The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 224

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 224, February 16, 2024

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we delve into the legitimate question of whether countries that supply arms to Israel can be charged with war crimes by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for their role in human rights violations, analyze how countries like Pakistan suppressing their elections hurts the credibility of U.S. promotion of democracy, and explore how campaign money in U.S. elections endangers American national security.

Can Countries That Supply Arms to Israel be Charged with War Crimes by the ICJ?

The recent ICJ case has added to the already-existing criticism of arms sales to Israel, as the weapons have been used in attacks against Palestinian civilians. (Photo from Reuters)

Can Countries That Supply Arms to Israel be Charged with War Crimes by the ICJ?

The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) recent ruling stating that Israel must prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians was a significant win for human rights advocates, and provided a notable rebuke of Israel’s wartime conduct. While some had also hoped that it would formally call for a ceasefire in Gaza, the preliminary decision did raise important questions. The ruling itself implied that Israel may be engaging in genocidal actions, which if they were found guilty of, could elicit action by the United Nations Security Council. If this is deemed to be the case, then some of the members of the Security Council could be complicit in these egregious human rights violations. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and many other Western countries have been funneling various weaponry to Israel. This brings into consideration the legitimate question of whether these countries could be implicated in the war crimes being committed by Israel. It would appear that they could in fact be held to account when it comes to the human rights abuses that have been taking place in Gaza.

Since the onset of the War on Gaza, over 28,000 Palestinians have been killed. This is staggering and deeply disturbing, especially considering that more than 12,000 have been children. Under Article II of the Genocide Convention, genocide is defined as “a crime committed with the intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, in whole or in part.” It seems that by the nature of Israeli officials’ statements calling Palestinians “human animals” and their indiscriminate killing of tens of thousands, Israel is undertaking an offensive with genocidal intent. Israel has systematically killed and displaced Palestinians from their homes in Gaza, forcing civilians to flee to the southern border city of Rafah, where even now civilians remain under attack. In the recent incursion of Rafah by Israeli military forces, at least 95 people – including 42 children – were killed, and these actions show possible evidence of war crimes, according to reputable human rights groups like Amnesty International. Israel has targeted civilian populations, forcefully displaced civilians, denied access to food and water, bombed hospitals and healthcare workers, and desecrated religious and cultural sites. Regardless of whether or not one wants to believe that Israel’s actions are genocidal in intent, Israel is still clearly committing war crimes and grave human rights violations under the Geneva Convention. One of the reasons that Israel has been able to use such brutal and disproportionate force against the civilian population in Gaza is because they have received weapons backing from some of the most powerful and wealthy countries in the world.

The United States and other countries who are aiding Israel by supplying them with weapons are also complicit in Israel’s abusive actions, and are violating international law as well. According to estimated figures, the U.S. provides $3.8 billion in military assistance to Israel every year – a figure that has ballooned since the start of the Gaza War. The U.S. has continuously sent billions of dollars to Israel to help aid their destructive offensive, and the Biden administration has on multiple occasions bypassed Congress to provide Israel with artillery shells. Arms sales from the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and other Western nations have also been used as a part of Israel’s offensive. All of these countries aside from the U.S. (which has signed but not ratified the treaty) are ratified parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, which is a UN pact aimed at regulating weapons and preventing them from being used in human rights and international law abuses. This law prohibits arms transfers if the sender knows that the weapons will be used for these purposes, and thus any arms transfers that are still going towards Israel in light of knowledge of their abusive actions, would certainly be considered complicit and therefore make the senders’ actions illegal. Furthermore, under the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention, genocide is a crime that all signatories at all times must attempt “to prevent and to punish,” and the U.S. and other aforementioned countries are all signatories to the convention. The treaty states that complicity is genocide, and as such, any countries selling weapons to Israel are aiding in the human rights violations.

To truly uphold international law and to both prevent and punish genocide, these countries need to stop sending arms to Israel. Some U.S. lawmakers are beginning to speak up and say that aid to Israel needs to be conditioned on human rights standards, and that they refuse to support the illegal and immoral actions in Gaza. Still, unfortunately, many other officials deny that Israel is engaging in appalling abuses, and continue their full-fledged and blind support of Israel. The way to ensure that sender countries are not aiding in war crimes is to cease harmful arms sales to Israel. Otherwise, countries risk being complicit and directly contributing to gross human rights abuses.

Pakistan’s Suppression of Elections Hurts the Credibility of U.S. Promotion of Democracy

Protesters in Pakistan have demonstrated against the military’s array of interference and meddling in the latest elections. (Photo from AFP)

Pakistan’s Suppression of Elections Hurts the Credibility of U.S. Promotion of Democracy

Federal and provincial elections were recently held in Pakistan last week amid a host of clear electoral manipulation efforts. Candidates affiliated with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan were forced to contest the election as independents. Khan himself has been jailed on what many deem to be politically-motivated charges following his ousting from office in 2022. PTI has claimed widespread military interference in the election, and observers such as Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have substantiated these by highlighting the targeting of PTI officials through arbitrary arrests of candidates, intimidation, disruption of campaign events, and systematic rejection of nomination documents. The military has been accused of initiating a variety of meddling tactics including digital and media repression, the jailing of opposition leaders, gerrymandering, electoral fraud, and the suppression of turnout – all aimed at hindering the PTI party and attempting to rig the elections in favor of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party. PTI candidates were also prohibited from using their party’s symbol on ballots, a calculated move to try and confuse voters.

Despite the military’s efforts to suppress support for PTI, candidates from the party have still emerged as the largest bloc with the most seats won in the country’s National Assembly. However, political uncertainty remains as no sole party or group took the majority of seats that are required to form a government outright. In recent days, PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) expressed that they had agreed to form a new coalition. Khan and PTI on the other hand appear to be ruling out any possible cooperation. Further complicating the matter is the fact that the results for various constituencies were put on hold due to complaints filed by candidates alleging fraud. The PTI party itself has focused on encouraging protests against the manipulations of election results, and announced that its candidates would try to form a government by joining a coalition with several religious parties. Some have pointed out that it appears like the military may have been caught off guard with the extremely fervent level of support for PTI candidates, which has thrown a wrench in the attempts to interfere with the election. Considering the success of PTI candidates despite the suppression tactics, commentators suspect that a prospective PML-N/PPP coalition is unlikely to find much support or legitimacy among the electorate.

The suppression of elections by the U.S.-backed government in Pakistan undermines the United States’ promotion of democracy. It hurts the credibility of the U.S. as an advocate for free and fair elections, and demonstrates a case where practical foreign policy does not align with our expressed values. As such, there have been calls for the U.S. State Department to not recognize the results from Pakistan’s recent elections until the warranted claims of vote tampering are investigated. The State Department was even prompted to release a statement after word of changes to official vote counts in Pakistan got out, with a spokesperson expressing the need for a thorough investigation as well and that the entity “joined credible international and local election observers in their assessment that these elections included undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly…and is concerned about allegations of interference in the electoral process.” Too often, while the United States seeks to promote democracy and advocate for free and fair elections abroad as a general rule, it can be selective in the actual application of this – especially if other policy priorities or a fear of potentially getting directly dragged into another country’s internal affairs exist.

The interference tactics in Pakistan did not spring up now out of the blue, and instead, experts have outlined that the military has been clamping down on the PTI party for months in the lead up to the recent February elections. Over the past year in particular, thousands of PTI workers have been detained while dozens of PTI leaders have quit the party under pressure from the government. A number of PTI leaders say that they were tortured while detained, and were only eventually released when they publicly announced that they had left the PTI party. Reports have also surfaced of mainstream domestic media stations claiming that they have been instructed not to provide coverage of PTI-backed candidates’ political activities. Meanwhile, the United States refrained from condemning the election misconduct in the lead up to the election. One of the reasons that has been speculated for this is an assertion that the Biden administration pushed a recent loan for Pakistan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the Pakistani military secretly agreed to move large amounts of munitions to Ukraine. This is an example of a situation where principled U.S. foreign policy gets pushed to the side due to other considerations and perceived priorities. Unfortunately, when the United States has a primary policy objective – in this case support for Ukraine – issues relating to democracy promotion and advocacy for the expansion of freedoms can sometimes take a back seat and be sacrificed.

In the aftermath of the recent elections, analysts believe that Pakistan faces an uncertain political crisis ahead. The PTI is challenging results in many of the constituencies where they contend that the vote was suppressed illegally, and has expressed a desire to form a government given the belief that the mandate to do so was stolen. On the flip side, a coalition between non-PTI parties like the PML-N and PPP will presumably elicit popular unrest and widespread protests since the PTI won the most seats in parliament, even in spite of the military’s efforts to suppress the elections. Ultimately, an unstable government and uncertainty could play into the military’s hands, and allow them to continue influencing politics from behind the scenes.

How Campaign Money in U.S. Elections Endangers American National Security?

Special interest groups such as AIPAC and others have a significant negative impact on U.S. elections and policies through their donations and lobbying practices. (Photo from Getty Images)

How Campaign Money in U.S. Elections Endangers American National Security?

Following the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, the phrase “money talks” became all the more evident. The ruling deregulated limits on independent expenditure group spending for or against specific candidates, claiming that it was the First Amendment right of corporations, large donors, and special interest groups to donate as much as they please toward elections. This has had major implications on all aspects of political policy in the United States, but none more pervasive than on U.S. foreign policy. It has shed light on the fact that U.S. foreign policy is not always crafted in the best interest of its citizens, but instead oftentimes in the interests of entities abroad. What we have seen since is the increased usage of political action committees (PACs) and super PACs, which use their substantial funds to influence foreign policy in a way that will align with their goals. In these instances, candidates are essentially exchanging money for favors. Americans overwhelmingly agree that this is a problem within the U.S. political system. A 2023 poll published by the Pew Research Center found that 72% of Americans believed that there should be limits on the amount of money that individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns.

While the linkage between campaign funding and electoral victory is not readily apparent, numerous studies have shown a positive correlation between electoral victory and campaign spending, denoting a pay-to-win model in many cases. According to OpenSecrets, back in 2020, 87.71% of winners in the House and 71.4% of winners in the Senate were the top spending candidates in their respective races – a trend that has been on the rise. Running a campaign is expensive. All of the advertisements and staffers that are an integral part of getting a candidate’s message out and advocating for themselves requires elected officials to spend most of their time fundraising so that they can amass a treasure trove that will allow them to be competitive in their respective races. The ties between money and electoral success have had a negative effect on American politics, resulting in circumstances where elected officials dole out political favors to their donors instead of fulfilling obligations to their constituents.

The relationship between money and elected officials is an important explanatory variable in policy outcomes. There are many interest groups keen on influencing American foreign policy. Ethnic interest groups in particular tend to hold major sway in American politics due to their deep ties and resources, and one of the most prevalent examples of this is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write extensively on AIPAC and other pro-Israel PACs in their 2006 book The Israel Lobby, wherein they claim that these groups have taken notable steps to shift U.S. foreign policy. One way in which pro-Israel groups have recently attempted to shape policy is by donating directly to officials. OpenSecrets detailed how following the October 7 Hamas attacks, AIPAC urged lawmakers to send security assistance to Israel. Three weeks later, House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) introduced a bill that would provide $14.3 billion in aid to Israel. Granger received over $71,000 from AIPAC and affiliates in 2023 alone. It appears that the group’s lobbying efforts have been ramping up as well. Figures from The Guardian revealed that “legislators categorized as supportive of Israel received about $125,000 on average during their last election compared to a mere $18,000 on average for those categorized as supportive of Palestine.” Unsurprisingly, their findings concluded that those Congressmembers who received more money from pro-Israel donors tended to be more supportive of Israel.

This is not isolated to pro-Israel organizations either. Other interest groups that have had a discernible effect on U.S. foreign policy include Cuban, Armenian, and Ukrainian entities. One of the advantages for these ethnic lobbies over others with foreign influence is that they do not have as many restrictions under the Foreign Agents Restriction Act (FARA). In this way, the groups can exert more influence and spend more money to achieve their desired policies. Regardless of the motives and objectives of these interest groups, they are rarely pushing policies that are truly in the best interest of U.S. national ones. Furthermore, some of these groups are advocating for contradictory and double-standard policies whose messages often clash with one another. For example, Ukraine lobbyists are saying that the Russian invasion of Ukraine constitutes a violation of international law – which is true – citing human rights abuses as well. However, human rights activists have pointed out that many of the actions Russia has taken are comparable to what Israel is doing in Gaza, and yet Israel is not under nearly as much scrutiny among a considerable number of U.S. elected officials. Irrespective of the motives and objectives of these groups, their heavy-handed influence on the political system is not in the best interest of fair and responsible U.S. foreign policy.

Enter the text or HTML code here