The United States and International Law

The United States and International Law

The United States is the preeminent power on the international stage, possessing the world’s most powerful military and it’s most vibrant and diverse economy. Time and time again, American judicial precedent has been used by other nations and international organizations in the formulation of their own laws, and the U.S. has often played a heavy role in the crafting of international law.
Nonetheless, the U.S. is seldom – if ever – a signatory of agreements that bind it to so called “international laws”. How has this come to be, and what are the consequences of this for the American people?

Following the second world war, the U.S. was the dominant voice in international affairs, and took every advantage it could that came with such a position in formulating the post-war international order. As the United Nations came to be formed, and international treaties and laws began to proliferate, the U.S. more often than not took a leading role.

History nonetheless shows time and time again that the U.S. will not permit its interest to be sacrificed for the sake of international norms and laws. The most recent examples of this phenomenon are glaring; the U.S. recently pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, a non-binding treaty intending to reduce global carbon emissions. Before that, the U.S. famously invaded Iraq in 2003, though it lacked permission from the United Nations Security Council to do so.

image of US and international laws

The explanation for this phenomenon is entirely political; as the world’s dominant superpower, the U.S. cannot and will not allow itself to be cowed by international rules that don’t serve its interest. As a nation that is domestically governed by a strict set of institutions which relies heavily on law, this is a curious, if not altogether understandable position.

While the U.S. often refuses to sign treaties or enter partnerships which may later tie its hands, it is nonetheless a global force for good in terms of enforcing law and order. For instance, while the U.S. is not a member of the International Criminal Court, if often complies, at least partially with its judgments and recommendations. American treaties and court decisions more often than not seek to align themselves with morally defend-able positions, and act as important role models the world over.
What are your thoughts on international law, and American adherence to it? Should the United States become a member of the International Criminal Court? Does it already do enough – or even too much – in the name of international law? Leave a comment down below!

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