11 Feb Why Internationalism Is Not Enough
Today’s Los Angeles Times contains a predictable op-ed condemning the U.S. for failing to join the Kyoto treaty to reduce global warming, which will go into effect next Wednesday. In addition to attacking Bush, the Republicans, and Michael Crichton for being the stooges of the energy industry, the writer throws in this line, which is fast congealing into elite consensus:
The rules that apply to the rest of the world, the administration in effect is saying, need not apply to us. International agreements — whether they involve the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol or the Geneva Convention — should not be allowed to bind the hands of the most powerful nation on Earth. On that point, at least, the U.S. is consistent.
This argument suggests that the U.S. has a responsibility to join international organizations and submit to international law irrespective of (1) what it believes its national interests to be; and (2) what its democratically elected political institutions want it to do.
Maybe I am unfairly inferring too much from this line (as Chris suggested I did yesterday with respect to Samantha Power’s piece), but I do think that this view of how the U.S. should conduct its foreign policy is endemic to many influential advocates, academics, and policymakers. Perhaps the better gloss is that U.S. interests are generally served by joining international organizations and legal systems.
Even in this new and improved form, I think this approach is either naive or unproven (or both). Even though I might agree with the author about joining a particular treaty system (say, the Geneva Convention and maybe Kyoto), I don’t believe that it is always or even usually the case that the U.S (or any country) must do so. Is it always a good idea to create more domestic law and regulation on any subject regardless of the policy consequences? Why shouldn’t such decisions be made on a case-by-case basis (through our normal democratic and constitutional processes)?
All of this suggests that lines about the U.S. “standing alone” and refusing to join the “rules that apply to the rest of the world” are a waste of time. If you want the U.S. to join the Kyoto Treaty, then stick to the policy arguments for doing so. But it is simply unpersuasive to me (and I think to many other people) to argue for that we should join because other countries have joined, an “Internationalism for Internationalism’s Sake.”