A Tale of Two Treaties.
The year was 1944. World was in the midst of a bloody war. Not to be deterred, the United States and Mexico, animated by the sincere spirit of cordiality and friendly cooperation which governs the relations between them , took steps to address a problem which had been annoying them for some time.
The issue was sharing of waters of the rivers Rio Grande, Colorado and Tijuana. As these rivers travel through both the countries, an agreement was thought to be necessary to avoid recurring conflicts between them on how to share the waters.
The result was appropriately called Treaty between the United States of America and Mexico relating to the utilization of the Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande. While this did not resolve completely all the issues, it served as a basis for a more or less cordial state of affairs.
That was till a few years ago. Beginning in the 90s, Mexico regularly failed to give the US the water it owes according to the treaty, apparently subjecting numerous farmers in Texas to untold miseries. Last year, the two governments sat down to settle the issue. It was firmly impressed upon the Mexicans that they needed to respect all the treaties they signed in the past. Mexico agreed to start sending water to the US.
Condeleezza Rice, newly appointed the Secretary of State, traveled to Mexico in March and sorted out the details.
A nice example of the efficacy of diplomatic means of solving problems. Naturally, a pre-condition for that efficacy is the willingness of everyone to respect treaties and agreements. We applaud the initiative of the US in making sure the naughty Mexicans fulfilled their side of the bargain. Precisely what we expect from the world's lone superpower. After all, it is not a question of "might is right". It is a matter of principle.
The year was 1963. World is again in the midst of a war, this time of the "cold" variety. A real concern those days was the issue of a country's citizens being detained and charged with crimes in another country. It was agreed that there had to be some collective guidelines to prevent animosity between nations resulting in wrongful charges against each other's citizens.
The result was the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, adopted by the UN in April, 1963. The US again took the initiative and in fact proposed this protocol to the UN, though they signed on only in 1969.
The convention obligates signatories to refer to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) any case where their citizens claim that they have been denied access to a home-country counsel. Further, it also makes the ruling of the ICJ binding.
Seems quite reasonable.
The US in fact made the first use of this protocol, successfully, against Iran after the 1979 hostage crisis.
51 Mexican nationals were given death sentences in various US courts in recent years. One of these 51 charged the US with denying him access to Mexican diplomats. And the case was taken up by the ICJ. Last year the ICJ ruled against the US and ordered the case be heard again. To its credit, the US granted new hearings to all the 51 Mexicans on death row.
Alas! The story does not end here. Immediately after bowing to the decision of ICJ, the Bush administration decided to pull out of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.
Moral of the story:
But doesn't this reveal a contradiction in the US behavior? Doesn't this show that treaties and agreements are to be followed only as long as they suit them? Doesn't it mean the US actions smack of hypocrisy? Doesn't this mean that there are no principles upon which world affairs are conducted, apart from those of "naked self-interest", "might is right" and "all for ourselves and nothing for others"?
I will leave it to you to answer these questions for yourselves.
I became aware of the above events while reading the brilliant book Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy by Chomsky.