Presidential Candidates and International Law

Presidential Candidates and International Law

Does anyone see any specific major changes in U.S. ratification of outstanding treaties, or participation in international organizations, under the next president, whoever she or he may be? I haven’t seen too many positions by candidates on specific treaties, but I may well have missed them, since I do my best to avoid presidential debates! I did come across an interesting compilation of candidate statements on the International Criminal Court, however. The candidates fan out across the spectrum about as one would expect: Dodd, Edwards, Richardson think that the US should belong; Biden, Clinton, Obama, and McCain (perhaps a small surprise there) are cautious but not completely dismissive; Ron Paul says that “the ICC wants to try our soldiers as war criminals,” which I think we can take as a negative. Giuliani, Huckabee, and Romney aren’t quoted, but I suppose they would line up closer to Paul than to McCain.

Under President Paul, there would be some rather significant changes in US policy towards international law and institutions. Here’s a sample: “The United Nations and the ICC are inherently incompatible with national sovereignty. America must either remain a constitutional republic or submit to international law, because it cannot do both. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and the conflict between adhering to the rule of law and obeying globalist planners is now staring us in the face.” I don’t agree, but I do like the name “globalist planners,” and I plan to steal it when I start my international consulting firm.

Have candidates taken positions on other major treaties, like CEDAW, Kyoto, UNCLOS, land mines?

Change in the direction of greater multilateralism would presumably be more likely under a Democrat than a Republican, with the important exception of international agreements on trade and investment. It has been interesting to watch the Dems go through their quadrennial struggle to figure out a coherent position on trade. In 1992, Bill Clinton found a way between the Scylla of opposing all trade agreements and the Charybdis of supporting them by saying that he would support NAFTA only with additional protections for labor and the environment. The problem for his successors is that NAFTA has become a bad word on the left, blamed as it is for hollowing out the American manufacturing sector (even though the United States was losing manufacturing jobs before NAFTA and would have continued to lose them without it, but nevertheless). Every Democratic candidate has to say bad things about NAFTA. This is fine for Edwards, who likes Scylla just fine, but it puts Hilary Clinton and Obama, who are trying to find their own way through the straits, in the awkward position of supporting the Peru free trade agreement and claiming that it’s a great improvement over NAFTA even though its provisions on labor and the environment are no better – and in some ways worse – than those of the NAFTA side agreements.

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