John Bellinger on International Law in Bush Second Term and Obama Administration

John Bellinger, former Legal Adviser to the State Department, has an interesting op ed in the New York Times (February 14, 2010), comparing ways in which the Obama administration’s international law positions largely continue the second Bush term positions.  As my Opinio Juris colleague Julian Ku observes, “The shape of U.S. foreign policy, and its policy toward international law, is not entirely the creature of the occupant of the Oval Office.”

I agree with John and Julian.  It is continuity, rather than change, and continuity driven fundamentally by long term American positions that turn out to be rather less susceptible to alteration than one might have thought.  The issues are far from simply the post 9-11 issues of terrorism and the war on terror, as John Bellinger notes:

In areas outside of terrorism, the Obama administration has demonstrated less commitment to international law and legal institutions than many Europeans expected. Although administration officials recently announced plans to attend the I.C.C. ten-year review conference in Uganda later this year, they have re-iterated concerns about potential I.C.C. prosecutions of U.S. soldiers and have said they will not seek Senate approval of the Rome Statute, which established the I.C.C. And in contrast to vigorous efforts by the Bush administration, the Obama administration has done nothing to implement binding decisions of the International Court of Justice that the U.S. must review the death sentences of nearly 50 Mexican nationals in U.S. state prisons.