, this phrase is used to describe the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has its reasons, although this is highly debatable. Yet the U.S. also had so-called reasons for invading Iraq. Foremost among these justifications of course was the lie that the Saddam regime possessed chemical weapons. The invasion of Iraq, which went against the rules of international law along with this false pretext, cost hundreds of thousands of civilians their lives.
The United States is one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), the instrument of the rules-based international system. The actions of the U.S. did not go beyond crippling the UN in resolving crises, preventing wars, and establishing peace. While Washington considered itself exempt from the rules of international law, it also played a role in keeping several states, particularly Israel, exempt from being held accountable by those very same rules. Israel's history of violating UN resolutions has always been courtesy of the United States playing the role of its guardian. Israel is at the top of the U.S. list of UN vetoes as Washington has actually vetoed more UN resolutions pertaining to Israel than just about anything else.
If Washington can bend the rules of the global order as it wishes, why shouldn't another state that sees the same power in itself follow the same path? As a matter of fact, Russia also refers to the actions of the U.S. when trying to justify its own. Russia recognizes its right to intervene in Ukraine by following in the U.S.’s footsteps.
Simon Waxman, editor-in-chief of the Boston Review, published a March 2022 article titled "What Rule-Based International Order?" in which he points out that Putin's war in Ukraine broke the rules, but powerful states have always violated these norms. Noting that powerful states do not wait for UN approval, Waxman emphasized that arbitrary reasons have become the "rule." These rules only serve as justifications for their actions, never to deter them.
In the Arab-Israeli war that began on June 5, 1967, and lasted for six days, Israel also occupied Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. Despite the UN's decisions to the contrary, the occupations still continue to this day. On top of that, former U.S. President Donald Trump both officially recognized the annexation of the Golan Heights by Israel and moved the U.S.’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem. The Biden administration did not annul these decisions, which disregard international law.
In a nutshell, those who complain about the violation of global rules should take a long and hard look in the mirror first.