August 15, 2002
Treaties—the flip side

Jane Galt started a thread on her blog about international law. That started me thinking (a bad habit of mine) about international law, and more specifically, treaties.

Much of the current animosity towards the US that is emanating from Europe is our reluctance to join in on a number of international treaties, such as the Kyoto global-warming protocol, the International Criminal Court, and a number of UN-sponsored protocols such as the Fundamental Declaration of Human Rights.

The first objection to many of the treaties the US will not be a party to is the fact that many of them are punitive towards well-off nations. Kyoto, for example, would severely impact our economy, due to the draconian restrictions on pollution. What is not always pointed out, however, is Article 4 of the protocol. This article is entitled "Commitments". Read paragraph three very carefully. This commits any developed country (The European Union countries, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, and Japan, as per Annex II of the protocol) to support the transfer of pollution-mitigation technology to the developing countries. This could be either direct transfer or by providing sufficient funds to purchase the technology (as per Article 11, Financial Mechanism, first paragraph). This is in addition to the debilitation of our economy, and either contravenes our patent laws or amounts to a direct subsidy to nations who are not covered under Annex II.

A second objection (this primarily to the ICC) is that treaties conflict with our constitution. The Senate cannot legally ratify the ICC because it contravenes our constitutional guarantees under the fifth and sixth amendments to the constitution. The European nations have much weaker personal guarantees than the US (although in practice there is little difference), so ratification was not an issue for them.

A third objection is the loss of sovereignty these agreements entail. Unlike a simple bilateral treaty, or a treaty such as the North Atlantic Treaty (the foundation of NATO), some of these treaties require nations to sacrifice jurisdiction to boards that answer to no-one; they are essentially inherently undemocratic, and more importantly, they would allow nations whose interests are counter to ours to dictate the affairs of our government.

Treaties (especially defense treaties) can be tricky things. World War I was the result of a treaty system run amok. When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary used the assassination as a pretext to attack Serbia, something that they had wished to do for some time. Russia, Serbia’s longtime ally and benefactor, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Germany had a defense treaty with the Austro-Hungarians, and was required to declare war on Russia, which resulted in French involvement in the war (due to their treaty with Russia). England watched as the continent was engulfed in war, but stayed out until Germany attacked France by way of Belgium. England had a defense treaty with the Belgians, and consequently was pulled into the war as well. Within a few years, Romania, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire were involved as well (the first three with the Grand Alliance, the latter two with the Central Powers). Had the treaties not been in place, it is likely that the only nations that would have been warring would have been Austria-Hungary and Russia. Imagine how different Europe would be today if not for the treaties.

posted on August 15, 2002 07:51 PM


If not for the treaties in Yurp, the US wouldn't be a superpower

posted by bill hedrick on August 16, 2002 08:18 AM

I'm not sure that I agree. At the end of World War II, there was only one major power that was not physically and economically devastated—the United States. It took the assistance of the US to get the rest of the world back on their feet.

If we had let the USSR overrun Europe, we might be looking at a different situation, but I don't think we would have let something like that happen. The alliance between the West and the USSR was a marriage of convenience, and by 1948 it was obvious that we were no longer on the same side.

posted by Timekeeper on August 17, 2002 06:27 PM

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