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Research Report

Law & the Lone Superpower:: Rebuilding a Transatlantic Consensus on International Law

William H. Taft
Frances G. Burwell
Copyright Date: Apr. 1, 2007
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. v-v)
    Fred Kempe

    Today, the United States and its European allies find themselves divided over several international legal issues. While European governments have championed many treaties, including the Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines and the Kyoto accord on climate change, the United States has remained a skeptic, questioning the effectiveness of these treaties and the restrictions they might place on U.S. sovereignty. These differences predate the recent U.S.-European tensions over Iraq, and they persist despite the improvement in transatlantic relations overall. Discord over the rendition of suspected terrorists and the prison at Guantanamo has been especially sharp and public, but discord over other...

  2. (pp. 1-3)

    Throughout 2006, allegations of U.S. involvement in “renditions” of suspected terrorists from Europe to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere reverberated around European capitals. Charges that the United States had established secret prisons in some European countries raised the temperature even further. The European Parliament and the Council of Europe initiated investigations, while some European leaders called for the United States to close its detention facility in Guantanamo, describing the facility as contrary to international law.

    The controversy over Guantanamo and U.S. treatment of “enemy combatants” is only the latest example of transatlantic differences over international legal matters. In recent years,...

  3. (pp. 3-4)

    Since at least the end of World War II, the United States and Europe have been strong partners and advocates — in word and usually in deed — in support of international institutions and the rule of law in relations between states. Yet, in recent years, the United States and European governments have found themselves at odds over a range of international legal issues. While the European Union has taken the role of enthusiastic promoter of the ICC, for instance, the United States has refused to join and sought immunity for its citizens from potential Court action. The refusal of...

  4. (pp. 5-7)

    The transatlantic legal community shares many basic assumptions about the purpose of law. There is widespread agreement that law between states is intended, first, to reduce transaction costs by providing predictability and common language. On a range of topics, from trade to exchange of diplomats, sovereign states have found it to their benefit to have a set of common understandings, so that each new agreement does not have to be negotiated from first principles. Second, international law is intended to improve the security of states; that is, states agree to certain limitations on their behavior because having all states agree...

  5. (pp. 7-11)

    The birth and initial development of the ICC has been the occasion for vocal U.S.-European disagreements. Following negotiations sponsored by the United Nations, 120 countries voted to approve the Statute of Rome at a 1998 conference, but seven — including the United States — rejected the statute. The Court became effective in 2002, after ratification of the Rome Statute by sixty countries. Although the Clinton administration had serious reservations about the ICC, and especially about the lack of effective oversight by the UN Security Council, it eventually did sign the Statute, primarily in hopes of having some role in shaping...

  6. (pp. 11-13)

    If the ICC demonstrates the continuing differences between the United States and Europe on legal issues, the experience of the United Nations shows that cooperation is possible, despite significant divergences. It also shows a way forward, extending the reach of international law on specific issues and boosting the credibility of the organization in the process.

    During 2005-2006, the United Nations embarked on a major period of re-examination and reform. Initially, there were fears that this process would lead to unbridgeable gaps not only between the developing countries and the permanent members of the Security Council, but also between the United...

  7. (pp. 13-15)

    What can be learned about the prospects for transatlantic cooperation — or the lack of it — in the international legal arena by the experiences of the ICC and the UN? The ICC demonstrates the significant differences emerging in the U.S. and European approaches to the future of the international legal system and the resulting failure to agree on new legal institutions. Yet, the UN experience indicates that these two approaches can be reconciled at least to the point where cooperation can exist on specific issues. How far can that cooperation grow? Will it spill over from one specific issue...