Bolton Complaints

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Edward Luck, a Columbia U. professor, was complaining about John Bolton on PBS NewsHour tonight. He was clearly anti-Bolton -- questioning even whether Bolton would take orders from Bush and Rice, when that is the one thing everyone who knows him agrees that he will certainly do -- but the best part is when he criticized some of Bolton's views:

... he stood for some things in the past that are not at all helpful. For example, he has said that we have no legal obligation to pay our dues to the UN. I hope that's not administration policy. It doesn't seem to be administration policy. And I hope he refutes that. He has argued, in fact, that there is no such thing as international law, that it's not an obligation; it's simply a moral or political commitment one makes. And the UN is of course where most of international law is created so I think those things he has to reverse course substantively.
But both of those things are facts.

We do not have any legal obligation to pay our UN dues. The UN Charter says that we have dues, and if we don't pay them we may lose our vote in the General Assembly. It's sort of like saying I am required to pay for my driver's license renewal. No, I am not. If I want to continue to drive, I will have to pay it, of course. But there is no legal obligation to renew that license, nor for the U.S. to pay their UN dues.

And Bolton is also absolutely right about international law. As we know law, international law does not actually exist. Take the Geneva Convention: it is only binding because we agreed to it, and at any time, we can pull out of it. Or we could just interpret it differently, or ignore it altogether.

And what would force us to comply? Oh sure, you can use sanctions of various kinds, other political pressures, or even military force. But that's not how the law is enforced in a society of laws. In a society of laws, you would use legal channels to enforce those laws, or arrest those involved. Sanctions and pressures don't enforce, they merely encourage. And military force is not similar to an arrest in this regard: it is war.

That is not how law, as we normally understand it, works.

You may think we should pay our UN dues*, and you may like adherence to what we call "international law"**, but it is still a fact that we have no legal obligation to pay the dues, and that "international law" really doesn't exist.

It's amazing that Bolton is being criticized, and encouraged to change his views, on things that are factually true.

* I basically do, although I think the UN is also squeezing us for more than our fair share.

** I think, as the Supreme Court does, that legally ratified treaties are fully and legally binding. But that's the point: they are only legally binding on us because we choose for them to be. Other nations can choose for them to not be, and often do.

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