Time for the U.S. to Accept International Law

May 19, 2001

In the post-cold war era, the foreign policy of the Bush and Clinton administrations has focused attention on the expansion of free trade and the deregulation of world capital markets, the enlargement and globalization of NATO, and the containment of “rogue” states. In contrast to these clear priorities, both administrations have shown little interest in utilizing international law and international organization to construct a cooperative framework of international relations. The record is embarrassing:

  • By refusing to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the United States is now barred from membership in the UNCLOS Tribunal and the Continental Shelf Commission. The U.S. is thus removed from participating in the application of a body of international law that covers 70 percent of the earth’s surface.

  • The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in October 1999 — a huge defeat for those concerned with slowing nuclear proliferation. It is illogical, therefore, to expect that the U.S. will be able to make credible its pleas to non-nuclear states to not build weapons of mass destruction, when we don’t practice what we preach.

  • The U.S. refused to sign the treaty establishing a permanent International Criminal Court adopted by 120 governments in Rome in 1998. Thus the United States eschewed the opportunity to affirm the principle that those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes should be punished for their crimes.

  • The U.S. refused to sign the treaty banning the use of landmines, backed by the overwhelming majority of nations of the world, including almost all of its NATO allies, in Ottawa in 1997. The US has become a major obstacle to arms limitation agreements and demilitarization efforts.

  • The U.S. is resisting efforts to set a deadline for ratifying the 1997 Kyoto accord on reducing greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. American scientists have recently confirmed the warming of our planet, and predict that the average global temperature will rise 2 degrees to 6 degrees in the next 100 years if such gas emissions are not curtailed.

  • The U.S. opposes a World Bank proposal that would increase exports from the world’s poorest and most indebted nations.

The list goes on and on. These acts not only hinder the development of a cooperative legal framework to safeguard our fragile planet and protect the rights of future generations, but they run counter to U.S. national interest. Perhaps in this election year these moral issues of global accountability and responsibility can enter the public debate.

Related Links:

Defines international law terms and acronyms, with links to sites from law organizations

UN International Law Commission

UN Division for Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty site

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