It Isn't Easy Being Green: Environmental Policy Implications for Foreign Policy, International Law, and Sovereignty

By Anderson, Terry L.; Grewell, J. Bishop | Chicago Journal of International Law, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview
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It Isn't Easy Being Green: Environmental Policy Implications for Foreign Policy, International Law, and Sovereignty

Anderson, Terry L., Grewell, J. Bishop, Chicago Journal of International Law

The world is shrinking. Increased interactions between nations, especially in the areas of trade and commerce, have led to an interwoven global community. At the same time, some actors on the world stage have confused this increased globalization as necessitating increased international government action. This is prevalent in environmental policy. Before 1970, only thirty-seven environmental treaties were in force. After 1970, an additional 104 were created.1

Environmental concerns have not only moved onto the radar screen in the international policy sphere, they have become a dominant force. This became evident in 1999 when a group of environmental protestors joined with union activists and selfproclaimed anarchists to disrupt the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization ("WTO"), an international body that promotes free trade by settling trade disputes between countries.

The protestors objected to decisions by the WTO and its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade ("GATT"), that treated environmental regulations as trade barriers. Under GATT and the WTO, governments are not allowed to ban imports based on their means of production and processing. So, for example, GATT panels ruled that US regulations barring imports of tuna not caught in a dolphin-safe manner were protectionist. After the initial ruling in 1991, environmentalists circulated posters in Paris, Tokyo, and Washington showing the monster "Gattzilla" smashing the US capitol, spilling DDT from one hand, and squeezing a dolphin to death with the other.2

The rioting in Seattle and the 2001 protests in Quebec City by members of the environmental community were attempts to shape international debate and to bend the rules of international law to their liking. The changes they have brought about-- and continue to promote-are the subject of this paper.

These efforts have serious impacts. First, there is less trade, which raises international tension. Second, economic growth suffers as a result and, in turn, weakens the ability to protect and restore long-term environmental health. Third, nations' sovereignty and the accountability it provides are compromised. Finally, regulations become more centralized, creating a nightmare of monitoring and enforcement problems when applied to diverse regions and peoples.

Fortunately, there is an option to this "greening" of foreign policy, an option called free market environmentalism.3 Those adopting this approach to environmental issues recognize that the best way to improve the international environment is to act out the adage, "think globally, act locally." Because different parts of the world require different solutions to environmental problems, decentralized policies that acknowledge national sovereignty are preferable to multinational "one size doesn't fit anyone" solutions. Under free market environmentalism, only problems that cross the borders of countries become international issues.

This paper examines how foreign policy involving trade, defense, diplomacy, and international law is being "greened" at home and abroad as environmental groups pressure government agencies to give environmental concerns greater weight. It argues that these changes represent a fundamental shift in US foreign policy and international relations. It identifies problems that arise from these revisions and explains how free market environmentalism offers a sound alternative that will lead to better environmental protection through freer trade, increased wealth, and decentralization.


Between 1984 and 1994, Department of Defense ("DOD") spending on environmental programs such as the conservation of resources on military bases and environmental research jumped from $250 million to $5 billion. That twenty-fold increase accounted for nearly two percent of the department's annual budget.5 While the DOD should pay for environmental harm that it causes, that is not the primary place it is spending these funds.

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It Isn't Easy Being Green: Environmental Policy Implications for Foreign Policy, International Law, and Sovereignty


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