Tuesday, January 03, 2006

International Law and Foreign Relations: The Year in Review

Blogging can be an ephemeral activity: reacting to the issue of the day, every day. We move so quickly from topic to topic, that it is easy to lose track of all the issues that (at one time) we thought were so important.

So here, in no particular order, is our take on the 25 (!) big stories in international law and foreign relations from the past year. This survey is idiosyncratic, not scientific. I wrote the first draft of the list based on our posts and then asked my co-bloggers to weigh in. The result is the following list.

I have included links to some (but not all) of our posts on each topic. I tried to link to the posts that represented our various views (if there were various views expressed) or that reflected how the issue evolved. I also did not include links to interesting discussions that were not about any single current event in particular. For example, we have had long ongoing debates on topics such as the function and role of the ICJ or the relation of law to hegemony, but those were more general discussions rather than posts about this year's events so they are not included.

Regardless, reviewing the posts from the past year, I am struck by the breadth of issues that arose. And also how quickly some of them were pushed aside by the Next Big Issue. The velocity of news is always accelerating. It will undoubtedly continue to do so in the next year.

Peggy, Julian, and Roger will likely post follow-ups on related topics that we discussed: which of these topics are especially important, what did we miss, what will be coming next? We also invite and encourage our readers to comment on this list and answer any of these (or other…) questions.

Happy New Year.

The Top Twenty Five Stories (in No Particular Order)

1. Katrina, Rita, and Posse Comitatus. Katrina and the other natural disasters of 2005 –along with the specter of catastrophic terrorism—led to a debate on posse comitatus.

2. The Tsunami and Worldwide Response. The tsunami and effort at a coordinated response to the humanitarian crisis it caused also had international legal implications which we considered here and here.

3. Iraq. Of course the War in Iraq was a major topic of discussion. While we debated some issues concerning the start of the war, we also focused on the international legal aspects related to the new Iraqi constitution and the transfer of power. See, for example, here and here.

4. The Hussein Trial. Whether the Saddam Hussein trial is the mother of all trials remains to be decided by history (though this first draft on history says "no"). For now, you can see this post with links to information about the Iraqi Special Tribunal, this post on the filing of charges and this one on Saddam’s courtroom antics.

5. Judge Green’s Guantanamo Decision. The continued detention of foreigners in Guantanamo Bay was another topic throughout the year. Here are two posts (one and two) on Judge Green’s decision.

6. Hamdan and Military Commissions. The detainee issue was also crucial in the DC Circuit’s opinion upholding the Constitutionality of military commissions. Julian noted how this opinion may be seen as a victory for the administration. Peggy looked at the implications for the application of the Geneva Conventions to al Qaeda detainees.

7. The Padilla Saga Continues. The story of particular detainee, albeit an American one--Jose Padilla, had numerous twists and turns this year, culminating in his indictment. See also this post.

8. The London Bombings. The latest al Qaeda attack didn’t so much bring new legal issues to the fore as it gave us reason to revisit an ongoing question: are such terrorist bombings and other attacks best understood as a crime spree or part of a war?

9. Ongoing Torture Revelations and Transatlantic Relations. There were too many posts on torture, the “torture memos,” and Administration policies to have links to all of them here. Instead, we focus on one aspect that became increasingly important as the year went on: the effects of the continuing revelations concerning Administration policy on our foreign—and particularly Transatlantic—relations. Here's where the EU weighs in, then two posts (one and two) on the U.S. response, and one post following up on the Europeans.

10. Foreign Decisions and Domestic Courts. Besides topics relating to Iraq and the War on Terror, the seemingly dry issue of citation to foreign law by U.S. courts was actually a hot topic from the start of the year. See this flurry of posts: one, two, three. Then this one: one, two, three, four. And this recent post. For those interested, there are many other posts on this topic throughout the year.

11. The Supreme Court Nominations. Speaking of international law and the U.S. courts, a year with a new nomination is worthy of note, a year with two is worthy of its own heading. We spent a significant amount of time dissecting what each nominee might mean for international law. Our discussion of (the then-soon-to-be) Chief Justice Roberts includes these five posts: one, two three, four, five. We then moved on to Judge Alito, ranging from a reading of his senior thesis on the Italian Constitutional Court, to his rulings on asylum cases (one, two, three, four) to other topics (one, two, three)

12. The French “Non” to the EU Constitution. Whither the EU? After the French (and others) say “non” to the Constitution, the story moved on to recriminations in Brussels, and concerns in Central Europe.

13. UN Reform. One of the first topics we considered and probably one that we will keep talking about until the final days of this blog. Here is one post I wrote, a critique from Julian, and then my reply.

14. The Volcker Commission Report. Speaking of UN reform, the Oil-for-Food Scandal and its investigation was one topic that highlighted the need for better accountability at the UN. It also gave us a chance to think about positive steps that can be taken.

15. The Sudan and the ICC. The situation is Darfur first had us discussing whether the issue should be referred to the ICC, then whether the ICC could be effective, and finally looking at what the Security Council actually did or didn’t do. See this post regarding the Security Council referral and for links to our previous posts. See also this post. Not as many are talking about Darfur today, but people are still dying.

16. The Hariri Report and Syria. The UN steps up and investigates the assassination of a former Lebanese Prime Minister and fingers Syria. Or the UN is wishy-washy and succumbs to political pressure. As usual, we find lots to debate about on this topic. See one, two, and three. See also this follow-up.

17. Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change Enters into Force. Is Kyoto good or bad? You decide. Either way, it is now in force.

18. Israel and the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on the Security Barrier. The ICJ issued a controversial advisory opinion on the security barrier erected by Israel. Julian comments on and then debates the issue here.

19. Medellin/ Withdrawal from Optional Protocol of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The latest case in the “Consular Relation” cases brought a host of Constitutional and International issues. After being granted cert, the President issues a memorandum simultaneously seeking compliance with previous ICJ rulings on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and withdrawing from the ICJ’s jurisdiction to hear further cases. And then the Supremes decided that cert was improvidently granted and sent the case back down to Texas. This will likely be on next year’s “Year in Review” list as well. See one, two, three.

20. The Bolton Debate. John Bolton: Good, Bad, or Irrelevant? Two examples of our debates on his controversial nomination and appointment as U.S. Ambassador to the UN. One, Two.

21. ICRC Study of Customary International Humanitarian Law. In a move that was of significance both to the doctrinal area of the law of armed conflict and the jurisprudential topic of the nature and role of customary international law, the International Committee of the Red Cross issues a massive (5,000) page study on the customary international humanitarian law. No, we didn’t read it all. But we know someone who did (see also here and here).

22. Universal Jurisdiction Redux. As the Pinochet proceedings continue their newest iterations in Chile, universal jurisdiction resurfaced as a topic with the latest Spanish proceedings against two Argentines for their involvement in the “Dirty War” of the 1970’s. While this wasn’t a front burner issue this year, it may prove to be a perennial topic as new indictments and the resultant political debates lurch on year to year. See posts one and two.

23. North Korean Nukes. Well, no WMD’s in Iraq this year, either. But what about North Korea...

24. Iranian Nukes. ...or Iran? I wrote this post a while back and there is this recent group concerning Israel and Iran: one, two, three, four.

25. NAFTA and The Lumber Cases. And, while we’re talking about nuclear options, there’s the “nuclear option” in trade disputes: trade war. While we didn’t quite get to that point with Canada over the Softwood Lumber case, it did provide the trade law equivalent of high drama. See the series of posts beginning here and here, and then looking at the endgame here and here.


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