Like So Much Else, The Fuss Over ‘International Law’ Is Really About Narrative Control

That’s why you see US and Israeli officials raging and fuming about the actions of the ICJ and the ICC. It’s not because they’re worried those courts will be able to enforce the rulings they make, it’s because it weakens their control of the narrative.

Caitlin Johnstone

May 25, 2024

The International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to cease its assault on Rafah, an order which will certainly be disregarded by Israel with the full support of Washington. This comes days after the International Criminal Court announced its intention to seek warrants for the arrest of Israeli officials for war crimes in Gaza, which will also be dismissed by Israel and its hegemonic ally to the west.

The other day ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said that when preparing to apply for the Israeli arrest warrants he was told by “a senior leader” that “This court is built for Africa and for thugs like Putin.” You don’t typically hear empire managers voice this kind of frank view when addressing the public, but it’s not surprising that they hold this view behind the scenes. And in practice it’s not even technically false — a casual glance at the list of prisoners detained at The Hague turns up individuals from small, weak, mostly African countries.

It’s just a cold, hard fact that “international law” is never enforced against powerful nations or their protected allies, because there’d be no way for the international community to enforce those laws upon them without waging a massive world war involving nuclear-armed states. The US notoriously put in place its “Hague Invasion Act” between its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq to ensure that it can use military force to free any military personnel of the US or its allies (this would include Israel) who wind up detained by the ICC. There is currently no force in the world that would be both willing and able to stop the US war machine from doing such a thing.

A law isn’t really a law if it can’t be enforced. If I kill someone in a modern city, a bunch of law enforcement officials will come and arrest me and I’ll be sent to prison. If I killed someone in the western United States during the nineteenth century, it wouldn’t matter what the laws of the town happen to say if the sheriff and his posse are too afraid of me to bring me to justice. That’s kind of what’s happening on an international level — there’s a big band of lawless thugs who do as they please, because there’s no one else around with enough firepower to enforce any laws on them.

In reality, “international law” is a lie in two significant ways. It’s a lie in the sense that western powers falsely purport to value and uphold it, and it’s a lie in the sense that it has no meaningful existence since it’s only ever enforced on small, weak powers. 

The actions of the ICC and ICJ are useful only insofar as they help disabuse people of the delusional belief that western powers care one iota about international law, and in that they make it clear to the whole world that Israel and its powerful western allies are openly violating the rules they pretend to stand by. It’s useful as a counter-narrative against the official imperial narrative about what’s happening, but it’s not useful as a legal construct or means of ending Israeli atrocities in and of itself.

That’s why you see US and Israeli officials raging and fuming about the actions of the ICJ and the ICC. It’s not because they’re worried those courts will be able to enforce the rulings they make, it’s because it weakens their control of the narrative. These rulings are being made in front of the entire world, and they say very bad things about what Israel and its allies have been doing in Gaza.

Israel and its defenders rage and fume about these developments for the same reason they rage and fume about any development that affects their narrative control in any large-scale, mainstream way. They rage and fume at the ICJ and the ICC for the same reason they rage and fume at celebrities who criticize Israel, or at the student protesters at university campuses around the world.

Anything that causes the empire managers to lose their grip on the dominant stories people are telling about what’s happening in the world is a direct threat to imperial power, because it shakes people out of the propaganda-induced stupor which causes them to consent to the imperial status quo. That’s why the US and Israel pour so much effort into controlling the collective narrative in the west; they need people consenting to things which no psychologically healthy person would ever consent to without being manipulated and deceived.

Empire managers work so hard to control the dominant narratives of our civilization because they understand something that ordinary people do not: that real power comes from narrative control

The only reason our society looks the way it looks and moves in the way that it moves is because of the narratives which we have collectively agreed to treat as true and real. It’s the only reason power sits where it sits and operates the way it operates. It’s the only reason money works the way it works. It’s the only reason laws are laws and social etiquette is social etiquette.

Everything about our society is determined by collectively agreed-upon narratives, which means that whoever can control those narratives can control our society. If everyone suddenly developed an acute awareness of the fact that this whole thing’s made up and we can change our collectively agreed-upon narratives whenever we want to, our rulers would no longer be our rulers, and we could create whatever kind of society we wanted to.

So there’s a lot riding on this narrative control thing. It’s actually the very substance from which power is woven. That is what the empire managers are really worried about here, not “international law”.

So while Gaza will not be saved by any actions by international courts, it just might be saved by enough people waking up from the narrative control of our rulers to force real change. If enough people unplug their minds from the matrix of imperial propaganda and manipulation, there’s no limit to what humanity can achieve as a species.