On international law

August 8, 2008 at 12:30 am (History, International community, The United States, US Government)

People may begin to think: what rebellious people those Texans are, trashing international law!

In one sense, there is no such thing as international law. I say this because states that are signatories to international law bodies apply the law (or ignore it) according to their whims, wishes, and interests. Rather than viewing international law bodies as neutral international regimes, they are viewed as bodies through which to further their own agendas against states they don’t like. If State A doesn’t like State B, it State A will do everything to get an international law body to issue a ruling against State B. However, if the ruling goes against State B’s opinions or whims, it will simply ignore or refute such rulings. So, in effect, there is no international law body that has actual power. Consider the fervent efforts of Pakistan and India against each other through international regimes, and the result of both countries essentially ignoring these international regimes.

What makes American law a little more complicated is the sovereignty of states. Each individual state has great leeway in establishing its own laws and policies. This remains in place despite the fact that federal law has been expanding exponentially recently. States, and their people, don’t want to concede sovereignty, especially to foreign parties.

Americans are notorious for being open about their repudiation of international regimes. We simply ignore things we don’t like. Of course, we’re also very resilient to sign onto any international regime. While the President can attend a summit and think America should join a treaty or body or policy or law, he has to think, more importantly, whether the American people, through the Senate, will accept his opinion. As Woodrow Wilson demonstrated, it is a grave mistake the ignore this. Despite the fact he was instrumental in the founding of the League of Nations, and wanted America in it, the American people rejected his opinion and, to his great embarrassment, refused to ratify America’s joining the organization.

Now, from one viewpoint, this was a major embarrassment. Americans rejected such a good idea. But then, as now for the most part, we don’t care what the world thinks about us. At the very least, we don’t use international opinion to form our policies and laws. We do what is in our best interests, and other states and international regimes can protest all they want.

Now, treaty-wise, one can argue back and forth whether America is bound to the World Court. But in practice, we have ignored the World Court. Of course, this is nothing new or different as many states ignore the World Court and other international regimes.

One thing Americans complain about, and legitimately so, is the burden placed on America to comply with every dinky body’s rulings while other players and states get away with brazen noncompliance. A recent example, which troubled me, was Hezbollah. Israel mandated that a condition for it to agree to an end to the recent Israel-Lebanon war was that Hezbollah would have to disarm below a certain point. The Lebanese government had to guarantee it. In order to end the war, Hezbollah and the Lebanese government conceded. The ink had not dried on the agreement when Hezbollah announced it would not disarm, and the Lebanese government announced it had no intention to make Hezbollah disarm. And yet no one said anything.

And so those that charge America for intransigence should really drop their arguments unless they will just as actively protest other intransigent parties.

However, what this demonstrates, more than anything, is the true standing of these international regimes. They don’t exist to usher in a better world: they exist for states to use them as tools in their foreign policy to further their own national interests. It is naive to suppose otherwise.

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1 Comment

  1. Blackiswhite, Imperial Agent Provocateur said,

    My international law prof in college put it this way: Organizations like the UN were founded to preserve the status quo, and although they have gotten away from this founding principal, they have not really bettered their standing in the world.

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