In the Bush Administration, Treaties Ain’t Sweeties

He’s never encouraged Washington’s payment of United Nations dues, supported American participation in the International Criminal Court or suggested the strengthening of international disarmament treaties. So it was no surprise when President George W. Bush nominated Undersecretary of State John Bolton to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

If John Bolton, a protégé of Vice President Dick Cheney, changed his name to Bolting and figuratively fled the international jurisdiction, right now, it would be an appropriate choice. Like the Bush White House, he has repeatedly indicated his belief that internationalism undermines American interests. He has nothing but contempt for the U.N. He called the President’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court treaty “the happiest moment of my government service,” and once suggested that lopping off ten stories from the United Nations building would make no difference.

Several readers have asked us about the go-it-alone mood in the White House. The isolationism of the Bush administration is a subject so neglected in the media that we asked Patricia Jurewicz, the director of the Global Cooperation Project (GCP) at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to give us a catch-up. She is the leading author, with Kristin Dawkins, of a detailed report on U.S. compliance with and evasion of treaties. The GCP is composed of groups of business executives and community associations seeking to raise awareness of and support for the United Nations.

Jurewicz’s report, “The Treaty Database: U.S. Compliance of Global Treaties,” is a 145-page indexed study containing the research used here. A paperback copy can be purchased for $20 at www.cafepress.com, or the report can be downloaded from the IATP website.

Seventeen days after September 11, 2001, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1373, creating a new international legal obligation to cooperate in preventing terrorism. In announcing his support for U.S. President George Bush’s campaign against terrorism, Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary General, pointed out that the United States had not yet joined two U.N. treaties designed to curb terrorism by blocking underground financial flows and implementing a global system of pursuit and prosecution. By July 2002, the U.S. Senate had ratified these two treaties.

The Bush Administration’s post-9/11 response to terrorism treaties represents a pattern of selectively using international law in a way that serves to undermine the nation’s global credibility. Time and time again, the administration has supported international rules that promote trade and management of the world’s resources and promote security when it is convenient, while at the same time undermining rules that support the rights of the world’s people.

A DOWNWARD SPIRAL—Although the United States was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and initiated many of the multilateral treaties that have encouraged international cooperation on our planet, there has been a steady decline in the U.S. government’s support of the U.N.

President George W. Bush has been particularly reluctant to participate in the multilateral treaty system. Thus far, Bush has signed six treaties—the fewest of any president since the mere five treaties signed by President Reagan during his first term. But none of the six treaties forwarded by President Bush to the U.S. Senate for consideration has been ratified to date. Not since President John F. Kennedy, who served less than three years, has a U.S. president failed to win Senate ratification for any of the treaties he has signed.

More important, Bush has reversed U.S. support for at least seven major treaties by:

1. ending U.S. involvement in the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change negotiations.

2. violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by developing new nuclear weapons and negotiating a new pact, with Russia, that does not comply with the non-proliferation treaty’s terms.

3. pulling out of the negotiations for a verification protocol under the Convention on Biological Weapons, effectively halting all further talks on this treaty.
4. reversing a prior U.S. commitment to ratify the Landmine Convention by 2006.

5. withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

6. nullifying the obligations of the U.S. signature on the International Criminal Court.

7. withdrawing from the Protocol to Consular Relations.

Although the Kyoto Protocol was signed by President Clinton in 1993, President Bush effectively ended U.S. participation in it in 2001. When Russia ratified the protocol earlier this year and it went into effect, President Bush reiterated that he has no intention of allowing the United States to become a party to the treaty. Today, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are 14 percent higher than 1990 levels.

President Bush is the first President to nullify the U.S. signature on a multilateral treaty. Under the rules of the treaty system, the signature obligates a nation “not to defeat the object and purpose of a treaty” until a decision is made whether or not to ratify that treaty.

In 2002, President Bush took an unprecedented step in order to speak publicly against the International Criminal Court. He pushed for countries to sign bilateral immunity agreements with the United States or risk losing Washington’s financial assistance. Ecuador has already forfeited $15.7 million and South Africa $7.6 million in foreign aid from the U.S. as a result of not signing a bilateral immunity agreement.

With 98 countries currently parties to the criminal court treaty, the court has begun formal prosecution of genocide and crimes against humanity in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In early March the Security Council voted to refer crimes committed in Darfur to the court. Fortunately, the United States did not veto the decision, as many had feared it would. It abstained.

Bush is also the first leader of any major power to withdraw from a nuclear treaty after it had become legally binding. In 2002, he withdrew the United States from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, a bilateral agreement with Russia, in order to develop and test missile defense technologies. Although this treaty, established in 1972, was only between two countries, it set a precedent for how to slow the nuclear arms race.

The United States is currently party to the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty (NPT) and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). However, President Bush declared that the United States could use nuclear weapons in pre-emptive strikes, a clear violation of the NPT, and his team blocked completion of a draft protocol to the BWC because they did not want to permit laboratory inspections. As a result all further negotiations have been halted for the indefinite future. President Bush’s 2004 military budget included almost $20 billion for nuclear weapons.

North Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 2003, citing Bush’s statement that it was part of the “axis of evil” and listing North Korea as a target for pre-emptive strikes.

In March of this year, the Bush administration informed the United Nations that it was formally withdrawing from the Vienna Convention, a protocol on consular relations signed by President Kennedy and ratified under President Nixon. The U.S. proposed the establishment of this protocol, which gives people imprisoned outside of their home country access to their own diplomats. When the U.S. did withdraw, Amnesty International stated in a press release that “any step taken by the United States to undermine the legal authority of the [Vienna Convention] is a step towards danger for all detained foreigners everywhere, including U.S. citizens abroad.”

In addition to failing to ratify or rejecting numerous multilateral treaties, the Bush administration has taken steps to oppose or reject declarations of a number of other international agreements, such as a section of the 1995 Beijing Platform on the release of women and children hostages; and a declaration supporting the 1994 International Consensus on Population and Development. It has withheld $34 million in congressionally appropriated funds meant to go to the U.N. Population Fund.

CHERRY PICKING INTERNATIONAL LAW—The chief argument for the lack of U.S. participation in the multilateral treaty system, according to many analysts, is a fundamental reluctance to surrender U.S. sovereignty to any other authority.

But closer scrutiny of the record suggests a different story. Plainly, the U.S. government is selective about when it will and when it won’t subordinate U.S. sovereignty. The Bush Administration appears less interested in treaties that promote the rights of people and the protection of the planet and more supportive of those that extend its control over the world’s resources and that foster trade.

Consider what the United States has, and has not, ratified over the years:

• It has ratified none of the three fundamental treaties codifying the multilateral treaty system;

• none of the nine treaties in the U.N.’s treaty collection on penal matters, which enable the international community to cooperate in handling transnational crime, corruption and mercenaries;

• just 14 of the International Labor Organization’s 162 active treaties—not quite 9 percent—and only two of the eight “core conventions” protecting the fundamental rights of working people;
• 13 of the 44 human rights treaties in the U.N.’s treaty collection; and

• 32 percent of major environmental treaties.

• It signed on to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 governing wartime behavior to protect human rights.

• It has signed 12 of 22 treaties establishing private rights over intellectual property and related technologies;

• almost 60 percent of weapons treaties controlling nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional arms;

• six of nine treaties under the Food and Agriculture Organization, which manages fisheries, timber, pesticides, rice and genetic resources;

• all 13 of the treaties addressing international terrorism.

If the United States ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity, it would obligate the U.S. to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and the legal rights of Native Americans.

APATHY ABOUT RIGHTS—The U.S. tends not to support environmental treaties that oblige countries to regulate pollution, such as the Basel Convention on hazardous wastes or the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

On the other hand, the White House has been more than willing to surrender its sovereignty for the sake of international trade agreements. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has required significant changes in national, state and local laws for the United States and all WTO members. For example, the U.S. weakened its Environmental Protection Agency standards for high-quality gasoline following a WTO ruling in favor of Venezuela’s gasoline producers that lowered gas standards.

This selective approach to international rules has taken its toll on individuals and the environment nationally and worldwide. Ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights would prohibit the death penalty, a practice now legal in 38 U.S. states and allowed in the federal penal code.

SAYING NO TO TREATIES—A look at the United States’ record of which treaties are not supported brings intriguing details to the fore. Only two countries have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which ensures basic protections for children. They are the U.S. and Somalia, which currently has no sitting government.

The U.S. is the only Western democracy that signed the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1977 but has yet to ratify it. This is one of the key treaties establishing binding obligations to honor the goals stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Because the United States has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers, Mexico and the other parties cannot fulfill their obligation under this treaty to protect the millions of foreign nationals working in substandard conditions in the U.S.

The United States has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, even though 17 U.S. states, 18 counties and 45 cities have passed local resolutions supporting it.

The United States was unsuccessful in preventing the adoption of a protocol, or addition, to the Convention against Torture. The protocol established an international system to monitor detention centers. The U.S. has yet to ratify it.

After decades of negotiations, the White House now supports ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention, with an understanding that parties to this treaty have the exclusive right to define which of their own activities at sea qualify as military activities. This is a loophole to avoid the convention’s goal of limiting military control of the open oceans. Regardless of White House, Navy, business and environmentalists’ support, this treaty has yet to be passed to the Senate floor for a vote.

Similarly, the United States evades provisions of the as-yet unratified Basel Protocol on Hazardous Wastes by defining the export of most toxic materials as “recycling,” which would still be allowed upon ratification.

In 1999, the Senate became the world’s first and only legislative body to reject the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, despite polls showing public support at 82 percent.

As mentioned, the U.S. government is inclined to participate in those multilateral agreements that expand its global access to resources, markets and power while neglecting, or worse, undermining those that support social development and human rights around the world. It has been true under both Democratic and Republican leadership.

This trend predates the presidency of George W. Bush, but the current administration has accelerated and amplified the United States’ go-it-alone approach to global affairs with little regard for other nations and peoples, including those that suffer from hunger, disease, oppression and the other scourges of humanity.

By opting out of the global process in key areas, the U.S. has lost an opportunity for leadership within the international community. Historically, it has been citizens that have encouraged governments to do the right thing—whether it is the formation of the U.N. 60 years ago or the creation of the Landmine Treaty. The time has come again for citizens to bring the United States back into the global community.

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