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Co-Conspirator Eric's Think Again Column ...

and a brief note on the UN General Assembly meeting, the G-20 meetings, Eric's state-rational-interests view of international law, and the effect of the US security guarantee on UN collective security calculations. Random thoughts, pretty much. (You can read a much more sanguine view of international law and the General Assembly opening by my Opinio Juris co-blogger Peggy McGuinness, here, and you probably should, for a more balanced take-away.)

Over at Foreign Policy magazine's blog, Eric (as he noted yesterday) has a brief, breezy column on differences, or not, between the Bush and Obama administrations on international law. Fun, quick read, whether one agrees or not; I tend to agree with the diagnosis (although I am not a realist in the same way or extent as Eric; not a realist, but also not a liberal internationalist). Events of the moment - the opening of the UN General Assembly, the UN confabs on things like climate change, the G-20 meetings, etc. - provide many opportunities to consider Eric's assessment of how international law works, or doesn't.

There are things on which I imagine the G-20 will finally manage to come to some reasonably wide agreement, and manage reasonably wide adherence - most important, capital adequacy standards for banks. That's different from saying that whatever the new standard is called (I bet it won't be 'Basle III') will turn out any better than Basle II, but I think this level of matters of shared standards will look much more like trading regimes than the track record of big political stuff, whether in climate change, security, or larger issues of the global economy.

Which is to say, in the Anderson view, the closer an issue gets to looking like political governance, the more likely that it will receive grand diplomatic rhetoric and the less likely that it will actually happen. The traditional international law professor view, if I can call it that, is that this is no more than the fact that greater political ambition requires greater diplomatic effort and will, which is part of what gives academic international law that peculiar sense of camp meeting revivalism. Eric's view would be that there's only a limited set of issues (trade and a few others) in which states are willing to give up much for real. My view differs from Eric's in that I see this unwillingness on the part of states as being much more a function of legitimacy, and its lack within global institutions and law for political ends as they grow more ambitious. There is an independent question as to whether, in any particular circumstance, agreement will be reached at all, or whether insincere promising and defection and free riding will simply be left to work their slow corrosion.

Time heals all things, as it were, including international commitments one didn't really intend, or intends with complete and utter sincerity now but not necessarily a nanosecond from now. So perhaps we need a new term, "serial sincerity" in relations among states, an essential element of which is "serial forgetting" of the thing to which one was last sincerely committed to.

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Dirnov (mail) (www):
Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.
Have a nice day
Dirnov
9.27.2009 6:46am

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