03 Oct The Allure of Sovereigntism: U.S. Progressives and Libertarians Unite to Oppose Investor-State Arbitration
For decades, investor-state arbitration has enjoyed broad support in the U.S. (among those elites who know and care about such things). While there has been some backlash against investor-state in developed countries such as Australia arising out of controversial cases brought against it, the U.S. has remained pretty solidly in favor of it. But there are signs that the opposition to investor-state arbitration has sprouted among U.S. elites more influential than more traditional critics like Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan. And, interestingly, voices from both sides of the ideological spectrum are invoking “sovereigntist” arguments to bolster their positions.
First, Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post started the ball rolling with this post calling on center-left and progressives to oppose the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (or ISDS) in the proposed Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Predictably, he derides ISDS as pro-corporate giveaways. But he also rings the sovereigntist bell in favor of protecting the jurisdiction of domestic courts against extra-jurisdictional tribunals (e.g. international arbitral tribunals).
What is more surprising is that Daniel Ikenson of the influential libertarian (“liberal” for you Europeans out there) thinktank the Cato Institute has joined the fray with a manifesto for why libertarians should also oppose ISDS (at least in trade agreements). Some of his arguments are tactical (they undermine political support for trade agreements and aren’t all that helpful anyway), but some are also sovereigntist as well.
Though I firmly believe the U.S. economy is racked with superfluous and otherwise unnecessary regulations, I do believe that a successful foreign challenge of U.S. laws, regulations, or actions in a third-party arbitration tribunal (none has occurred, yet) would subvert accountability, democracy, and the rule of law.”
It is certainly unusual to hear a libertarian analyst decry a legal mechanism that would give businesses a new avenue to challenge unfair laws and regulations. But the sovereigntist bell is alluring. Because Ikenson’s position seems to go somewhat against his policy preferences, I find Ikenson’s opposition to ISDS a little more compelling than Meyerson’s.
It is worth noting that some of the same arguments against investor-state can also be raised against other proposed forms of international adjudication (e.g. the International Climate Change Court, the International Anti-Corruption Court, international human rights courts, etc). Similar arguments, in fact, are being used by the Conservative Party in the UK to withdraw or limit the role of the European Court of Human Rights over UK law. I wonder whether progressives like Meyerson will be so excited about protecting domestic laws and courts from international oversight in those situations. I somehow doubt it.