Fury at threats to international rule of law

Mystery: Jamal Khashoggi’s supposed murder is not confirmed, and no body has been found.

Are Saudi Arabia, China and Russia rogue states? Reports of state-sponsored assassinations and abductions have shocked the world — sparking fears that international law is falling apart.

Monday, October 8. The second suspect in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal is identified as Alexander Mishkin, a doctor working for Russian intelligence. His accomplice was Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, an intelligence officer and recipient of the Hero of the Russian Federation medal — likely awarded by Vladimir Putin himself.

Thursday, October 4. Meng Hongwei, the head of Interpol, is reported missing. Ominously, his last communication was a knife emoji he sent to his wife on WhatsApp. It later emerged that he was abducted by Chinese authorities who accused him of corruption. He remains imprisoned.

Tuesday, October 2. Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a vocal critic of his country’s regime, visits the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. His fiancée waits outside but he never returns. Turkish officials soon make a grisly accusation: Khashoggi was tortured and murdered by a Saudi hit squad, they claim.

What links these incidents? All three are abuses of international law and order.

In each case, condemnation was swift. “If Jamal was murdered, it sends chills down the spine of every activist, journalist and dissident,” writes Asli Aydintasbas. “Even repressive regimes rarely target journalists outside of their borders.”

Human rights advocate Michael Caster attacked China for thinking it can “detain the sitting head of an international organisation without serious consequences.”

An international statement previously condemned the Skripal poisoning as a “clear violation” of international law.

This language chimes with the definition of a rogue state, which is: “a nation or state regarded as breaking international law and posing a threat to the security of other nations.” Historically, the label has been given to unstable countries like North Korea.

By contrast, China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council, and China is the second richest nation in the world. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is supposedly turning to liberal values, and its leader has even visited the Queen.

In reality, are all three becoming rogue states?


Of course, some say. China ruthlessly pursues its interests with no regard to international norms. Russian aggression has plunged relations with the West to depths unknown since the Cold War. And the list of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia speaks for itself. All must be condemned in the strongest terms.

Consider the bigger picture, others say. Chinese business is a cornerstone of the world economy. Saudi Arabia is allied to powerful Western nations, and Russia just hosted the World Cup. Talk of “rogue states” deepens international divides and makes difficult situations like those described harder to resolve diplomatically.

You Decide

  1. Is it right to describe any of these countries as rogue states?
  2. Can any powerful country avoid doing morally bad things?


  1. Pick one of the following countries: Russia, China or Saudi Arabia. In one minute, write down all the things you associate with that country — good or bad. Share your ideas with the class. What does your list suggest about how that country is viewed?
  2. Pick a different country from the three above, and do some research into its history. Find out: what major wars it has been a part of; who its main allies and enemies are; and what major imports and exports it has. Putting all of this information together, would you say that the country is a rogue state? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“International relations bears more than a slight resemblance to the mafia.”

Noam Chomsky

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Russia denies any involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, and has dismissed photographic evidence linking Chepiga to its intelligence services. Saudi Arabia has also denied any wrongdoing in relation to Jamal Khashoggi, describing the murder accusations as “baseless”. Chinese officials have confirmed that Meng Hongwei is being detained in the country.
What do we not know?
Jamal Khashoggi has not been found, dead or alive, and we do not know exactly what happened to him inside the Saudi consulate, or the full extent of Saudi involvement. Chinese authorities have accused Meng Hongwei of bribery and corruption, however, we do not know if he is guilty of the charges, or how long he is likely to be incarcerated for.

Word Watch

Sergei Skripal
Former Russian military intelligence officer and double agent for the UK. He survived an assassination attempt in Salisbury earlier this year, thought to be carried out by two Russian intelligence officers.
An international organisation that facilitates cooperation between police forces across the world.
Hit squad
Turkish intelligence believes the hit squad was comprised of 15 men. It is alleged that Khashoggi’s dismembered body was smuggled from the building before it was searched by the authorities.
Signed by the leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK.
UN Security Council
One of the six major arms of the United Nations, it is tasked with maintaining international peace and security. It has five permanent members, and a further 10 temporary seats.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Russia and Saudi Arabia are the 12th and 19th richest countries in the world by GDP.
Liberal values
Much publicised changes include lifting the ban on female drivers, and the reintroduction of public cinemas.

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