The year 2020 can be summed up in one word: chaotic.
Americans started the year watching the spectacle of an impeachment trial of the sitting president of the United States. Politics motivated both sides and facts applied only where convenient. The president was acquitted by the U.S. Senate and is now in the midst of a re-election effort.
The impeachment has been all but forgotten because of the next big news story, coronavirus. COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic, killing nearly 600,000 people and infecting millions. COVID literally closed down the global economy and the impacts are being felt far and wide. Some people have panicked and are in hiding. Others have refused to acknowledge the health crisis at all, mocking those taking precautions.
If that wasn’t enough, the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police ignited an angry, violent movement across the United States. More than two dozen people have been killed at protests with at least twenty two of those by gunshot wounds. Tens of millions of dollars in property destruction has occurred. Law enforcement officers have been targeted with violence for merely wearing a uniform.
As we sit immersed in the chaos, it is sometimes easy to forget that other parts of the world have their own problems. In the news cycles that tend to endlessly focus on one or two major issues rather than report a wide swath of stories one can be excused for missing out on events happening elsewhere. It’s important that we try and follow other stories too however, particularly when the news is good for our friends and good for America.
The first week of June brought the third anniversary of a blockade on the small but essential United States ally, Qatar. The economic blockade is being carried out by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In addition to stopping trade and tourism, the four blockading countries have denied all Qatar-registered aircraft from landing or departing from their airports and denied those planes’ rights to fly into their airspace, including territorial seas.
The impact on Qatar Airways has been overwhelming, forcing them to cancel some air routes and to reroute virtually all others. The rerouting means flights take longer, which not only is inconvenient for passengers, it racks up extra mileage on jet engines and other aircraft parts, ultimately costing Qatar Airways more money, flight after flight.
Nearly all Qatar Airways flights have been using Iran airspace to fly in and out of Doha because of the blockade. The reported cost of their agreement with Iran to use the airspace is $133 million annually. It’s this last financial tidbit that makes a ruling this week by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) so important to The United States.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established by the United Nations Charter in June 1945 and began its activities in April 1946. The court really has only two roles, the first of which is to settle, in accordance with international law, through judgments which have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned, legal disputes submitted to it by States.
In this case the ICJ was hearing an appeal by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates regarding a previous ruling by the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization from June of 2018 that said the four States were violating international law and could not prohibit Qatar from using their airspace. The ruling by the International Court of Justice confirmed the ICAO conclusion and rejected all appeals. The judgment is final, without appeal and is binding on the Parties.
Prior to bringing their initial action to the ICAO Qatar had repeatedly attempted to negotiate a peaceful, friendly settlement with the the other four nations, but were consistently rebuffed.
All of this is obviously good news for Qatar, but what makes it such important news for the United States? The Trump administration has been trying to put an economic stranglehold on Iran. Under President Trump, the United States scrapped the Obama administration’s controversial nuclear agreement with the terror state. A wide variety of economic sanctions have been implemented. Their purpose is to isolate Iran from the international community, create further hardship, and through such force, encourage the leaders to have a productive dialogue with the West. Reagan used to call it peace through strength.
One minor glitch in this effort has been Qatar’s agreement to pay Iran substantial sums of money for the use of their airspace. Qatar is a valued U.S. ally. Not only is Qatar the voice of reason in the Middle East, they host a strategic American air base. Realizing the blockade was putting the tiny gulf nation in an impossible position, the Trump administration has not complained about the Qatar/Iran airspace agreement. With the decision of the ICJ however, both America and Qatar can celebrate. The nation of Qatar has scored a major victory in the ongoing struggle with their neighbors, which will hopefully encourage those neighbors to return to the bargaining table and hash out normalizing relations again.
The United States is pleased because the ICJ opinion takes hundreds of millions of much needed dollars out of the pocket of Iran. Their financial woes are only getting worse, which one hopes will play a role in opening their mind to the option of discussions, and in turn, better relations, with the United States.
The United Nations is often criticized by various entities in the United States but in this case, the judicial organization has made a clear and concise ruling that the whole world must notice. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are in the wrong. The ruling will bring better things for the people of Qatar and the entire Middle East Region.
The ripple effect of the ruling tightens the economic noose around the neck of an angry and unpredictable Iranian regime, hopefully forcing them to take a step toward a more rational approach to the United States and to world affairs.