I've long since lost count of how many times I've heard the words "international law" throughout the Libyan conflict and especially since bin Laden got killed. Even in Tuesday's issue of The DePauw, a letter to the editor criticized the USA for the manner in which they have gone after leaders like Gaddafi and bin Laden. If international law was established to help bring about world peace, is violating it ever acceptable? While no decent person would argue against a goal as worthwhile as world peace, there's a problem with international law: the U.N. can't enforce it.
In a sense, the interaction of nations in the world is like individuals in society. Every time people obey laws, they go along with the basic premise for society: that by giving up a bit of their freedom, they make it possible for those in power to maintain order. Order has positives for everyone involved; people tend to be happier (and have longer life expectancies) in a civilized world than in cutthroat anarchy. Nations also benefit from more peace and free trade than from chaos.
The problem is convincing people to give up that first bit of freedom to help establish a collective group. This is especially true to nations. Nations have gone to war for thousands of years over anything and everything, but only in the last 100 years or so has there been a semi-successful attempt to create a governing body for the world capable of establishing and maintaining peace. Everyone wants peace but refuses to give up their autonomy. Would you be willing to let the U.N. control our schools, our military, our taxes? It's harder to stomach. But having that level of control would give the U.N. the power to impose sanctions significant enough to stop conflicts.
Simply put, the U.N. currently does not have the power to enforce international law. The writers of last edition's letter to the editor (who made a number of valid arguments, many of which I agree with) acknowledged that bin Laden deserved to die. But who was going to punish him for killing thousands of innocent civilians? Not the U.N. The United States stepped up to the job and has vilified for it in parts of the world ever since. In Libya, the U.N. "authorized its member nations to establish a no-fly zone" according to CNN. Once again, they lack the power to actually do anything themselves. The economic sanctions they impose can be significant, but Kim Jong Il doesn't seem too upset about them.
Einstein once said, "Nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced." Until it gains power to enforce the laws it passes, the U.N. will continue to be obeyed only when obedience is convenient. It's easy to participate in the U.N. and ride around on a moral high horse, but nations rarely (if ever) go against their own interests purely out of the goodness of their hearts. Torture is illegal under international law? Sorry, we think it's necessary for our war effort and no one really has the power to stop it.
Want to see a change in the world? Be the change; vote for the change. Maybe a candidate has a better solution than giving more power to the U.N. but ideas have to start being debated. Only when someone has the power to enforce international law can curing injustice in the world become a practical objective instead of an idealistic dream.
— Carter is a sophomore from Carmel, Ind., majoring in English writing.