The Rule of Law Revival

Courtesy Reuters


One cannot get through a foreign policy debate these days without someone proposing the rule of law as a solution to the world's troubles. How can U.S. policy on China cut through the conundrum of balancing human rights against economic interests? Promoting the rule of law, some observers argue, advances both principles and profits. What will it take for Russia to move beyond Wild West capitalism to more orderly market economics? Developing the rule of law, many insist, is the key. How can Mexico negotiate its treacherous economic, political, and social transitions? Inside and outside Mexico, many answer: establish once and for all the rule of law. Indeed, whether it's Bosnia, Rwanda, Haiti, or elsewhere, the cure is the rule of law, of course.

The concept is suddenly everywhere-a venerable part of Western political philosophy enjoying a new run as a rising imperative of the era of globalization. Unquestionably, it is important to life in peaceful, free, and prosperous societies. Yet its sudden elevation as a panacea for the ills of countries in transition from dictatorships or statist economies should make both patients and prescribers wary. The rule of law promises to move countries past the first, relatively easy phase of political and economic liberalization to a deeper level of reform. But that promise is proving difficult to fulfill. A multitude of countries in Asia, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East are engaged in a wide range of rule-of-law reform initiatives. Rewriting constitutions, laws, and regulations is the easy part. Far-reaching institutional reform, also necessary, is arduous and slow. Judges, lawyers, and bureaucrats must be retrained, and fixtures like court systems, police forces, and prisons must be restructured. Citizens must be brought into the process if conceptions of law and justice are to be truly transformed.

The primary obstacles to such reform are not technical or financial, but political and human. Rule-of-law reform will succeed only if it gets

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