By now we are familiar with imperial states using their military power
to attack, destroy and occupy independent countries. Boatloads of
important studies have documented how imperial countries have seized and
pillaged the resources of mineral-rich and agriculturally productive countries,
in consort with multi-national corporations. Financial critics have
provided abundant data on the ways in which imperial creditors have extracted
onerous rents, royalties and debt payments from indebted countries and
their taxpayers, workers, employees and productive sectors.
What has not been examined fully is the over-arching legal architecture
which informs, justifies and facilitates imperial wars, pillage and debt
The Centrality of Imperial Law
While force and violence, especially through overt and covert military
intervention, have always been an essential part of empire-building, it
does not operate in a legal vacuum: Judicial institutions, rulings and
legal precedents precede, accompany and follow the process of empire building.
The legality of imperial activity is based largely on the imperial state’s
judicial system and its own legal experts. Their legal theories
and opinions are always presented as over-ruling international law as
well as the laws of the countries targeted for imperial intervention.
Imperial law supersedes international law simply because imperial law
is backed by brute force; it possesses imperial/colonial air, ground and
naval armed forces to ensure the supremacy of imperial law. In contrast,
international law lacks an effective enforcement mechanism. Moreover,
international law, to the extent that it is effective, is applied only
to the weaker powers and to regimes designated by the imperial powers
as ‘violators’. The very judicial processes, including the appointment
of judges and prosecutors who interpret international law, investigate
international crime and arrest, sentence and punish ‘guilty’ parties are
under to the influence of the reigning imperial powers. In other
words, the application and jurisdiction of international law is selective
and subject to constraints imposed by the configurations of imperial and
national power. International law, at best, can provide a ‘moral’
judgment, a not insignificant basis for strengthening the political claims
of countries, regimes and people seeking redress from imperial war crimes
and economic pillage. To counter the claims and judgments pertaining to
international law, especially in the area of the Geneva protocols such
as war crimes and crimes against humanity, imperial legal experts, scholars
and judges have elaborated a legal framework to justify or exempt imperial-state
The Uses of Imperial Law
Empire-building throughout history is the result of conquest the use
or threat of superior military force. The US global empire is no
exception. Where compliant rulers ‘invite’ or ‘submit’ to imperial
domination, such acts of treason on the part of ‘puppet’ or ‘client’ rulers
usually precipitate popular rebellions, which are then suppressed by joint
imperial and collaborator armies. They cite imperial legal doctrine
to justify their intervention to repress a subject people in revolt.
While empires arose through the direct or indirect use of unbridled force,
the maintenance and consolidation of empires requires a legal framework.
Legal doctrines precede, accompany and follow the expansion and consolidation
of empire for several reasons.
Legality is really an extension of imperial conquest by other means.
A state of constant warfare raises the cost of imperial maintenance. Force,
especially in imperial democracies undermines the sense of civic virtue,
which the rulers and citizens claim to uphold. Maintaining ‘law
and order’ in the conquered nations requires a legal system and doctrine
to uphold imperial rule, giving the facade of legitimacy to the outside
world , attracting collaborator classes and individuals and providing
the basis for the recruitment of local military, judicial and police officials.
Imperial legal pronouncements, whether issued directly by executive, judicial,
military or administrative bodies, are deemed the ‘supreme law of the
universe’, superior to international law and protocols fashioned by non-imperial
authorities and legal experts. This does not imply that imperial
rulers totally discard international law: they just apply it selectively
to their adversaries, especially against independent nations and rulers,
in order to justify imperial intervention and aggression - Hence the ‘legal
bases’ for dismantling Yugoslavia or invading Iraq and assassinating its
Legal rulings are issued by the imperial judiciary to force states to
comply with the economic demands of multi-national corporations, banks,
creditors and speculators, even after the local or national courts have
ruled such claims unlawful. Imperial law protects and provides sanctuary
and financial protection to convicted former collaborator-rulers charged
with human rights crimes, pillage of public treasury and destruction of
democratic institutions. Imperial judicial and administrative agencies
selectively investigate, prosecute and levy severe fines and even jail
sentences on banks, individuals and financial institutions of their competitor
imperial countries, thereby strengthening the economic position of their
own ‘national’ imperial firms.
Judicial officials are not only ‘instruments’ of closely related imperial
political and economic powers; they also instrumentalize and, in some
cases, override officials from other branches of their own imperial government
and economic sectors. Judges, with ties to particular financial
sectors, may rule in favor of one group of creditors thereby prejudicing
others. In a recent ruling, a New York judge ruled in favor
of the demands by minority creditors that the Argentine government make
‘full payment’ on long-standing national debt in, prejudicing already
agreed upon payments to the majority of creditors who had negotiated an
earlier debt-restructuring arrangement.
Imperial legal doctrine has played a central role in justifying and providing
a basis for the exercise of international terrorism. Executives,
such as US Presidents Bush and Obama, have been provided with the legal
power to undertake cross-national ‘targeted’ assassinations of opponents
using predator drones and ordering military intervention, in clear violation
of international law and national sovereignty. Imperial law, above
all else, ‘legalizes’ aggression and economic pillage and undermines the
laws of targeted countries, creating lawlessness and chaos among its victims.
Imperial law and judicial rulings form the basis for imperial subjugation
on the assumption that the world legal systems are multi-tiered:
Imperial-centered legal systems supersede those of less powerful states.
Within each ‘tier’ there are further refinements: Competing imperial legal
systems adjudicate in favor of their partisan political and economic elites.
Imperial clients who obey their imperial overlords are favored by imperial
laws while imperial laws are applied against their adversaries.
Clearly in a world imperial system there can be no independent judicial
bodies who abide by universally accepted legal codes. Each set of
judicial authorities reflect and actively promote policies favoring and
extending their imperial prerogatives. There are rare exceptions where
a judge will rule against a particular imperial policy but over the long
run imperial law guides judicial opinions
Imperial legal doctrines and judicial decisions set the groundwork for
imperial wars and economic pillage. The empire’s legal experts redefine
assassinations, coercion, torture and arbitrary arrests as compatible
with the ‘constitutional order’ by claiming imminent and constant threats
to the security of the imperial state.
Law is not simply part of the superstructure “reflecting” the power of
economic or political institutions: it also guides and directs political
and economic institutions committing material resources to implement imperial
In this sense, imperial rulers are not ‘lawless’ as some liberal critics
would argue; they function in accordance with ‘imperial jurisprudence’
and are faithful to the legal doctrines of empire building. It is
pointless to argue that most imperial leaders trample on constitutional
guarantees and international laws. If an imperial ruler pursued
a “constitutional agenda” eroding imperial prerogatives or, even worse,
applied international law to prosecute those carrying out brutal imperial
policy, he would be quickly condemned for dereliction of duty and/or immoral
behavior and impeached or overthrown.