Friday, January 06, 2006

A Response to the "Exploring International Law" Blog

Over at the Georgetown University blog Exploring International Law is a post about my earlier post on US hegemony and human rights. The post disagrees with my argument, stating that "Unfortunately, I don't think US hegenomy-- at least in the ways in which is has been exercised recently-- has created 'space in which countries are left free to determine what works best.' Moreover, I don't believe that recent claims by U.S. officials about the definitions of torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment have advanced the expansion of human rights."

Let me respond: In which era were human rights advanced more: the bi-polar Cold War or the post-Cold War world of US hegemony? When states are concerned for their own safety and survival, concern for human rights slide down the agenda as traditional security issues dominate. This is not to argue that the US is the exemplar or paragon of human rights. So, even though the US is refusing to join the International Criminal Court, could the court even have existed during Cold War? Would the Kosovars have been protected from Serb aggression -- and even more to the point, would Milosevic be in the dock to answer for his crimes? -- if Russia was still a major player on the world stage? Only in a world of a relative level of international peace could these things occur. We are currently in such a stage and we have US hegemony to thank. In the current issue of Foreign Policy, Michael Mandelbaum argues this same point, writing:

The United States makes other positive contributions, albeit often unseen and even unknown, to the well-being of people around the world. In fact, America performs for the community of sovereign states many, though not all, of the tasks that national governments carry out within them.

U.S. military power helps to keep order in the world. The American military presence in Europe and East Asia, which now includes approximately 185,000 personnel, reassures the governments of these regions that their neighbors cannot threaten them, helping to allay suspicions, forestall arms races, and make the chances of armed conflict remote. U.S. forces in Europe, for instance, reassure Western Europeans that they do not have to increase their own troop strength to protect themselves against the possibility of a resurgent Russia, while at the same time reassuring Russia that its great adversary of the last century, Germany, will not adopt aggressive policies. Similarly, the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, which protects Japan, simultaneously reassures Japan’s neighbors that it will remain peaceful. This reassurance is vital yet invisible, and it is all but taken for granted.

It is functions such as these and others that "creates the space" needed for the world to focus on other non-military issues, such as human rights. Despite polemical claims to the contrary, a shift to a bi- or multi-polar would not advance the cause of global liberalism, but would likely herald a return of suspicion and arms races.

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