Stealth Multilateralism from Foreign Affairs

An important analysis about what happens when the U.S. (and other countries although you might consider them part of a rogue’s gallery) fail to ratify or accept treaty obligations. In the case of the U.S., the system that it helped create post-WWII rolls on, possibly without one of its architects. What is the impact?

The United States’ commitment problem has grown so entrenched that foreign governments no longer expect Washington’s ratification or its full participation in the institutions treaties create. The world is moving on; laws get made elsewhere, with limited (if any) American involvement. The United States still wields influence in the UN Security Council and in international financial and trade institutions, where it enjoys a formal veto or a privileged position. But when it comes to solving global problems beyond the old centers of diplomatic and economic power, the United States suffers the self-inflicted wound of diminishing relevance. Administrations operate under the shadow of Senate rejectionism, harboring low expectations that their work will be ratified.

via Stealth Multilateralism | Foreign Affairs (full article requires subscription)

Elsewhere, David Kaye writes that “treaty-making…is an expression of sovereignty, not a threat to it.”

6 thoughts on “Stealth Multilateralism from Foreign Affairs”

  1. This article does a great job explaining how the world views the United States and why. I have gotten the feeling over the past few years(especially since Iraq) that the majority of world governments aren’t too worried about the opinion or support of the United States. For the most part, the world is moving on without the U.S.. It almost feels like the U.S. realizes that it is becoming irrelevant and keeps trying to make noise to remind the world that it is still here.

  2. Giving (unelected) U.S. negotiators the power to make treaties abroad without the approval of the American people would be “an expression of [the] sovereignty” of the U.S. government, but a threat to the sovereignty of the American people. I’m reminded of that scene in Animal Farm with the sheep looking in as the pigs and the farmers decide on their future.

    So I don’t think that removing the requirement for approval from the Senate is wise. But perhaps the Senate (or the House) could be more directly involved in appointing a delegation and giving them the terms they’d be willing to accept (as I understand it, that’s now primarily the job of the State Department under the direction of the President).

  3. While an interesting read, the point this article is making is nothing new. The dichotomy between the desires of the executive and legislative branches has been present in American politics since the US’s founding and has, for years, put the United States in a position where if it desires to act, it must do so covertly. This was precisely the case surrounding the creation of the League of Nations, where President Wilson wrote the charter, yet due to the Senate’s desire to remain out, America was never a member, though it worked closely with many of its European allies, especially in the years leading up to World War II. As long as Congress attempts stand in the President’s way from entering into deals with foreign powers, we’re likely to see a continuation of Lend-Lease-style politics.

  4. There is no doubt that we are loosing diplomatic standing in the world. Unlike past decades, many nations do not involve or even consider the United States in their negotiations and agreements. I would pose the following question though: given the lack of agreement in the Federal Government, what is wrong with other nations stepping up and taking charge? I would never suggest that the United States exit the diplomatic stage – we are simply to influential and have too many international interests to do that – but I would argue that we cannot run the world diplomatic system alone.

    By taking a step back (whether by choice or by the inaction of the Senate), it allows other nations to take on challenges and responsibilities around the world. Why, for example, can’t Saudi Arabia take charge when it comes to a Syrian military strike? They are the predominant power on the Arabian Peninsula, and could definitely cary out a strike on Syria with international support and assistance. In a situation such as this, our own government’s inaction would force another country to face the what is happening in their own region, leaving us (at least partially) uninvolved.

    Would this be such a bad thing?

  5. It has been a year since the killing of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Lybia, and the FBI has still not been able to capture the people responsible. There are high criticisms of US involvement in Lybia, both from American citizens and foreign countries. Criticisms towards the Obama administration include putting in risk more American lives and seeking permission to arrest suspects in Lybia. Obama has stated that the killing of four people cannot go unpunished.

    I think that there is good reason for looking for the people responsible. It is the right thing to do on moral standards. Also, it is important to send a statement to the world that American lives will not go unpunished. However, it is important to consider that there are greater things at stake here with regard to US reputation. I will not go much into detail but looking for the people responsible will most likely mean an operation half the size of the one looking for Saddam Hussein or Ossama bin Laden, that is a lot of resources being spent on a few individuals. The US already has a world wide surveillance system, if these guys come out they will find them.

  6. I completely understand why the world does not view America as a global influence. We are not always willing to follow through with our word. The reason why it is very hard to get anything done in the international scene is as follows: Each government involved in the international scene has rules and limitations of its own that prevent it from being able to always follow through on its word. When a country signs a treaty, there is no immediate military threat that enforces that the country follows through on a treaty. Each nation is sovereign and decides for itself what it wants to institute as policy. America is not the only one who gets stuck in the fine points of their government. This is the nature of any institution (the United Nations) that contains groups (countries) with wide spread beliefs and even wider spread interests.

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