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Asia’s Ambivalence About International Law & Institutions: Introduction to Opinio Juris and EJIL:Talk! Mini-Symposium

by Simon Chesterman

[Simon Chesterman is Dean of the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law. He is also Editor of the Asian Journal of International Law and Secretary-General of the Asian Society of International Law. Educated in Melbourne, Beijing, Amsterdam, and Oxford, Simon’s teaching experience includes periods at Melbourne, Oxford, Columbia, Sciences Po, and New York University.]

A decade after moving from New York to Singapore, I began work on this article in the hope of understanding what seemed to me a paradox. Well into the much-vaunted “Asian century”, the states of this region arguably benefit most from the security and economic dividends of a world ordered by international law and institutions — and yet those same states are the least likely to subscribe to such norms or participate in the bodies they create. Regionally, there is no counterpart to the continent-wide organizations in Europe, Africa, or the Americas; individually, Asian states are most reluctant to sign onto most international regimes and underrepresented in the entities that govern them.

The article opens with a brief history of Asia’s engagement with international law. The focus is on three aspects that continue to have resonance today and contribute to the wariness of international law and institutions. First and foremost is the experience of colonialism by India and many other countries across the continent: for centuries international law helped justify foreign rule, later establishing arbitrary standards of “civilization” that were required in order to gain meaningful independence. Secondly, and more specific to China, the unequal treaties of the nineteenth century and the failure to recognize the Communist government in Beijing for much of the twentieth encouraged a perception that international law is primarily an instrument of political power. Thirdly, and of particular relevance to Japan, the trials that followed the Second World War left a legacy of suspicion that international criminal law only deals selectively with alleged misconduct — leaving unresolved many of the larger political challenges of that conflict, with ongoing ramifications today.

It should not be surprising, therefore, that some Asian states take the position that international law is of questionable legitimacy, can be used for instrumental purposes, and is necessarily selective in its application.

Part two assesses Asia’s current engagement with international law and institutions, examining whether its under-participation and under-representation is in fact significant. It is, but history offers at best a partial explanation of the current situation. Ongoing ambivalence towards international law and institutions can also be attributed to the diversity of the continent, power disparities among its member states, and the absence of “push” factors driving greater integration or organization.

Finally, part three attempts to project possible future developments based on three different scenarios. These are referred to as status quo, divergence, and convergence. The article argues that the status quo — in which the most populous and (increasingly) powerful region on the planet has the least stake in its rules and governance structures — is unsustainable. A crucial element of that argument is that the rise of Asia is today complemented by the decline of the West, in particular a decline in the willingness and the ability of the United States to play its role as both a shining “city upon a hill“ and an enforcer of global norms.

Arguments about Asia’s rise and America’s decline are hardly new. Yet the current assertiveness of the Chinese government with respect to its perceived interests in the South China Sea — including the recent deployment of its only aircraft carrier — may herald a strategic inflection in international relations, with inevitable consequences for the form and the content of international law. Still more striking was the victory of a wildcard candidate in the US presidential election who campaigned on an explicit message of American decline and neo-isolationism, peppered with anti-establishment and illiberal rhetoric, who takes office at the end of this week on 20 January 2017. (The European analogue is, of course, the existential crisis of a plurality of the British public voting to express their own ambivalence about international law and institutions.)

A more nuanced example may be found in the Chinese white paper released last week (11 January 2017) on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation. The paper reiterates China’s commitment to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, but also draws a distinction between large states and small ones. Major countries, the white paper notes, should treat the strategic intentions of others “in an objective and rational manner”; small and medium-sized countries, for their part, are enjoined to avoid “tak[ing] sides among big countries.” On the broader question of international law, the paper states that “[i]nternational and regional rules should be discussed, formulated and observed by all countries concerned, rather than being dictated by any particular country. Rules of individual countries should not automatically become ‘international rules,’ still less should individual countries be allowed to violate the lawful rights and interests of others under the pretext of ‘rule of law.’”

With regard to the South China Sea issue, China reaffirms in the white paper its commitment to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), but states that disputes over territories and maritime rights should be resolved through “respect[ing] historical facts and seek[ing] a peaceful solution through negotiation and consultation”. Interestingly, the document makes no reference to the infamous nine-dash line, though it does state that China has “indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha [Spratly] Islands and their adjacent waters”. Any effort to “internationalize and judicialize” the South China Sea issue, the paper goes on to say, will “only make it harder to resolve the issue, and endanger regional peace and stability.”

Such developments are, I think, broadly consistent with the argument put forward in my article. The rise of Asia in general and China in particular will see changes in the form and the content of international law — the white paper refers multiple times to a “new model of international relations” — but this will be an adaptation of existing norms and structures to a new reality rather than a rejection of those norms and structures. Evolution, then, rather than revolution.

* * *

Academic writing generally seeks to take the long view. If there is a virtue to a profession sometimes said to exist in an ivory tower, it is that one hopes to offer some perspective beyond what is in the current news cycle — a respite from the relentless presentism of the “new”. I can therefore take no credit for the fact that well after my piece for the current EJIL was completed — and even after this generous symposium had been prepared by Opinio Juris and EJIL:Talk! — there would be such a confluence of genuine news events that resonate with arguments put forward in the article. It is a sad coda that the symposium also follows soon after the passing of one of the truly great international lawyers from Asia — Christopher Weeramantry, a Sri Lankan scholar who served as Vice President of the International Court of Justice.

The full article is available here in draft form, the final version appearing later this month in EJIL. I am enormously grateful to the convenors of this symposium and the distinguished jurists who have agreed to participate. I look forward to their responses, from which I know I will learn much.

15 Years Later: A History of the Forever War and the Laws of War (Part 1 of 2)

by Boyd Van Dijk

[Boyd van Dijk is a doctoral candidate at the European University Institute and a GTA at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London. He holds degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Amsterdam and Columbia University. He is currently working on a new international history of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.]

Fifteen years ago, the longest war in American history began. Following the 9/11 attacks the United States Congress passed an Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF). Shortly after, the Bush Administration decided to question the relevance of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, a position recently re-endorsed by the Republican presidential candidate. Since then, consecutive US governments have used that AUMF to justify their effective continuation of the so-called “War on Terror.” Armed operations, from drone strikes to special operations, have taken place in areas across the globe, most recently in Syria and Iraq as to fight ISIS, a terrorist organization originating in a period long after 9/11. Some have, therefore, spoken of a ”forever war.”

In two provocative and historically-rich contributions for Dissent and Just Security, Harvard Law professor Samuel Moyn asked whether our preoccupation with making war more humane (“hygienic”) has perhaps led to this outcome of endless fighting. By contrast, constitutional lawyer David Cole has (rightfully) pointed out that most civil liberties activists have actually done both: they have criticized Washington’s track record of endless war and its violations of the laws of war. There is “little evidence,” he notes, which could show that their concerns about making wars less inhumane have led to a softening of their criticisms towards the US government’s continuing effort to wage war. Clearly, this debate has a certain resonance with the ongoing controversies surrounding the tension between retribution and peace – think of the ICC’s intervention in Sudan, or that of Human Rights Watch in Colombia most recently.

Strikingly, however, both experts seem to have a very selective – and problematic – understanding of the historically ambiguous, yet constantly changing relationship between the two fields of international law in wartime – jus in bello and jus ad bellum. In this post, adhering to Moyn’s call for a new history of this forever war and its relationship with those laws and principles regulating its conduct, I will shed light on this often misunderstood history by arguing that it is far more contradictory, if not paradoxical, and definitely less uniform than what is commonly assumed.

Lieber and Belligerent Equality

While referring to the genesis of the Red Cross movement in the 1860s and seeking to challenge particularly certain triumphalist accounts, Moyn defines the laws of war as essentially a tradition that seeks to make war more humane. However, to quote the Austrian-American jurist Joseph Kunz, this movement owed less to professors, statesmen, or humanitarians, than to soldiers, such as Francis Lieber. A war veteran, first, and a legal scholar at Columbia College, second, Lieber prepared the well-known and influential code governing the conduct of Union soldiers during the US Civil War. In contrast to those narratives built upon the founding fathers of the Red Cross seeking to alleviate the suffering of (certain) victims of war, Lieber, another early advocate of the laws of war in the nineteenth century, held the view that one could allow for forms of suffering to occur so as to end wars and injustice – slavery, for instance – quickly. In line with this maxim, President Lincoln, trying to increase pressure on the South’s slave regime, decided to halt the exchanges of prisoners of war with his enemy, causing a major inflation of the death toll in the war’s already overcrowded POW-camps.

It is important not to forget that Lieber’s idea, instrumentalizing the laws of war by making them dependent upon a just – or unjust – cause, combined with a comparatively strong if not distinct notion of military necessity, has been subsequently endorsed by many other jurists. In the 1940s, the Allied prosecutors at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials – as well as those in Nuremberg, were focused less on crimes in war than on war itself as crime (see this piece by Moyn). They argued that, since aggressive war was prohibited by the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, the death of any soldier by the invader was a murder, rather than a legal act of war. Similarly, a few years later, when discussing the revision of the Hague and Geneva Conventions, an Israeli delegate, a survivor of the Shoah, and a soldier too, noted that:

“Up to the last war combatants alone were involved in the event of conflict. That was no longer the case during the Second World War [when] a belligerent power [i.e. Nazi Germany] was manifestly bent on exterminating a whole people, massacring women and children in cold bold. What should a people do in such circumstances? Should it not rightly and dutifully seek to defend itself?”

Like many members of certain national liberation movements, later Communist states, or other Jewish survivors, including Raphael Lemkin, the godfather of the Genocide Convention, the Israeli delegate demanded lowering the law’s threshold for those acting against genocidal and/or racist rule. In doing so, he questioned the doctrine of so-called ‘belligerent equality’, which means that the laws of war apply equally to everyone regardless of the (in-)justice of his or her cause. If accepted, the denial of this principle might give, for instance, irregulars having a just cause (e.g. fighting occupation, or a war of national liberation) the right to target civilians with enemy ties indiscriminately, to take them hostage, or to use ‘human shields’ when fighting in an asymmetrical war.

Ironically, as a typical example of the Arendt-ian boomerang effect, this very same principle was re-addressed in the 1970s, when the Additional Protocols were being discussed, by certain delegates who criticized the Israeli occupation of Palestine – and wished to let go of this belligerent equality principle. Around the same period, the Communist North Vietnamese even argued, loosely based upon Lenin’s revolutionary ideas of just and unjust wars, that, as they considered themselves as victims of aggression by the United States, they were not bound to give POW rights to captured US personnel (‘war criminals’), a radical position they (unsuccessfully) defended at the Protocols’ negotiating table. Since then, a similar critique – though originating from a very different legal-intellectual starting point – has been raised by certain revisionist political theorists, such as Jeff McMahan and Cécile Fabre of All Souls College, who have questioned Michael Walzer’s embrace of belligerent equality and/or legitimate authority. Again, it shows the great diversity and constantly changing set of ideas underpinning the relationship between these two legal domains in wartime – jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

The Great War

Like the 1970s, the period up to the Great War witnessed a great deal of interest in the laws of war, a discipline then still highly Eurocentric, very strictly defined, or consciously left vague in light of certain dominant state interests (see the then ratified law’s silence on blockading).

During these years, the laws of war received extensive study by jurists and soldiers alike. Established by the “men of 1873” [http://www.cambridge.org/jo/academic/subjects/law/public-international-law/gentle-civilizer-nations-rise-and-fall-international-law-18701960] following an initiative supported by Lieber, the Institut de Droit International promoted the development of the laws of war. Numerous publications in various languages were published on this topic. Exemplary of this growing interest in the laws of war were the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907: the majority of their provisions do not affect the field of peacemaking – aggressive war was still considered lawful, but rather with the regulation of warmaking. As some would complain later, the “moral forces” of this era were “diverted” from the former to the latter – a Moyn-ian criticism avant la lettre.

With the outbreak of savagery on the “civilized” European continent in August 1914 (see my contribution https://muse.jhu.edu/article/627404), the tide slowly turned in favor of those critics. At the end of World War I, many (and especially jurists themselves) claimed that rules for warfare were useless because they will be broken; war can only be abolished, not regulated. Their attention then shifted to alternative plans in order to “end all wars,” such as collective security and “peace through justice,” culminating in the League of Nations’ Covenant and the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact (see here), even though neither of these instruments banned war, nor reprisals, altogether – an element which is often forgotten in anthologies describing their history.

By banning certain types of war, the study of the laws regulating the conduct of war lost its appeal almost entirely. Various law schools removed the subject from their curricula; the Institut de Droit International and l’Académie de droit international de La Haye banned it too, although only for a brief period of time. Neither did the legal specialists of the League of Nations put much interest in it, except with regard to regulating gas warfare – framed as part of the still far more popular project of disarmament – that was finally covered by the Geneva Protocol, signed in 1925. As a result of this lack of interest, contrasting with contemporaries’ growing appetite for the effort to taboo war itself by means of codifying law, the ICRC faced increasing criticisms as well as competition (e.g. from the American-dominated League of Red Cross Societies working exclusively in peacetime) in the interwar period. Or, as the Cambridge legal scholar Hersch Lauterpacht would later note, “if international law [was], in some ways, at the vanishing point of law, the law of war [was], perhaps even more conspicuously, at the vanishing point of international law.”

So what? Most importantly, it forced the ICRC, as well as its partners like the Belgian military physician Jules Voncken, of the International Committee of Military Medicine and Pharmacy, to pick its battles very carefully – with sometimes devastating results. For example, in the 1920s, it chose to first solve the allegedly “easier” question of regulating military imprisonment, which led to the acceptance of the POW Convention in 1929, as opposed to that of civilians in occupied territory, a matter which was for the first time seriously addressed only in the 1930s when the international system was breaking down rapidly.

What was the effect of this legal lacuna? Above all, it left civilians during the Second World War extremely vulnerable. In turn, this, a lack of comprehensive but strong codified protections for civilians, made it more challenging for Allied war crimes tribunals after 1945 to condemn those atrocities perpetrated against this group of victims. Particularly telling in this regard was the verdict of the (in-)famous Hostages Trial, held from 1947 to 1948. Its judges had to admit that the Nazis’ vicious counterinsurgency policies, featuring the taking of hostages, reprisal killings, and the summary executions of partisans, were mostly lawful considering the existing law’s permissiveness on these points – a warning from history especially for those wishing to prioritize one field over another. As important, the verdict revealed too how jurists’ perceptions of the idea of military necessity, or that of the boundaries between what is considered humane or savage, changed quite radically over time, both materially as well as in scope.

Monday, my second post will further reflect upon these and other questions, such as how the ICRC, as the guardian and promoter of the Geneva Conventions, struggled during the Cold War with questions of peace and injustice.

The NIAC Threshold

by Deborah Pearlstein

At least three things trouble me about Adil Haque’s recent post over at Just Security about how to determine when armed violence crosses the threshold from ordinary criminality or the like to non-international armed conflict (NIAC), such that the law of armed conflict applies. As Adil rightly notes, much rides on the question. On one hand, recognition of a NIAC imposes on all parties to the conflict an obligation to comply with, at a minimum, the humanitarian provisions of Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions (prohibiting torture, cruelty, and much else). On the other hand, under the law of armed conflict (LOAC), a state party can use force anytime and against any member of an opposing force. In armed conflict, and in no other circumstance, killing is lawful as a first resort. For this reason, among others, Adil’s suggestion that we should lower the threshold for recognizing the existence of a NIAC, i.e. apply the law of armed conflict even for nominal levels of violence involving non-state actors, merits careful attention. So here are some initial concerns… (more…)

Vacancy: Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights

by Kevin Jon Heller

The National University of Ireland Galway seeks to appoint a Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, within the School of Law.

The Irish Centre for Human Rights has developed a global reputation for excellence in the field of human rights teaching, research and advocacy, which has enabled it to attract high quality students to its acclaimed postgraduate and undergraduate programmes. Its success is reflected in the calibre and diversity of its doctoral and masters students in particular.

[snip]

In filling the Established Professorship in Human Rights Law, NUI Galway is seeking a person with an international reputation for academic excellence in Human Rights Law combined with strong leadership skills who will complement the existing strengths of the Centre and enable it to develop new areas of activity in line with its future strategic priorities. S/he will normally have a doctoral- level degree in Human Rights Law and a substantial record of teaching and research, the later evidenced by substantial publications in the broad field of human rights. The post-holder will also be the Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at a critical time in its development having enjoyed tremendous success, nationally and internationally, particularly since 2000.

[snip]

The post-holder, as the recognised leader of the sub-discipline of Human Rights in the School of Law, will contribute to the development of the education and research programmes of the School. The Established Professor of Human Rights Law, in his or her role as Director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights, will also contribute positively and proactively to the collective leadership of the School of Law. S/he will be expected to work with colleagues in the Irish Centre for Human Rights, the School of Law and other stakeholders to develop an ambitious Strategic Plan for the Centre reflecting the most relevant emphases of the University’s current strategic plan, Vision 2020.

[snip]

For informal enquiries, please contact Professor Donncha O’Connell, Head of the School of Law, NUI Galway, Email donncha [dot] oconnell [at] nuigalway [dot] ie or telephone: +353 (0)91 492388.

Additional information on the Irish Centre for Human Rights, NUI Galway is available at:http://www.nuigalway.ie/irish-centre-human-rights/.
Information on the University’s Strategic Plan is available at: www.nuigalway.ie/vision2020

Salary:
€106,515 to €136,275

(This appointment will be made on the Established Professor scale in line with current Government pay policy)

(For pre 1995 public sector entrants in Ireland, the D class Salary rates will apply)

Closing date for receipt of applications is 17:00 (Irish Time) on Thursday, 20th October 2016. It will not be possible to consider applications received after the closing date.

The Strategic Social Construction of Cybernorms

by Duncan Hollis

A few years back, I was lucky enough to be invited by research scientists at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab — especially the late Roger Hurwitz — to participate in a Minerva Grant project studying norms and governance in cyberspace.  In the interim, norms have become one of the hot topics in cybersecurity discussions in international fora. Together with Martha Finnemore, I began to think more about the processes by which norms work, including the ways they relate to international law.

I’m pleased to report that after a couple of years of research and thinking, Marty and I have the results of our work forthcoming in the American Journal of International Law:  Constructing Norms for Global Cybersecurity.  You can get a preview of the article on SSRN here.  And, for those looking to learn more about our piece, here is the abstract:

Cybersecurity now stands at the top of the U.S. security agenda. As sources of cyber insecurity have proliferated, States and other stakeholders have increasingly turned to norms as the regulatory tool of choice, hoping to shape the behavior of diverse actors in this space. Proponents of cybernorms have so far focused on what the new norms should say and on what behaviors they should require or prohibit. They have paid little attention to how new norms would actually work—how they could successfully be constructed and the processes by which they would create desired effects. In other words, they have paid a lot of attention to the “cyber” component of cybernorms but very little attention to the “norms” component and the issues of how normativity actually works in the world.

In this Article, we offer an inter-disciplinary analysis of the processes by which cybernorms might be constructed and some of the choices and trade-offs involved in doing so. We first situate the current discourse in the varying contexts surrounding cybersecurity. We define the norm concept and examine the diverse array of norms currently populating the landscape of cyberspace. We next draw on the rich body of work in social science about norm construction in other policy areas to understand how norms can be cultivated successfully and how they create effects, both intended and otherwise. Of course, if cyberspace is unique, lessons from other policy domains might not be applicable but we assess these arguments and find them unconvincing.

Our paper then unpacks some of the strategic choices facing norm promoters in their decisions on which norms are needed, who should conform to them, not to mention where and how they should do so. We do not prescribe a particular path for norm promoters, but rather emphasize the need to recognize and accommodate the consequences and trade-offs these choices involve. Our paper thus offers lessons for States, industry, civil society, and others interested in promoting norms in cyberspace. By situating our work in both international law and international relations, this paper also provides a case study of the strategic social construction of norms that offers both political scientists and international lawyers more information on how non-legal mechanisms could regulate global problems like cybersecurity.

Comments and thoughts on the article are most welcome as Marty and I are continuing to do more research and writing in this space.  Next up, is a project that assesses various ways to institutionalize a norm such as the duty to assist idea that I first called for a few years back.

 

New (And Better) Eligibility Rules for the Lieber Prize

by Kevin Jon Heller

Last year, I criticised ASIL for limiting its very prestigious Lieber Prize to academics under 35. I described that limit as “ageist,” noting that in today’s academic world there are many law professors over 35 who, because they joined academia late, should rightfully be considered junior scholars. So I am delighted to note that ASIL has changed the eligibility criteria for the 2017 Lieber Prize:

Anyone may apply for the article or book prize. For those in academia or research institutions, the prize is open to those who are up to 8 years post-PhD or JD or those with up to 8 years in academic teaching or research position. Membership in the American Society of International Law is not required. Multi-authored works may be submitted if all the authors are eligible to enter the competition. Submissions from outside the United States are welcomed.

This is a much better approach to eligibility. Kudos to ASIL for the change.

Trump Advocates World War III

by Kevin Jon Heller

I know pointing out stupid things Donald Trump says is a fool’s errand — pretty much everything Donald Trump says is stupid. (Note to non-hack conservative friends: I genuinely feel sorry for you.) But I’m struck by how little attention pundits have paid to this gem:

I think that once the nuclear alternative happens, it’s over. At the same time, we have to be prepared. I can’t take anything off the table.Because you look at some of these countries, you look at North Korea, we’re doing nothing there. China should solve that problem for us. China should go into North Korea. China is totally powerful as it relates to North Korea.

There are, shall we say, a couple of problems with this suggestion. First, Trump is openly advocating China invading North Korea without provocation. You don’t have to be a Kim Jong-un apologist to suggest that international law might look rather unkindly at that. Second, although China is no doubt “totally powerful” compared to North Korea, North Korea has something of an equalizer — nuclear weapons. (The topic Trump had been asked to discuss.) Does anyone doubt that Kim Jong-un would use them against China if, as Trump wants, China tried to wipe North Korea off the face of the earth?

PS: I’m being good and not pointing out that Trump was openly advocating genocide…

What’s the Right Comity Tool in Vitamin C?

by William S. Dodge

[William S. Dodge is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Law at the UC Davis School of Law, where he specializes in international law, international transactions, and international dispute resolution.]

American law has many doctrines based on international comity—doctrines that help mediate the relationship between the U.S. legal system and those of other nations. The Second Circuit’s decision last week in the Vitamin C Antitrust Litigation case correctly identified an international comity issue. But did it choose the right comity tool to address that issue?

Plaintiffs alleged that defendants, two Chinese companies, participated in a cartel to fix the price of vitamin C exported to the United States in violation of U.S. antitrust law. Defendants did not deny the allegations, but argued that Chinese law required them to coordinate export prices. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce backed the defendants in an amicus brief explaining Chinese law. The district court, however, declined to defer to the Ministry’s interpretation of Chinese law, awarding the plaintiffs $147 million in damages and permanently enjoining the defendants from further violations of U.S. antitrust laws.

On appeal, defendants argued that the district court should have dismissed on grounds of foreign state compulsion, international comity, act of state, and political question. While the political question doctrine rests on separation of powers, the other three grounds are all doctrines of prescriptive comity. As I have explained in a recent article, American law is full of international comity doctrines, each with its own specific requirements.

To avoid confusion, it is worth noting at the outset that although the Second Circuit repeatedly framed the question as whether the district court should “abstain from exercising jurisdiction,” Vitamin C was clearly not an international comity abstention case. International comity abstention is a doctrine of adjudicative comity, or deference to foreign courts. The Second Circuit has held that it is available only if parallel proceedings are pending in a foreign court. See Royal & Sun Alliance Ins. Co. of Canada v. Century Intern. Arms, Inc., 466 F.3d 88, 93-94 (2d Cir. 2006). The same is true in most other circuits that have adopted the doctrine (the cases are collected here at pp. 2112-14). The main exception is the Ninth Circuit, whose decision in Mujica v. Airscan Inc., 771 F.3d 580 (9th Cir. 2014), applied a broad and uncertain comity abstention doctrine that conflicts with its own precedents, those of other circuits, and even the Supreme Court’s. Because no parallel antitrust claims against these defendants were pending in Chinese courts, international comity abstention would not have been an appropriate ground on which to dismiss this case.

Instead, the Second Circuit properly viewed the Vitamin C case as raising questions of prescriptive comity—deference to foreign lawmakers—which U.S. law has developed a number of different doctrines to address (for discussion see here at pp. 2099-2105). The court relied particularly on an interest-balancing, comity doctrine commonly associated with Timberlane Lumber Co. v. Bank of America, 549 F.2d 597 (9th Cir. 1976), Mannington Mills, Inc. v. Congoleum Corp., 595 F.2d 1287 (3d Cir. 1979), and Section 403 of the Restatement (Third) of Foreign Relations Law. In the court’s view, this doctrine authorized it to “balance the interests in adjudicating antitrust violations alleged to have harmed those within our jurisdiction with the official acts and interests of a foreign sovereign in respect to economic regulation within its borders” (slip op. at 4). The idea that U.S. courts are institutionally capable of balancing the interests of foreign governments against our own has the subject of significant criticism over the past three decades.

Moreover, it is hard to see how this particular prescriptive comity doctrine survives the Supreme Court’s later decisions in Hartford Fire Insurance Co. v. California, 509 U.S. 764 (1993), and F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. v. Empagran, S.A., 542 U.S. 155 (2004), both of which declined to apply a multi-factor balancing approach in antitrust cases. The Second Circuit read Hartford “narrowly” (slip op. at 20) not to preclude such an approach, particularly when compliance with both U.S. and foreign law was impossible. But the Second Circuit did not even mention Empagran, which expressly rejected case-by-case balancing as “too complex to prove workable.” Empagran recognized that ambiguous statutes should be construed “to avoid unreasonable interference with the sovereign authority of other nations,” but it also said in no uncertain terms that “application of our antitrust laws to foreign anticompetitive conduct is nonetheless reasonable, and hence consistent with principles of prescriptive comity, insofar as they reflect a legislative effort to redress domestic antitrust injury that foreign anticompetitive conduct has caused.” Plaintiffs unquestionably alleged domestic antitrust injury in Vitamin C, making the application of U.S. law reasonable and consistent with prescriptive comity, at least has the Supreme Court has understood these concepts in the antitrust context.

The act of state doctrine is a separate and distinct manifestation of international comity, requiring that the acts of foreign sovereigns performed within their own territories be deemed valid. But the Supreme Court has made clear that the act of state doctrine applies only when a U.S. court must “declare invalid, and thus ineffective as ‘a rule of decision for the courts of this country,’ the official act of a foreign sovereign.” W.S. Kirkpatrick & Co. v. Environmental Tectonics Corp., International, 493 U.S. 400, 405 (1990). To find that the defendants fixed the price of vitamin C, the district court did not have to find any part of Chinese law invalid or even to evaluate the conduct of the Chinese government. It only had to find that Chinese law did not immunize the defendants’ own conduct from liability under U.S. law.

The best fitting tool to address the prescriptive comity issue in Vitamin C would seem to be the doctrine of foreign state compulsion (also known as foreign sovereign compulsion), which sometimes allows a U.S. court to excuse violations of U.S. law on the ground that the violations were compelled by foreign law. That is precisely what defendants had argued in this case. Although the exact contours of this doctrine are uncertain, the U.S. government has recognized it as a defense in antitrust cases. See Antitrust Enforcement Guidelines for International Operations ¶ 3.32 (1995). China represented that its law compelled the defendants to coordinate export prices for vitamin C, and the Second Circuit considered itself bound by China’s interpretation of its own laws (slip op. at 30), which seems reasonable at least in these circumstances.

Unfortunately for the defendants, there are at least two potential problems with foreign state compulsion in this case. First, it appears that defendants may have asked the Chinese government to mandate their price fixing. See slip op. at 36-37. At least some authority suggests that a defendant wishing to claim foreign state compulsion as a defense must try in good faith to obtain relief from the compulsion from the foreign state. See, e.g., Societe Internationale v. Rogers, 357 U.S. 197, 208-09, 213 (1958). Second, it appears that defendants may have fixed prices at levels higher than those mandated by the Chinese government. See slip op. 38. The Second Circuit found this irrelevant to its “comity” analysis but seemed to acknowledge that such facts would preclude a foreign compulsion defense. See id.

U.S. courts have many tools at their disposal to address international comity issues. But sometimes no tool fits. “International comity” is not a universal wrench offering unlimited judicial discretion to dismiss cases that seem problematic. It is a principle underlying specific doctrines, with specific requirements, developed over many years to keep judicial discretion within bounds.

Preparing for Trumpxit: Could a President Trump Withdraw the U.S. from International Treaties and Agreements?

by Julian Ku

As we face the first U.S. presidential debate tonight (on my home campus of Hofstra University!),  the possibility of a President Trump seems more and more real.  Although U.S. election analysts all make Hillary Clinton the favorite, most of them continue to give Trump a very realistic chance of winning on November 8.  I am not a Trump supporter, but I think it would be irresponsible not to think seriously about the legal policy consequences of his election to the presidency.  In particular, candidate Trump has promised or threatened to withdraw the U.S. from numerous international treaties and agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization, NATO, the U.S.- Japan Mutual Defense Treaty, the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the Iran Nuclear Deal (I am sure I am missing a few more).  Unlike our friends in Britain who weren’t really planning for Brexit, I think those of us here in the U.S. should start planning, before it happens, for “Trumpxit.”

As an initial matter, we should consider to what extent a President Trump could unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from international treaties and agreements.  I notice that most commentary, including this scary piece by Eric Posner in the NYT from this past spring, assume the President has this unilateral power. But I do not think this issue is not entirely settled as a matter of U.S. constitutional law.

In the 1979 decision Goldwater v. Carter, the U.S. Supreme Court dodged the question of whether a President could unilaterally terminate the U.S.-Republic of China (Taiwan) mutual defense treaty without consulting or getting the approval of the U.S. Senate by invoking the political question doctrine and (in a concurrence) the judicial ripeness doctrine.  No U.S. court has, as far as I am aware, reached the merits of this question.  I think scholars are somewhat divided, and historical practice is mixed.

President George W. Bush did set a precedent in favor of presidentialism, however, by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 without getting the approval of the Senate and President Carter did likewise in the 1979 Taiwan defense treaty.    It seems likely that the president does have unilateral authority to withdraw the U.S. from treaties which specify terms for withdrawal and which don’t require further alterations or changes to domestic U.S. law.

Defense Treaties/Military Alliances

This suggests that a President Trump could terminate NATO and the US-Japan Defense Treaty pursuant to those treaties’ withdrawal provisions.  Interestingly, the NATO Treaty Article 13 specifies that “Any Party” can terminate their membership with one year’s notice.  That notice must be sent to the U.S. Government. So I guess a President Trump could give himself a one year’s notice?

Because the issue has not been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court, another Goldwater v. Carter type lawsuit could be brought.  It seems less likely that such a case would be dismissed on political question grounds given recent Supreme Court jurisprudence, but I think the smart money would be on a President Trump prevailing on the merits on a challenge to a presidential NATO or US-Japan Defense Treaty termination.

Nonbinding/Sole Executive Agreements

On the other end of the spectrum, I think there is no legal problem with a President Trump  unilaterally withdrawing from the Paris Agreement or the  JCPOA (aka the Iran Nuclear Deal).  As I have argued in the past (here and here), both agreements are likely to be “nonbinding” political agreements, and can be terminated at the new President’s sole discretion.   This would be true, even if the agreements were treated as binding international agreements, since both agreements have withdrawal provisions.  Since the Senate or Congress never approved either agreement, there is no need to ask them for approval to terminate it either.

Trade Agreements 

The hardest question here has to do with trade agreements like NAFTA and the WTO.  Most commentary, including this paper by Gary Hufbauer, have assumed a President Trump could unilaterally terminate all trade agreements (see some dissenting views from Rob Howse here).  Unlike the Paris agreement or the JCPOA, these are unquestionably binding agreements that are approved by Congress.  But unlike a traditional arms control treaty like NATO, withdrawing from NAFTA or the WTO could require some meaningful changes to U.S. domestic law.  Moreover, unlike a traditional treaty, the President engages in trade agreement negotiations under the “trade promotion” authority enacted by Congress prior to the conclusion of any trade agreement.  In other words, the President could be understood to be negotiating pursuant to a delegated congressional power as opposed to under his inherent constitutional powers.

For instance, in the most recent version of the “fast track” enacted by Congress to allow President Obama to finalize the TPP, Section 103(b) states:

“[w]henever the President determines that one or more existing duties or other import restrictions of any foreign country or the United States are unduly burdening and restricting the foreign trade of the United States and that the purposes, policies, priorities, and objectives of this title will be promoted thereby, the President

(A) may enter into trade agreements with foreign countries before— (i) July 1, 2018…

(Emphasis added).  This language means that there is at least a colorable argument in favor of requiring a President Trump to seek congressional approval before withdrawing from a trade agreement like NAFTA or the WTO.  To be sure, both trade agreements have specific withdrawal provisions similar to those found in the NATO treaty. But the fact that the president is acting pursuant to his congressional authorized “trade promotion authority” suggests that Congress did not necessarily delegate the power of termination to the President alone.

Moreover, the implementing legislation for some trade agreements further suggests Congress has reserved some residual “termination” power.  In Section 125 of the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, for instance, Congress may terminate U.S. participation in the WTO with a joint resolution of both Houses.  This does not necessarily mean the U.S. is automatically out, but since the President can’t (under the terms of the law) join the WTO until Congress approves, presumably withdrawing that approval terminates U.S. participation.  It is all somewhat uncertain, but again, I think there is colorable argument that a President Trump could not unilaterally withdraw the U.S. from the WTO,  NAFTA and other trade agreements.

O O O

None of this may matter, of course, if we get a President Clinton instead.  But as the possibility of a President Trump gets closer to reality, we need to start thinking about the legal authority he would have to fulfill his campaign promises, and the limits (if any) on that authority,

 

Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law: From Confrontation to Accord

by Dan Joyner

[Dan Joyner is Professor of Law and Director of International Programs at the University of Alabama School of Law.]

In July 2015 a historic diplomatic accord was reached among Iran, the E.U., and the P5+1 states (the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China).  The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the accord was titled, consisted of 159 total pages of agreed text, addressing all of the issues that had been in dispute among the parties concerning Iran’s nuclear program for thirteen years –a dispute which had at times appeared likely to precipitate military conflict. I summarized the JCPOA in a blog post here at Opinio Juris at the time of its adoption.

My newly published book, Iran’s Nuclear Program and International Law: From Confrontation to Accord, provides an in-depth examination of the legal and diplomatic history that form the context for the JCPOA’s agreement, and sets out to describe and to answer the most important legal questions that were in dispute among the JCPOA’s parties.  The aim of the book is to clarify how the relevant sources of international law – including primarily the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and the law of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – should be properly interpreted and applied to these questions.

In this post I’ll give a very brief summary of the questions the book addresses, and of my analysis and conclusions concerning them.

The first question addressed in the book is whether Iran has at any time in the history of its pursuance of a nuclear program violated the terms of the NPT.  Iran is, of course, a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT, and is therefore prohibited from inter alia the manufacture or other acquisition of a nuclear explosive device.

It has been long argued by Iran’s detractors in the West, and in December 2015 it was confirmed in a report by the IAEA, that through the decade of the 1990’s and essentially ending in 2003, Iran did pursue a nuclear weapon research and development program separate from its civilian nuclear program.  However, in the words of the IAEA report: “these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.” In other words, Iran did develop some understanding and technical capabilities that it would need were it to decide to build a nuclear weapon, but it did not ever actually construct a nuclear explosive device.  On the basis of these facts concerning Iran’s weaponization research program, I conclude that Iran did not at any time manufacture or otherwise acquire a nuclear explosive device, and that therefore Iran did not violate the NPT.

The second question addressed is whether Iran was in violation of its IAEA safeguards treaty obligations in 2003, when international scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear program began following the revelation that Iran had clandestinely begun construction on two nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak.  After a review of Iran’s safeguards obligations pursuant to its bilateral safeguards treaty with the IAEA, as well as the subsidiary arrangements agreed between Iran and the IAEA in implementation of the treaty, I conclude that the vari­ous failures by Iran to declare the existence and location of nuclear materials prior to 2003, and Iran’s several failures to declare experiments con­ducted using those nuclear materials, did constitute a violation by Iran of its safeguards treaty obligations.

I further conclude, however, that this internationally wrongful act by Iran was remedied through effective reparation in cooperation with the IAEA between 2003 and 2008, culminating in IAEA Director General ElBaradei’s February 22, 2008, report to the IAEA Board of Governors, in which he assessed that all declared nuclear material in Iran was in peaceful use, and that all prior concerns the IAEA had registered involving nuclear materials and related facilities in Iran had been resolved through dia­logue with Iranian authorities.

The third question addressed is whether Iran was, as Western states led by the United States claimed, in continuing violation of its safeguards treaty obligations in the several years leading up to the conclusion of the JCPOA in July 2015.  And further, whether during this time period the IAEA employed correct legal standards in assessing Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations.

I conclude that, according to the correct legal standards, contained in Iran’s safeguards agreement, from 2008 to 2015 Iran was in fact in full compliance with its safeguards treaty obligations.  This is the case even though during this period the IAEA made numerous allegations and findings concerning the possible existence of undeclared nuclear materials within Iran.  To be clear, the IAEA did not find any undeclared nuclear materials in Iran during this time, it only asserted its inability to determine satisfactorily that such materials did not exist.

I argue that throughout this period, the IAEA applied incorrect legal standards of investigation and assessment to Iran’s case.  Standards that were derived from erroneous legal interpretations of Iran’s safeguards treaty obligations.  I argue that due to the application of these incorrect standards, the IAEA during this time reached erroneous conclusions regarding Iran’s compliance with its safeguards agreement, and improperly withheld its determination that Iran was in fact in compliance with its safeguards obligations.  The IAEA’s withholding of its determination of Iran’s compliance had a significant influence on the diplomatic and security crisis surrounding the issue during this period, as states and the U.N. Security Council relied upon the IAEA’s technical determinations of Iran’s compliance.  This third set of questions is addressed in Chapter 5 of the book, which is publicly accessible here on my SSRN page.

The fourth question addressed is whether and to what extent the decisions of the United Nations Security Council on the subject of Iran’s nuclear program should be understood to impact on the analysis of the previous three questions.  After reviewing the Security Council’s decisions on Iran from 2002 through July 2015, I conclude that those decisions neither added to Iran’s safeguards-related obligations, nor enhanced the legal authority of the IAEA to investigate and assess Iran’s compliance with its safeguards obligations.  In Resolutions 1696 and 1737, both adopted in 2006, the Security Council did command Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program.  Iran did not suspend its uranium enrichment program after the adoption of those decisions, and as such Iran can be at least prima facie considered to have been in noncompliance with those decisions of the Security Council, up until those resolutions of the Council were themselves terminated on JCPOA Implementation Day (January 16, 2016).  I do however argue that the legal validity of this specific command of the Security Council is doubtful.  I base this argument on the conflict between, on the one hand, the obligation of all U.N. member states pursuant to Article 25 of the U.N. Charter to “accept and carry out” the decisions of the Security Council, and on the other hand Iran’s “inalienable right” to peaceful nuclear energy as expressed in Article IV of the NPT.

The final chapter of the book provides a detailed explanation and consideration of the JCPOA itself. Essentially, Chapter 7 of the book (also publicly accessible here on my SSRN page) is a full chapter-length review and analysis of the legal implications of the JCPOA, on issues including Iran’s safeguards obligations, and the economic sanctions levied against Iran by the U.N. Security Council and by the U.S. and E.U. acting unilaterally.

The book thus follows the Iran case study through the period of confrontation between Iran and the West from 2002 through July 2015, setting this confrontation in its historical and diplomatic context, and examining key international legal questions that were raised during this period, and which played a significant role in the diplomatic crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.  It then explains the historic diplomatic accord which was painstakingly negotiated to resolve these various legal questions, and to bring the parties together on an agreed plan of action for building confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and for the lifting of economic sanctions on Iran.

The implementation of the JCPOA continues to the present to be controversial. Political forces within Iran opposed to the relatively moderate regime of President Rouhani are tapping into popular sentiment among Iranians, to the effect that the economic benefits of the nuclear deal have been too small and too slow in coming.  They argue that the West has not lived up to its commitments to meaningfully lift international economic sanctions on Iran.

In the U.S. as well, there are influential political forces arguing that the JCPOA gave Iran too much in the way of economic concessions, in return for relatively minor nonproliferation commitments that will mostly expire within ten years.  They are quick to jump on any perceived noncompliance by Iran with its technical commitments under the JCPOA – even though the IAEA itself has repeatedly determined that Iran has abided by its JCPOA commitments.

These domestic political movements, both in Iran and in the U.S., threaten to frustrate and ultimately to marginalize the JCPOA, and bring the world back to a state of active confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. With the U.S. presidential election in November of this year and Iranian presidential elections in May of 2017, the question of the future of the JCPOA and the diplomatic path to resolution of the Iran nuclear dispute remain very much in question.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 26, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

Re-Engaging on an ISIL AUMF

by Deborah Pearlstein

In the past few weeks, Jack Goldsmith and Matt Waxman on the one hand, and Marty Lederman on the other, have restarted a discussion about the significance of Congress’ ongoing failure to enact legislation expressly authorizing the United States’ expansive use of force against ISIL in Iraq, Syria, and now in Libya. In a piece for Time Magazine, Jack and Matt faulted the Obama Administration for failing to “return to the Congress and the American People and insist on a new authorization for this new war.” They argued that the Administration “took away every political incentive that the responsibility-shy Congress might have to debate and authorize the war” by advancing the dubious notion that the existing 2001 statute (the AUMF) (authorizing force against Al Qaeda and its associates) affords the President sufficient authority to attack ISIL as well. Responding at Just Security, Marty quite agrees (as do I) it would be better if Congress had enacted (or would enact) an ISIL-specific use of force. But Marty is skeptical there was much more President Obama could have done to secure congressional action, and also questions whether Congress’ failure to enact new authority really sets as worrisome a precedent for democratic governance or executive power as Jack and Matt think.

Jack and Matt are right to point out that Obama’s legal reliance on the 2001 AUMF to justify the use of force against in Iraq, Syria and Libya is more than a little suspect. (I’ve written previously about why I think so, e.g., here.) Marty is right to doubt whether blame for Congress’ failure to act on ISIL can fairly be placed, as Jack and Matt seem to suggest, at Obama’s doorstep. But there is plenty more to the story I think both pieces miss. (more…)