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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of international law in US foreign policy decision-making intervention in Grenada & Nicaragua Jenab, Zahra


Relations among states are permeated by basic legal concepts which comprise the international legal system. The existence of this system helps maintain some level of international order. So long as states feel that it is in their interest to act according to the norms of international law, order is preserved. When a state believes, however, that it is to its advantage to disrupt the order, then the international legal system can do very little to prevent that state from acting contrary to the norm and, for instance, resorting to the use of force to achieve its goal. The actions of the United States, as a major power, are very significant in this respect since many smaller countries look at the United States as a role model. Yet, in many cases, the United States has acted in a manner which seems to contradict the established norms of international law. To determine to what extent international law is a factor in US policy making, it is best to focus on the relations of the US with countries of one specific region in order to avoid sweeping generalizations. The relationship of the US with Central American countries has always been a matter of controversy because the United States sees itself as the protector of these states. On numerous occasions, the US has intervened (directly and indirectly) in Central America to secure its own perceived interests. Two of the most recent examples of US intervention occurred during the Reagan Administration. They are: the 1983 invasion of Grenada, and intervention in Nicaragua from 1981 to 1984. After the decisions to intervene were made, United States' officials offered legal justifications for their actions. A close look at these explanations, however, reveals that the Reagan Administration was not truly concerned with the norms and principles of international law. The Administration believed that it had the military and political power to circumvent into international legal obligations without the fear of sanctions. The real rationale for the interventions lies in the fact that the US had the opportunity to try to overthrow an adversarial regime which was seen as a threat to hemispheric security and solidarity.

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