Experts Outline International Law Priorities for President Obama's Second Term
New York, February 25, 2013—President Obama can strengthen America’s standing in the international community in his second term by modernizing human rights obligations, overcoming national resistance to foreign engagement, and building multilateral partnerships to maintain global influence, according to legal scholars who spoke at a recent Columbia Law School forum.
|Harold Hongju Koh
The panel featured Harold Hongju Koh, who joined Columbia Law School as a visiting scholar in residence last month after serving more than three years as legal adviser of the U.S. Department of State. He pointed to some of the overarching strategies that could help the Obama administration achieve these goals.
|Dr. Bart M.J. Szewczyk
Obama is “pulling back from isolationism” and engaging with foreign governments through diplomacy, Koh said.
|Professor Sarah H. Cleveland
The U.S. Senate failed to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities—modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act—in December. Koh expressed hope that the vote reflected resistance to ratifying the treaty during the lame duck session, rather than broader opposition. But with that precedent, Cleveland suggested there was little hope for other human rights treaties. She pointed to the “long suffering” Convention on the Law of the Sea, which outlines the maritime rights and responsibilities of nations in international waters, as another challenging treaty to ratify in the current domestic climate.
|Professor Michael W. Doyle
Some important international treaties and norms have little meaning unless the U.S. has the ability and willingness to project power, said Waxman, who has served in senior positions at the U.S. State Department, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council. He said he feared a diminished role of the U.S. in the world.
“The retraction of American power would be very dangerous,” Waxman said, emphasizing what he called the “power of power.”
|Professor Matthew C. Waxman
Koh agreed the role the U.S. plays on the world stage is “indispensable.” He told the story of a foreign diplomat he worked with at the State Department who described the difference between his country and the U.S. The foreign diplomat said “when there is a problem in the world, Americans ask ‘what will we do?’” The diplomat then said, referring to his country, “and we ask, ‘what will the Americans do?’”