The Nature of US Engagement with International Law

Making Sense of Apparent Inconsistencies

Authored by: Shirley V. Scott

Routledge Handbook of International Law

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415418768
eBook ISBN: 9780203884621
Adobe ISBN: 9781134113095


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The attitude of the US towards international law often appears full of contradictions, which critics tend to characterize as hypocrisy. This chapter seeks to move beyond criticism or defense of the nature of US engagement with international law in order to make better sense of the apparent inconsistencies. Three features of the US engagement are identified and explored: the US uses international law to disseminate its policy preferences; the US seeks to protect its own policy choices and legal system from external influence via international law; and, with some provisos, the US takes legal obligations seriously. Individually and in combination, these three factors can help account for many seemingly anomalous actions or inactions of the US as well as provide a basis on which to identify elements of change and continuity in the nature of the US engagement with international law.

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