August 3, 2012

August 3, 2012 | Commentary on

Treaties Gone Wild

“A shared concept of justice,” wrote Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy, is “a prerequisite for international order.” Eighteenth century statesmen understood that. After a decade and a half of constant wars against Napoleon, they crafted the Congress of Vienna.

The great powers went 40 years without warring on one another. The “Congress System” hung on for another 20 years before collapsing into World War I. The Concert of Europe endured not only because a “balance of power” limited the opportunities for conflict, but because the domestic populations accepted the arrangement as fair. Power and justice balanced.

After the Great War, President Woodrow Wilson tried to impose his sense of justice on the world. He offered the League of Nations as a substitute for the balance of power. It worked no better than the “Congress System” had. It wasn’t even a speed bump to Hitler.

Today, progressives demonize and dismiss the self-serving, power brokers of Vienna, while they idolize and imitate Wilson. Big mistake -- and a big problem.

Instead of just using treaties to end wars or broker trade deals, modern diplomats are acting like Woodrow Wilson gone wild, drafting instruments to dictate worldwide behaviors from the boardroom to the bedroom. Worse, progressives believe that these pieces of paper and the global bureaucracies they spawn can substitute for nations safeguarding their own sovereignty. But treaties that aren’t built on a foundation of power and justice invite trouble.

Our current president is particularly treaty-happy. Obama acted as cheerleader-in-chief for pressing the Senate to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea -- maybe the best example of a bad treaty.

After all, it would require the U.S. to funnel potentially billions of tax revenues from off-shore drilling and mining to a U.N. agency controlled by no government. Under a revenue-sharing plan, the agency in turn would endow the treasuries, of among others, totalitarian governments who could use the hard cash to enrich their regimes and oppress their people.

That’s a plan that seems neither fair nor just. Recently, 34 senators signed a letter declaring they opposed ratification of the convention. That could well kill the issue -- for this Congress, at least.

America just may have dodged another terrible treaty as well: the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty. “It is a fantasy,” treaty expert Ted Bromund pointed out, “to believe that a universal ATT, backed by nothing more than the words of the treaty itself, will succeed where the Security Council, backed by the authority of Chapter 7 [of the U.N. charter], has failed” to stop illegal arms sales.

Thus, the treaty would require the U.S. to put legal restrictions on how it conducts its foreign policy, while doing nothing to keep bad actors from arming bad people. Fortunately, negotiations on the treaty recently collapsed, despite the fact that the White House pleaded for more time to make a deal. The president simply doesn’t get it. More than 50 senators have signed a letter opposing the Arms Trade Treaty.

Next up is the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As Phyllis Schafly recently wrote, “[t]he notion that the U.N. can provide more benefits or protections for persons with disabilities the U.S. is bizarre.” She’s right. Yet recently the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent the treaty to the full Senate for ratification. Sen. Jim DeMint is busy trying keep that from happening.

This recent deluge of treaties show we have a White House addicted to treaties for treaties’ sake. We also have a president that lacks the wisdom and judgment to ensure they practically measure power and justice -- or serve U.S. interests. This kind of diplomacy is a constant threat to our freedom, prosperity, security and sovereignty.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First appeared in Savannah Morning News.