For decades, the United States was considered a leader in international law and human rights, and the American public largely supported their government’s efforts in developing and abiding by international law.
While America’s commitment to international law and human rights has never been beyond reproach, many Americans’ view of international law has recently soured. According to the Centre for Research on Globalization:
“Americans are increasingly embracing policies that undermine the international rule of law, with self-identified liberals, in particular, seemingly reversing their positions on matters such as the Guantanamo prison camp, extrajudicial assassinations and arbitrary detention.” (link)
This shift in perspective is likely caused, at least in part, by the rise of international terrorism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ practices of long-term detention, use of military tribunals, and targeted assassinations.
Americans’ decreasing support appears to be motivated by fear. American resistance to international principles stem from a belief that such laws weaken the country’s defense and leave it vulnerable. Much of this fear is related to many Americans’ negative view of Middle Eastern culture and their fear of Islamic-based Sharia law. In many respects, Sharia law is oppressive, violent, and a barrier to free society.
While this fear is not wholly unreasonable, it is crucial that America does not retreat too far. Americans must remember the benefits of international law.
International principles create a framework for nations to negotiate and adjudicate disputes, create economic opportunities, and hold oppressive and abusive political and military leaders accountable. Unfortunately, this framework becomes more tenuous when dealing with international groups acting independent of a nation state; however, even when one nation or group violates or threatens international standards, America must hold itself and it’s peers to the standards of international law.
Of course, nothing is ever this black and white, especially in the international arena, but America has a legal and moral obligation to support well-founded rules of international law.