Courtesy Reuters

The Case for International Law

A Response to "The War of Law"

In “The War of Law” (July/August 2013), Jon Kyl, Douglas Feith, and John Fonte purport to explain the state of international law and how it “undermines democratic sovereignty.” Their portrayal, however, hardly rises above caricature. Their legal prescriptions ignore constitutional history and, if followed, would drastically weaken U.S. foreign policy. The authors may not like the contemporary practice of international law, but their own ideas are painfully antiquated, better suited to an insular nineteenth-century nation than the great power the United States has become.

The authors mount a wide-ranging attack on enemies of their own imagining: dangerous “transnationalists” (including one of us) who are out to undermine “basic American principles” by promoting U.S. compliance with international law. Such compliance, they argue, comes at the expense of the constitutional system, democratic accountability, and U.S. sovereignty. But their hodgepodge of examples proves nothing of the kind.


First of all, what “basic American principles” are being violated by the United States’ adherence to international law? After all, the very first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence calls for “a decent respect to the opinions of man­kind.” The founders plainly understood that the nation could not flourish, or even survive, without giving due respect to the laws that governed peaceable relations among sovereign states.

Nor is it clear what constitutional values Kyl, Feith, and Fonte think are threatened by adherence to international law. The founders rejected the right of other countries to hijack the United States’

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