National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  October 31, 2003

Bush White House sets defiant course in foreign policy


The United States appears to be withdrawing from most of the international programs that have been created since the end of the Cold War in 1990.

The prime example is, of course, the invasion of Iraq -- a war that the Security Council of the United Nations refused to endorse.

In addition, it is a war condemned by the Holy See; by the World Council of Churches, which represents virtually all non-Catholic Christians in the world; and by the National Council of Churches, which represents all the mainline Protestants and some Orthodox in the United States. The war was also condemned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

It is difficult to say which of the rejections of international law is the worst. It may be the Bush directive in January 2002 to begin development of new nuclear weapons that can be used against hardened targets. This is arguably against the non-proliferation treaty that commits the United States to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race” and to “nuclear disarmament.” (Emphasis added.)

In addition to these unilateral retreats from accepted international norms, the White House has also withdrawn into an isolationist position on several other major questions.

In November 2001, the United States announced its opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996 and its determination to resume nuclear testing of new short-range tactical nuclear weapons. The United States is the only nation possessing nuclear weapons that desires to resume testing.

In December 2001, the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 -- a major arms control accord.

In July 2001, the United States walked out of a London conference designed to strengthen the Biological and Toxin Convention ratified by 144 nations.

In 2001, the United States was the only country to refuse to support the U.N. agreement to curb the international flow of illicit small arms. The White House alleged that the measure could impinge on the right of Americans to keep and bear arms!

In August 2001, President Bush rejected the Land Mine Treaty of 1997.

In November 2002, the United States voted against the U.N. resolution calling for the end of the boycott of Cuba. The vote was 173 to 3.

In February 2002, Bush announced a plan that, in essence, sidesteps or defies the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 intended to control greenhouse gas emissions.

In March 2001, Bush said that the Kyoto Treaty was “dead.” No other country has engaged in such conduct.

The defiance by the Bush administration of the wishes of the international community has been extreme in its repudiation of the International Criminal Court. The court, a permanent Nuremberg, went into effect in July 2000, ratified by most of America’s allies. The United States now has 37 mutual immunity agreements with other nations; they pledge not to send any American citizens before the court. Most of the countries are small and poor and were pressured to agree by threats of the loss of U.S. assistance.

In 1993, the United States became a party to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but has refused to sign a protocol that would outlaw the execution of persons who were under of the age of 18 at the time of the crime. This links the United States with only four other countries -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. China and Pakistan have recently abolished the practice of executing minors.

The end of the Cold War in 1990 offered the United States an ideal opportunity to alter its foreign policy and extend its assistance to the underdeveloped nations of the earth. This it has not done. The Pentagon has now substituted the threat of “terrorism” for that of communism. But the policy before and after 9/11 lacks credibility. The presence of some 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq without international authorization or a plausible plan of action illustrates the incoherence of the Bush initiatives in foreign policy.

The Bush White House has systemically altered some of the major policies of the United Nations. The pervasive cry of “terrorism” has drowned out rational analysis.

The isolationism and the rejection of well-settled and accepted international norms by the Bush White House are far more serious than is generally recognized. The repudiation of some of the fundamentals of internationally recognized norms is one of the major reasons for the rising hostility to the United States by nations that should be the allies and friends of the American people.

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, October 31, 2003

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