Sarah Cleveland Defends the “Obama-Clinton” Approach to International Law
I had the good fortune of participating in a symposium last week sponsored by the University of Virginia Law School’s John Bassett Moore Society. Entitled “The Obama Impact”, the symposium explored the impact of the new administration on international law and policy. I have already shared my views on this subject here and I took the opportunity during my visit to rebut the United Nations’ claim to “indispensability.” But the main action at the symposium was the keynote address by Sarah Cleveland, Counselor on International Law in the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser. Cleveland, who is also a Columbia Law School professor, offered one of the most forthright and clear explanations of the new administration’s approach to international law. A summary can be found here, along with a recording of her address. But below is a key excerpt:
“I would say that the administration has articulated an Obama-Clinton doctrine, a vision that reflects commitments to four elements,” Cleveland said. “The first is multilateral engagement. This was a consistent theme of the president’s campaign and has been a consistent theme of his first year in office.”
Other elements of the doctrine are universality, or the idea that all men are created equal, and the legitimating force of law, which suggests that law gives strength and legitimacy to government action.
“Finally, these goals are to be achieved through a principled pragmatism and the exercise of smart power: the intelligent use of all means to our disposal, including diplomacy, promotion of democracy, development and human rights,” Cleveland said.