Some of you may think it rather bold of me to come to a city renowned for its institutions of international peace, justice, and security and talk about the United States' commitment to international law. It is hardly news that the United States has taken a battering in Europe, particularly over the last few years, for its commitment to international law - or, rather, what is criticized as its lack of commitment.
To put it simply, our critics sometimes paint the United States as a country willing to duck or shrug off international obligations when they prove constraining or inconvenient.
That picture is wrong. The United States does believe that international law matters. We help develop it, rely on it, abide by it, and - contrary to some impressions - it has an important role in our nation's Constitution and domestic law. . . .
Tonight I will show you how we have kept the Secretary's promise. I will demonstrate that our approach to international law - how and why we assume international obligations, how we implement those we have assumed, and how international law binds us in our domestic system - all reinforce our commitment to international law. In the course of the evening, a few themes should emerge. One is that a reliance on sound bites and short-hand can give the deeply misleading impression that we are not committed to international law. A second is, in fact, deeply ironic: that the very seriousness with which we approach international law is sometimes mischaracterized as obstructionism or worse. A third is that some of the most vehement attacks of our behavior - although couched as legal criticism - are in fact differences on policy. A fourth and related theme is that our critics often assert the law as they wish it were, rather than as it actually exists today. This leads to claims that we violate international law - when we have simply not reached the result or interpretation that these critics prefer.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Bellinger: The United States and International Law
John B. Bellinger III, Legal Adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State, gave a speech yesterday in The Hague entitled "The United States and International Law." It is the latest in a series of talks in which he argues that international law matters to the United States. The full text is available here. An excerpt: