Friday, March 11, 2005

Why a Little Anti-Internationalism Can Be a Good Thing

President Bush’s withdrawal from the Vienna Convention’s Optional Protocol granting the ICJ jurisdiction has startled many supporters of greater internationalism, but in the long run, I do not think this withdrawal is likely to be more than a blip as a political matter. Bigger battles are afoot.

As I noted here, Congress will likely vote this year on whether or not to withdraw from the World Trade Organization. Although this vote is likely to fail, it may serve as a symbolic rallying point for the real target: the Dominican Republic - Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Leftish groups are already massing support for opposition, and, more significantly, there is evidence that major agricultural interests are going to oppose DR-CAFTA, despite energetic Bush Administration lobbying for their support, because they are already feeling pressured by WTO judgments threatening agricultural subsidies. This is likely to be a real fight and it will likely reveal an interesting divide between liberal internationalists who value all forms of international cooperation and liberals who only support those forms of international cooperation whose policy goals they support.

On the other side, conservative groups are aggressively preparing to block ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty. The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee unanimously approved this treaty last year but no date for a vote in the Senate has yet been set, even though Secretary of State Rice reiterated the Administration’s support for the treaty during her confirmation hearings. Opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty is, interestingly, largely ideological. No major industry groups oppose this treaty, even oil and mining companies who might be affected by the treaty’s regulations of deep seabeds. Rather, opposition has largely been driven by fears that ratification would result in the “loss of sovereignty” to the United Nations. Yet this opposition is very powerful and may yet prevent the treaty from coming up for a vote.

I’m predisposed to support both DR-CAFTA and the Law of the Sea Treaty (although I have greater concerns over the latter) because I am generally in favor of the policy benefits of joining both treaty systems. Still, I think this sort of frank and open political debate over the merits of particular international treaty systems is a very healthy and necessary.

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