Canada, Libya, and the International Court of Justice

By Arnold Simoni

CANADA, NOT BEING A MILITARY POWER, HAS special reasons to favor the establishment of a workable International Court of Justice. Being located between the two superpowers and having long, unprotected coastal borders and a long land border on the south, it could not defend itself and cannot forever rely on the United States for defence. Our relationship with that neighbor has worked in the past and we hope we will stay on good terms in the future. Nevertheless, even best friends may find their differences overriding their common goals. An example of such a difference relates to the Northwest Passage, which we are claiming to be Canadian territory and which is challenged by the United States. In general, it is not acknowledged that the Canadian position is similar to the Libyan position about the Gulf of Sidra. In both cases, the differences should be submitted to a reformed and strengthened International Court of Justice.

With expanded military power, more and more nations claim that territory far from their borders is of vital interest for their military and economic security. However, other nations making the same claim for the same territory (e.g., the Mediterranean Sea) open the danger of conflict and war. Thus it becomes urgent to create new arrangements for peaceful settlements and conflict resolution.

One of those arrangements which needS to be re-emphasized is the establishment and enlargement of International Law. Individual powers must not be allowed to take the law into their own hands or interpret it as they see fit. All nations, weak or powerful, should agree to one fundamental law: that no nation may initiate or promote the overthrow of other national governments. Furthermore, no nation should be allowed to give weapons to or train people for overthrowing other governments or engaging in terrorism. (This law is not clear now; for example, the U.S. may be within the law in giving suppport to the Contras in Central America.)

In the past, neither the USSR nor the U.S. wanted to have a workable International Court of Justice. Lately, however, the Soviet Union is rethinking its own future and giving up imperialistic aims. The U.S., now the largest global power, still has an imperialistic outlook. It may be, therefore, that it, and possibly other major powers, would not support such a strengthened world court, while the USSR and the majority of other nations (especially small ones) would now do so.

The International Court of Justice is not adequate for today's task. It would have to deal with cases more promptly and would need terms of reference allowing it to make its judgments on the basis of clearly established rules of law. Unfortunately, not all nations may be willing to subscribe to this in the beginning, but it would be better to have a limited international court than to make too many compromises. If the world is not able to come to such an arrangement, world anarchy is inevitable.

Certainly the establishment of a credible and workable International Court of Justice would not solve all problems, but it could reduce tensions between nations and improve interstate relationships generally. Canada should take the initiative by organizing and getting support from other nations for such a reformed agency.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1986

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1986, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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