Political Science 101 and International Law
I would hazard that most undergraduate students have very little introduction to international law and if they do, it likely will come in a political science class. Of course a political science major likely will be exposed to international law in some upper-level classes, but the overwhelming majority of students do not venture beyond PoliSci 101.
If these assumptions are accurate, then it is particularly important that introductory PoliSci textbooks provide the proper introduction to the role of international law in foreign relations. But when I perused the American foreign relations chapter in one of the leading PoliSci 101 textbooks (We The People: An Introduction to American Politics (5th ed. 2005)) I was sorely disappointed. Consider what conclusions undergrad students will draw about international law in the following excerpt (from page 769) about the Iraq War. In particular, note the total absence of international law as a constraining force in the discussion about multilateralism versus unilateralism and the use of force:
After the sudden end of the Cold War, everyone knew international relations would never be the same, but no one could guess how they would be different. The first intimation came on August 2, 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and occupied a substantial amount of Kuwaiti territory. President George H.W. Bush used diplomatic means behind the scenes to create a multinational alliance of twenty-nine nations against Iraq.
Ten years later, President George W. Bush’s foreign policy behavior was quickly defined as that of a classic go-it-alone cowboy president. Disregarding ten Bush presidential predecessors over fifty-two years, he mostly acted unilaterally. He denounced arms control, rejected the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and was opposed to treaties or international agreements in principle. He and his advisers saw multilateralism not as a beneficial alliance, but as a “straightjacket.”
But a revolution in American foreign policy came about immediately after September 11. Pakistan, Russia, and other nations cooperated when it was clear that the United States was ready to go to war against world terrorism. Although President Bush sounded quite unilateral when he warned that those nations who weren’t with us were against us, most of his actions were multilateral. Russian president Putin dropped all Russian objections to the deployment of American NATO counterterrorism forces in the former Soviet republic key states on the long border between Russia and the Middle East. The possibility was even emerging that Russia would seek and might gain admission to NATO. President Bush also reversed other facets of his earlier unilateralism, including paying all back dues to the United Nations and making Secretary of State Colin Powell, who earlier had been losing out to the go-it-alone phalanx of the administration, a prominent player in building this alliance.
But there’s a price for multilateralism. One lesson to be learned from the 1991 Gulf War alliance is that a genuine alliance is a restraint on the “hegemon.” In 1991, the influence of many of the twenty-nine nation Desert Storm members shaped the decision to interrupt the advance to Baghdad and the eradication of the entire Saddam Hussein regime. Our termination of the war at that point was treated as a grievous error even by a number of high-ranking American military officers. And it was a lesson taken seriously by the advisers around President George W. Bush ten years later.
In October 2002, Bush went to the United Nations with a different attitude from his unilateral position and agreed to abide by a stern U.N. Security Council resolution that Iraq disarm and subject itself to unconditional weapons inspection, with serious consequences if it did not cooperate within one month’s time. But Bush balked at the provision for a second U.N. Security Council resolution if Iraq did not cooperate and asserted his conviction that the United States would proceed if there was not satisfaction that complete disarmament was taking place. While the UN resolution had put the United States on course to form another multilateral alliance, the Bush administration reserved the option of going it alone if necessary. Officially, the war was conducted by a “coalition of the willing,” but that was in reality a euphemism for a unilateral American offensive. The British contribution was fairly substantial, but not enough to characterize the war as a “bilateral” effort. The Iraq War of 2003 was American, and the war went quickly. But the occupation, the reconstruction of the economy, the development of a government, and the achievement of democracy were all going to take vastly more time and lives than had been anticipated by the American strategic planners. As the Iraq War of 2003 persisted into 2004, more multilateralism was introduced, with the formal turnover of the government to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004, and with signs of NATO willingness at least to help train an Iraqi army and security force to slowly replace the U.S. troops and those of the other members of the “coalition of the willing.” As the American presidential election approached, however, Iraq was still considered an American problem.
For Critical Analysis
1. Given American experience in Iraq in 2002-04, is it necessary to conclude that unilateralism is always the worst choice and multilateralism always the best? Is a multilateral alliance genuine only when supported by a UN resolution?
2. Is bilateralism a genuine midpoint between the two extremes of unilateralism and multilateralism? When and under what conditions would bilateralism be the best choice?