In This Review

United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law
United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law
By Michael Byers and Georg Nolte
Cambridge University Press, 2003, 550 pp.

Throughout history, dominant states have reshaped international law. This book brings together legal and political scholars who assess how, if at all, the current predominance of the United States is leading to deep shifts in the international legal system. Their answer: U.S. power, coupled with the Bush administration's tendency to resist new rules and institutions, has set off struggles that are reshaping basic aspects of international law. Chapters explore the complexities of hegemonic power and law in a variety of areas, including the rules governing the use of force, sovereign equality, and treaties and compliance. Although the United States can indeed use its commanding position to ignore or manipulate international law, most of the authors argue that legal norms are more likely to survive and adapt than to erode or disappear. After all, international law is itself a creature of state power; all legal orders entail long-term accommodations to power and interests. In the aftermath of September 11, one author contends, the United States has challenged the accepted definition of self-defense but has also pushed for multilateral cooperation against terrorism.

Several of the authors even argue that although American power is unprecedented, the "international community" has the upper hand in shaping and protecting the law-based character of international relations. So today's hegemonic rule-breaking may still lead to rule-making. But, as is so often the case, it is still too early to tell.