Jeane Kirkpatrick's article in The Washington Post Sept. 30 ("Nicaragua's U.S. Lawyers," op-ed) betrays an unfortunate ignorance of both the World Court and the rule of law.
As to the first, the International Court of Justice and its predecessor have been deciding disputes between states for 65 years now. Presidents Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Carter all sought in one way or another to increase the use of the court by the United States and to broaden our acceptance of its jurisdiction.
During the last 40 years, the United States has called upon the court many times, most recently in the Iranian hostages case and in the dispute with Canada about the boundary between our two countries in the Gulf of Maine. Not until the Nicaragua case, when it appeard the United States might lose, has this country ever questioned the court's professional judicial character.
The 15 judges of the court are either distinguished international law scholars or former foreign office legal advisers. They have spent their lives in international law and are professional international lawyers.
The present bench includes six nationals of advanced industrial states, a much higher proportion than is found in the General Assembly. Six judges are from developing countries and two are from communist states, China and Poland. (There is ordinarily a judge from the U.S.S.R. on the court, but Judge Morozov resigned recently and no Soviet judge will sit on the Nicaragua case.) Despite this diversity, in the Iranian hostages case the court voted unanimously with the United States. Similarly, in the Nicaragua case, on major issues decided so far, the court has voted by overwhelming majorities for the position of Nicaragua. The State Department and Jeane Kirkpatrick insist, for example, that the case is "inappropriate" for judicial consideration. But the court, after full oral and writtten argument in which the United States did participate, voted unanimously against the U.S. position. Only then did President Reagan decide to pick up his marbles and go home.
As to the rule of law, you will look in vain for any mention of it in Jeane Kirkpatrick's article. The role of the court, she seems to think, is confined to resolving disputes over "legal technicalities." In her view, apparently, the fundamental norms of international law governing relations among states are not applicable to the formulation of American foreign policy. That consists of whatever the president says it is. The rest of us are bound to "accept the resulting decision" -- and shut up.
But the bedrock proposition of our polity is that we are a government under law. This means that the actions of its elected officials, even when they are elected by landslides, are subject to and accountable before the law.
Since the days of Chief Justice John Marshall, international law has been a part of our law, and thus a part of the law that the president swears he will faithfully execute. The claims of Nicaragua are based on the U.N. Charter and the OAS Charter, which, under Article VI of the Constitution, are "the supreme Law of the Land."
This fundamental principle of government under law may put the United States under constraints in the field of foreign affairs that do not operate on others who profess different ideas. Some, perhaps Jeane Kirkpatrick among them, think this puts us at an unfair disadvantage. I cannot believe that accountability before the law is a handicap in the conduct of our foreign policy. Even if it is, that is a consequence of the kind of country and society we have chosen to be, and I, for one, would not have it any other way.
Jeane Kirkpatrick impugned the loyalty of myself and the other Americans who are participating in the presentation of Nicaragua's case before the World Court. It would be easier to take lessons in patriotism from someone who had a better understanding of the fundamental ideas on which our country is founded.