What If Governments Obeyed Laws? by David Swanson + Merchants of Death: How the Military-Industrial Complex Profits from Endless War

What If Governments Obeyed Laws? by David Swanson + Merchants of Death: How the Military-Industrial Complex Profits from Endless War

Screenshot by Dandelion Salad via Flickr
Watch the video below

by David Swanson
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Let’s Try Democracy
September 19, 2018

Do we need new laws or adherence to the old ones?



The United States has an ancient Constitution. It doesn’t ban slavery as punishment. It doesn’t ban bribery as campaign funding. It doesn’t protect the natural world. It doesn’t guarantee basic human rights to food, shelter, education, healthcare. Its system of “representative” government doesn’t fairly represent. New laws are needed.

On the other hand, the United States has numerous laws on the books that just aren’t enforced. Antitrust laws are treated more as suggestions. Laws against torture are routinely erased from memory by re-banning torture again and again. Perjury by someone powerful is a crime if sex-related. (Clinton.) Otherwise it’s a factoid for use in arguments over any allegation that is sex-related. (Kavanaugh.) Often crimes by the powerful are occasions for “investigations” rather than prosecutions — so that crimes that only the powerful can commit cease to be crimes and become topics for “investigations.” (Destroying Yemen.)

There are borderline cases. Written law, as visible to the human eye, doesn’t give corporations human rights. Mostly it’s been reimagined bizarrely to do so. But creating new laws that deny corporations human rights would be a very welcome addition.

There are thousands of mixed cases. For example, one would like to see existing tax laws applied to the wealthy, and minimum wage laws adhered to by employers, but a maximum wage law would be a great new addition.

When it comes to war and law — the subject of a conference this week in Toronto and online — I think we understandably incline toward the idea of new laws: disarmament treaties, world parliaments. But I think we should start from an understanding of what the world would look like if existing laws were complied with. One reason is that we need to know what sorts of laws are most easily and least easily violated. Another reason is that compelling compliance with existing laws and/or creating new laws that build on existing laws may prove far easier than creating new legal standards from scratch.

The obvious example is this: If we try to imagine the big war-making nations of the world creating a new treaty to ban all war, the task seems enormous. If we try to imagine legislative and other ways of compelling awareness of and compliance with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the task seems noticeably less enormous.

Creating a new treaty banning war would be extremely difficult to get any war-loving governments to join. I’m in favor of it, just as I’m in favor of an immediate ban on oil, meat, and reality television. But is it the place to start?

Building on the existing treaty offers other possibilities. We could produce educational materials. We could lobby a non-party nation to join. We could create model domestic legislation penalizing individual violators. We could work to democratize the ICJ and ICC, to create prosecutions, and truth and reconciliation proceedings. We could work — again involving democratization of the U.N. — to impose sanctions on government violators. We could treat both the Hague Convention of 1907 detailing procedures for nonviolent dispute resolution and the Kellogg-Briand Pact requiring nonviolent dispute resolution as (what they are) existing law, and — in combination — requiring the procedures outlined.

There are three main reasons for ignoring the Kellogg-Briand Pact.

1. “I’ve never heard of it.”

That one is remedied through education.

2. “There’s still war, so it didn’t work.”

This raises the question of what it means for a law to work. Almost no legal bans work by this standard. We ban murder and there is murder. We ban public indecency and there is Congress. Etc. Perhaps a ban on war has to achieve complete success in order to have worked because of the “defensive” arguments so widely, if misguidedly, used to justify war. But do you get a ban to achieve complete success by rejecting it and normalizing its violation, or by upholding it and constructing systems of decision making around it?

3. “The U.N. Charter replaced that.”

There’s a variation on this in which one claims that the Kellogg-Briand Pact included (in secret invisible ink) the sanctioning of “defensive” war found in the U.N. Charter. But more commonly the claim is that the U.N. Charter opened up the “defensive” and the “U.N.-sanctioned” loopholes for legal wars, and there’s nothing that Kellogg-Briand can do about it. That second loophole (“U.N.-sanctioned”) introduces the supposed correction of the Peace Pact’s supposed central failure, namely its lack of “teeth,” “enforcement,” or — in plane language — the use of war as a tool with which to eliminate war.

For believers in that long-failed approach, we don’t need a new war ban; we’ve got the U.N. Charter. It just needs to be democratized. And we need to figure out, just as with the Kellogg-Briand Pact, how to create compliance with the existing ban. Most wars, of course, do not fit into the U.N. Charter’s loopholes.

For disbelievers in using war to end all war, we need to turn the standard of the Peace Pact, as understood by the activists who originated the outlawry movement, namely a total ban on war, into actual practice.

Imagine for a minute if that were accomplished. Compliance with the 1928 Pact of Paris would mean no more wars. Compliance with the Hague Convention of 1907 would mean nonviolent arbitration.

Beyond that, imagine compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which states:

“Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

For the nations possessing nuclear weapons to comply with the NPT, which most of them are party to, they are obliged to sign onto the new ban on nuclear weapons, which the nations lacking nuclear weapons have created.

Beyond that, imagine the Pentagon complying with an open audit as required by law. Imagine the U.S. government ceasing to do business with companies that defraud it. Imagine the U.S. government complying with the Leahy Law by not waging war with other nations that violate human rights during or separate from their commission of mass murder. (Saudi Arabia.)

Beyond that, imagine U.S. presidents compelled by the threat of impeachment to revert to the practice of signing or vetoing bills, rather than signing them and announcing which parts they will feel free to ignore. One can even imagine presidents compelled by the use of impeachment to cease committing the crime of war.

Note that the 42 Democrats who just wrote to Trump to tell him that he cannot commit the supreme international crime in Syria unless he consults with Congress first, can make a strong case for having done something better than nothing. But they cannot claim to be doing no harm. Conditioning the public to believe that the Congress can sanction crimes now has members of the British Parliament proposing a law to allow only the Parliament and not a Prime Minister to commit the crime of war.

Now, I want to ban weapons from space. I want to ban armed drones that don’t require humans to push the kill buttons. I want to ban armed drones that do require humans to push the kill buttons. I want to close bases. I want to create national and global programs of mandatory conversion to peaceful and pro-environmental industries. I want to move lots of power to the local level. I want plenty of new laws. But if we don’t uphold the ones we’ve got, we render less valuable any new ones we may get.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include Curing Exceptionalism: What’s wrong with how we think about the United States? What can we do about it? (2018) and War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015, 2016, 2017 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. Swanson was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Support David’s work.

[DS added the video report.]

Merchants of Death: How the Military-Industrial Complex Profits from Endless War

on Sep 16, 2011

A look into how the military-industrial complex fuels endless war for corporate profits. CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin discusses her new report on the five largest US weapons manufacturers and their arms deals with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.



“BEN NORTON: So can you tell us more about this report, which you co-authored with Nicolas [J. S.] Davies? This report focuses on the five largest U.S. arms manufacturers. That’s Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics. And specifically, you look at their arms deals with three repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Egypt.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, this campaign is part of a larger campaign called Divest From the War Machine. And just as the environmental community has been having great success in getting money out of the fossil fuel industry. So we are now trying to get cities, universities, faith-based institutions, individuals to divest from the weapons industries. And that is a coalition of about 70 different groups, and we wrote this report to be used as a tool for that campaign, to show how the big five weapons companies are involved in selling weapons to some of the most repressive regimes in the world. Sometimes it’s like Saudi Arabia, where the Saudis are actually buying those weapons from us; and sometimes, as in the case of Israel and Egypt, it’s where our tax dollars are going to the weapons industries, then being funneled into those countries to be used for repressive attacks against either their own people or neighboring countries. So that’s why we did this report.”

from the archives:

What Weapon Has Killed The Most In Recent Wars? + Exported U.S.-Made Dictator Struggles to Seize Libya

Howard Zinn: We Should Welcome the Collapse of the US Empire

Celebrate the Kellogg-Briand Pact–Banning All War by David Swanson

Underestimating The U.S. Military Budget, Altruism and Sadism by David Swanson

Audit the Outlaw Military Budget by Ralph Nader

There Is No Crime Larger Than War + Trump Has Just Committed A Murderous Immoral Criminal Action by David Swanson

The Behavior of a Rogue Nation by David Swanson

David Swanson: The Case for Abolishing War + Transcript

Chris Hedges: Saudi Arabia–The Number One Purchaser of US Weapons

24 thoughts on “What If Governments Obeyed Laws? by David Swanson + Merchants of Death: How the Military-Industrial Complex Profits from Endless War

  1. Pingback: Lee Camp’s New Book, Bullet Points and Punch Lines, reviewed by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  2. Pingback: House Compromises Away Peace, Senate Stands By War by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  3. Pingback: Christian Sorensen: War Industry Muster–Intro to Foreign Military Sales (FMS) – Dandelion Salad

  4. Pingback: Zombie Zombie Zombie by David Swanson (#NoWar2019) – Dandelion Salad

  5. Pingback: 10 Ways We Pretend War Is Not a Crime and How to Change Them by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  6. Pingback: Michael Knox: Ending the War Culture by Honoring Peacemakers – Dandelion Salad

  7. Pingback: Christian Sorensen: War Industry Muster–Why Work for the War Industry? + Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab is a Part of the War Industry – Dandelion Salad

  8. Pingback: What Weapon Has Killed The Most In Recent Wars? + Exported U.S.-Made Dictator Struggles to Seize Libya – Dandelion Salad

  9. Pingback: Christian Sorensen: War Industry Muster–The Corporate Underpinnings of the Special Relationship – Dandelion Salad

  10. Pingback: Christian Sorensen: War Industry Muster–War Is A Racket – Dandelion Salad

  11. Pingback: Abby Martin: Trump Expanding The Empire + Trump’s Syria Deception – Dandelion Salad

  12. Pingback: Anything War Can Do, Peace Can Do Better by David Swanson – Dandelion Salad

  13. Pingback: William Blum: Be Nice To America. Or We’ll Bring Democracy To Your Country! – Dandelion Salad

  14. Pingback: David Swanson: Greatest Crime on Earth + US Dept of Defense Failed Audit While Spending $5.9 Trillion Since 9/11 – Dandelion Salad

  15. Pingback: US, Britain Push Yemen Ceasefire as Tactic to Defeat Houthis by Finian Cunningham + Wilkerson: US & UK Not Truly Committed to Ending Saudi ‘Total War’ on Yemen – Dandelion Salad

  16. Pingback: Western Media Make One Death a Tragedy, Millions a Statistic by Finian Cunningham + US Facilitates Saudi War Crimes in Yemen – Dandelion Salad

  17. Pingback: Time to End the Ruinous U.S. Alliance with Saudi Arabia by Gareth Porter + Saudi-led Coalition Airstrike Kills 21 Civilians in Yemeni Market – Dandelion Salad

  18. Pingback: Wilkerson: Trump To Abandon The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty + Peter Kuznick: It Looks Like Trump Is Trying To Dismantle What Is Left Of The Nuclear Regime That Greatly Reduced The Threat Of Nuclear War – Dandelion Salad

  19. Pingback: The Biggest Political Delusion Of All Is In The U.S. Electoral Politics Itself by Paul Street + Nobody to Vote For by David Swanson + Politicians Robbing Us Blind – Dandelion Salad

  20. Pingback: Did Saudis, CIA Fear Khashoggi 9/11 Bombshell? by Finian Cunningham – Dandelion Salad

  21. Pingback: Macabre Saudi Disappearance Shatters Western Media’s Illusion of “Reforming” Crown Prince by Finian Cunningham + Turkey Says Critical Saudi Journalist Was Killed in Saudi Consulate” – Dandelion Salad

  22. Pingback: Michael Parenti: Marxists vs Liberals on Capitalism – Dandelion Salad

Comments are closed.