Examining Slaughter and Burke-White reasoning on International Law’s new role in domestic governance

As part of my Masters in Law program at the University of Liverpool, I got a chance to read an interesting publication by Anne-Marie Slaughter and William Burke-White, The future of International Law is Domestic(or, The European Way of Law). I have to say this, It is always fascinating when the West claims to have the elixir to global problems. The self righteous, hegemonic, agitprops of international law and order as pervaded by Anne-Marie Slaughter and William Burke-Whitei , would be laughable if it were not so sad. A literary indication of how western solutions cannot be the Band-Aid of global conflict and disorder.

When Anne-Marie Slaughter and William Burke-White wrote The future of International Law is Domestic(or, The European Way of Law), in 2006, they probably did not imagine that a few years down the road, the very foundations of their argument which is the European Union system of law and its economic marriage, would be threatened by the Greek economic crisis as well as the Syrian refugee crisis that have put into question , and rightly so, the existence of the very laws by European nations that Anne-Marie and William so loudly evangelized.

Nonetheless, I found Slaughter and Burke-White’s reasoning amusing, a very entertaining read yet alarming as I further understood the scope of denigration of Westphalian Sovereignty on poor, developing nations. Certainly the drafters of the UN Charter of 1945 clearly stated, Article 2 principle 7 seven of the Charter of The United Nations,

“Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state …”

Let us examine a few arguments and solutions that are brought forth by the authors. Anne-Marie Slaughter and William Burke-White state early on in the article, that

“The challenges facing states and the international community alike demand very different responses from and thus new roles for the International legal system”.

They further argue that globalization and the emergence of what they call transnational threats have changed governance and the very purpose of International law. That in itself is a true statement.

Yes indeed the world has changed, but the only reason that the western nations have responded to the so called “transnational” threats, is because the war that has long been perpetuated by western nations on weak nations, has been brought to their door step. That is the only reason why International law is being pervaded and forced down the proverbial throats of African and Latin American nations who are bound by weak economies largely depended on western aid.
I digress, let’s examine the article further. Slaughter and Burke-White continue to state, “To offer an effective response to these new challenges, the international legal system must be able to influence the domestic policies of states and harness national institutions in pursuit of global objectives.”

Ladies and gentlemen, behold, the new era of imperialism is unveiled, cloaked in the cover of International law. While they have legitimate concerns regarding security, environmental issues, human rights issues and weapons proliferation, they bring about a paradox. Laws should be based upon the ideals of democratic domestic institutions. The rights of a people to choose the conditions on which they must live in. The laws in which domestic institutions should abide by should be created and framed within strong democratic systems chosen by a nation’s citizenry. What Slaughter and Burke-White suggest, is influencing the democratic wills of a nation to bow before global ideals-based on European law. What a travesty! What an immoral application of the law!

So the authors unleash the 3 rules of engagement to force the will of global powers on domestic institutions. Namely, strengthening domestic institutions (a paradox in itself given the very motivations of doing so), backstopping said domestic institutions and finally, compelling them to act.

What really brings me great concern is the sheer arrogance by Slaughter and Burke-White, the imperialistic attitudes that are conveyed in the following statement, “..We therefore move beyond description and prediction to prescription, suggesting ways that the European way of law should become the future of international law writ large.” To what end? Isn’t this way of thinking the reason the United States fought a war in Iraq that caused the unwarranted deaths of over 100,000 Iraqi citizens ? The thought that western nations can impose their way of life, the laws, in other sovereign nations?

I agree with slaughter and Burke-White’s statement that, “Rules can reflect and embody aspirations for a better world” But, Those rules need to be voluntarily and democratically assimilated by respective, independent nations and their respective citizenry. I found it quite interesting that slaughter and Burke-White labeled A. Q. Khan a dangerous nuclear proliferator running a criminal network. In their argument of branding Khan a criminal, they reference an article by the New York Times. Of course, they would take on a western perception and view of A. Q. Khan who in many circles around the world is seen as a hero who spared Pakistan the pain that the nations of Libya and Iraq face today and offered Pakistan salvation from nuclear blackmail from India.

On further examination, one would argue that Slaughter and Burke-White are flat wrong and their factually inaccurate portrayal of what they call weak or failing states. They quote Fukuyama’s racist , prejudiced view, that

“weak or failing states commit human rights abuses, provoke humanitarian disasters, drive massive waves of immigration, and attack their neighbors.”

The people of Iraq, Syria, and Libya are taking great comfort in those words given the humanitarian crisis that has destroyed their nations. The world is beginning to learn that postulating International law can have the opposite desired effects.

Finally, I find it a startling admission and immoral at best, that the International Monetary Fund (“IMF’) and the World Bank be used to coerce and influence weak, poor nations in an effort to influence domestic policy. This is exactly why China is now playing a big role in financing technological and infrastructural advances while ignoring legitimate human rights abuses. One can indeed argue that this method of coercion by International powers to influence international laws has failed. I have not even touched on the issue of ICC and how it has only largely targeted African Nations, that is a topic for another day. I would probably characterize Slaughter and Burke-White, as a duo of activist scholars and in the words of Onuma Yasuaki, “I take their words as an expression of their wish rather than their observation of the actual state… ” this time not of international relations, but of International law.

O Yasuaki, ‘International Law in and With International Politics: The Functions of International Law in International Society’ (2003) 14 EJIL 105

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