The Politics of International Law: U.S. Foreign Policy Reconsidered

The Politics of International Law: U.S. Foreign Policy Reconsidered

The Politics of International Law: U.S. Foreign Policy Reconsidered

The Politics of International Law: U.S. Foreign Policy Reconsidered


Intended for students in international relations, international law, and US foreign policy courses, this book demonstrates how international law really functions in foreign policymaking in Washington. David Forsythe views politics as the driving force behind legal interpretation. Examining a series of controversies in public policy during the Reagan Administration - the clash of Star Wars with the ABM treaty, use of the Contras against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, the invasion of Grenada, refugee policy in the Western Hemisphere, and the payment of dues to the United Nations - he inquires into the interplay of international law and US foreign policy, stressing the political factors that make for obedience to, or violation of international law.


This book is intended for introductory students of international relations, U.S. foreign policy, international law, and policy-making in Washington. I am not one to nitpick over academic boundaries.

Its origin lay in my difficulty in finding suitably political material to use in my international law classes, and suitably legal material for my classes in international relations and U.S. foreign policy. Most of the published material on international law was written by law professors and lacks a realistic sense of the political struggle involved in applying international law to public policy. This legalistic material lacks especially a sense of the conflict between the Executive and Congress that so pervaded Washington politics in the 1980s (and even before, say from the early 1970s).

The present book tries to capture and represent international law, warts and all, as it really functions in the policy-making process in Washington. Rather than presenting that law as interpreted by the International Court of Justice or by a distinguished legal scholar, I present it as interpreted by policy-making institutions, then compare that interpretation—and especially the political factors behind it—with a more cosmopolitan view of international law oriented to a stable and equitable world order.

The question may be raised as to why I limit myself in this book to the Reagan era. First, to students, going back more than a decade seems like ancient history. While there is much to be learned from a longer historical perspective, there are sufficient lessons to be learned just by concentrating on the more recent past. I believe that one should not attempt too much in a short book designed for teaching purposes.

Second, that more recent past feeds directly into the present. For example, decisions in the Reagan era about U.S. financial assessments to the United Nations affect the Bush administration. President Bush inherited the controversy over U.S. assessments; and when Bush continued to threaten unilateral withholding of those U.S. payments, in order to block U.N. de facto recognition of Palestine as a state, he resurrected all the old arguments that had been brought into play both for and against . . .

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