Daniel Barstow Magraw and Sergei Vinogradov
The United States and the former Soviet Union have played critical roles in responding to the complex array of environmental threats confronting the Earth and humankind.1
These threats are defined by characteristics that complicate the already difficult task of working within the decentralized international legal system.
Ecosystems, wildlife, natural resources, and pollution -- which together form the core subject matter of environmental law -- do not respect national boundaries. (The same is true for culture, which one of the authors thinks should be included within the definition of "environment," but which probably does not fall within most definitions of that term and thus is not discussed in this chapter.2) Many environmental episodes (e.g., radioactive contamination from the disaster at the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl, acid deposition between Canada and the United States, and exploitation of fish resources in the Bering Sea) thus have an obviously international cast. Sometimes that cast has many players; for a problem such as depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other gases, it includes all of the countries in the world. Solving some international environmental problems, e.g., the protection of migratory species, requires participation by all relevant countries and thus involves a commonality of interest (although not necessarily of effort). The possibility of free riders (i.e., states that can benefit from other states' individual or collective preventive or remedial action without participating in those actions -- and thus without incurring costs) often exists, however; and this problem complicates reaching universal agreement.