The last year has been a dumpster fire for the norms of international relations. Many of the foundations of the modern international order have been brought into question, from the UN to the WTO to free trade in general. Although occasionally good results have come of this, for the most part it’s been extremely bad news, dominated by two terms in particular: Trump and Brexit.
An endless supply of analysis has been thrown around, but one particularly informative sequence of events happened in response to Donald Trump’s unilateral declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in late 2017. Immediately thereafter, a UN Security Council vote was called to affirm the invalidity of Trump’s declaration, which the US promptly vetoed.
Subsequently, the crackpot US Jerusalem policy was taken apart in the UN General Assembly in December 2017 with a humiliating 128 to 9 vote. Not that it changed much, since the US moved its embassy to West Jerusalem in May, deepening the longstanding conflict by resetting all talk of a peaceful solution to zero.
If there’s any lesson to be drawn from this kerfuffle, it is that the UN itself is an absolutely necessary body for guaranteeing international law, but that it is simultaneously a body hobbled by a structure that implicitly assumes that the global superpowers are generally worthy of the veto power they wield. In practice, nobody takes the UN seriously, and therefore there is no real backbone to international law.
The problem, of course, is that the UN General Assembly is a one-country-one-vote affair, giving China the same number of votes as Vanuatu, and putting the United States on par with Liechtenstein. Read the rest