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Contempt of court.

Last week the defendant in Nicaragua v. United States walked out of court. By withdrawing from the World Court's jurisdiction, the Reagan Administration sent out a signal of contempt for international law and multilateral diplomacy.

In November, when the Court voted 15 to 1 to hear Nicaragua's case alleging that the United States is waging an illegal war against it, the Administration reacted angrily. Now the State Department attempts to justify its walkout by defaming the Court's good name and standing, calling the decision "a departure from its tradition of judicial restraint and a risky venture into treacherous political waters." This is the same World Court to which the United States ran in 1980 with claims against Iran. Then, the Administration accepted the Court's unanimous ruling that the taking of hostages was illegal. It doesn't require an expert in international law to spot the hypocrisy in this Administration's argument that the Nicaraguans' complaints raise political, not legal, questions. Most questions in international law are by definition political.

Phrases like "politicized," reminiscent of those invoked to justify withdrawing from Unesco, have reappeared in the Administration's case against the World Court. A pullout from the Court may not proceed so smoothly, however. Unesco had many detractors, but both liberals and conservatives--some of them converts to international law who never challenged the legal basis of our involvement in Vietnam--are firmly committed to U.S. participation in the Court. Richard Gardner, Ambassador to Italy during the Carter Administration, calls the decision "foolish, self-damaging and profoundly un-American." The prestigious American Society of International Law has scheduled an emergency meeting with State Department officials to register its protest.

What of the Court's future? Several State Department voices have urged complete withdrawal. More likely, the Administration will proceed with plans, reportedly under consideration since last year, to revise the terms of our participation in the Court. Fears that Afghanistan may soon charge us with funneling aid and weapons to Moslem rebels must contribute to the desire to clarify "our...acceptance of the Court's compulsory jurisdiction."

These are heady times for our re-elected President. Perhaps he and his courtiers have persuaded themselves that he is the incarnation of the national will. But can he really believe "Le monde, c'est moi"?

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Title Annotation:U.S. withdrawal from World Court
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:editorial
Date:Feb 2, 1985
Previous Article:The threats to Argentine democracy.
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