International Law Watch 5
Posted by aogTuesday, 29 October 2002 at 21:39 TrackBack Ping URL

In an article we have an excellent example of how completely bogus arguments are being advanced as "international law". Here's the money quote from the article:

In recent years the rejection of multilateral agreements and the rule of international law by the U.S. has become routine. (This is systematically documented in Rule of Power or Rule of Law?, a recent report by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy. It is available on the Internet at and also at Examples include the U.S.' refusal to sign the treaty banning anti-personnel mines, the refusal to be bound by the International Criminal Court, terminating the process established to create an international agreement to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and the dismissal of the binding obligations of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change. This has outraged the traditional and most loyal of U.S. allies in western Europe.
(Of course, the idea the the most loyal of US allies is in western Europe is laughable, but let's ignore that).

Now what, exactly, are the crimes of which the US is accused that violate international law? Basically not signing treaties. Did the US ratify any of these? That means a Presidential signature and approval by the Senate, at least time I checked the Constitution.

There is another canard in a later paragraph that I see repeated frequently.

The Bush Administration's 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is the most recent evidence of what may be the worst part of this growing U.S. challenge to international law and collective security. The high points have been the U.S. Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) - despite the pleas of the United Kingdom, France and Germany - and the U.S.' withdrawal from the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
(Note that the Bush Administration is blamed for a Senate rejection of a treaty! But let's ignore that).

Once again we have the US accused of "challenging" international law because it refused to sign a treaty (CTBT). Then we have the main canard, that the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty is contrary to international law. Is it not the case that this action was entirely permissible under the terms of the treaty? How can following the provisions of a treaty violate either the treaty or international law? This is a classic case of where international law claims are used as a thin veneer over transational progressivism . Again, if that's what international law is, then it's not really law. And who is it that allowed that law to be trampled and disgraced in this way? Hardly the US or the Bush administration.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Haruspex Wednesday, 30 October 2002 at 04:10

Sorry Annoying Old Guy,

But you haven’t read the first one correctly. They did not accuse the US of “crimes”, they accused it of “rejecting” international law on a particular issue. You are quite right that there is no crime involved under international law in refusing to sign a treaty, because international law imposes no duty to sign treaties. But it is permissible, as a political matter, to criticize a country’s refusal to sign a treaty because you think the treaty would promote a desirable goal. That’s all they did here. The only person characterizing it as a crime under international law is you.


Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 31 October 2002 at 09:48

Ok, I’ll concede the point on the use of the term “crime”. But how is not ratifying a treaty “rejecting” international law? It certainly reads to me as a claim that not ratifying these treaties makes the US a scofflaw. That in turn implies a positive obligation on the US to ratify treaties based on international law, a point of view you seem to disagree with as well (“international law imposes no duty to sign treaties”).

As for castigating the US for not ratifying, of course that’s legitimate. What I object to here is to criticize the failure to ratify as a rejection of international law.

Haruspex Thursday, 31 October 2002 at 14:54

Hi Annoying Old Guy,

I think the term “rejection” is potentially ambiguous. You originally read it to mean “rejection of the rules that already apply to us”, while the interpretation that (I think) is closer to reality would be “rejection of the creation of a new body of rules that would apply to us if they were to be created”. I agree with you — if they meant the former, that’s wrong, but the latter would be a fair position. (Not that one necessarily needs to agree with it — there are lots of bad treaties out there — but it would be a position a reasonable person could take).

Is it possible that the ambiguity was intentional? That is, saying something strictly accurate (my reading), but giving the impression that the US is in fact doing something much worse (your reading). One cannot exclude the possibility . . . .

Annoying Old Guy Friday, 01 November 2002 at 08:48

Perhaps. I had to think a bit to find the interpretation you suggest, but I can see what you mean now. I don’t want to delve too far into grammar slicing, but the overall tone of the article and the unqualified use of “international law” (no “new”, “improved”, “extend”, etc.) makes it read to me as I stated originally. I think that at the very least they’re trying to create the impression that not ratifying is contrary to existing international law, which we agree is an invalid position.

I’ll try for less ambiguous entries in the future.

End of Discussion