"What happened?" the refreshingly unconventional senator from New York plaintively asks. "How did a subject-international law-once so central to our thinking about world affairs become surprisingly so peripheral?" In his erudite and lively retracing of the role of international law in American history, Moynihan sees American presidents as generally adhering to its principles and nurturing its development; Woodrow Wilson gets especially high marks. But the postwar rise of national security concerns, particularly as implemented in the 1980s, produced leaders who were either ignorant or contemptuous of international law. He cites Grenada, the mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Iran-contra affair, Panama and, most egregious, the 1985 withdrawal from the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. Moynihan makes an impressive and persuasive plea for reversing America's present drift away from long-established concern for international legal norms, which has occurred just as the Soviet Union is starting to take international law and organizations seriously.
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