Chicago Journal of International Law


There are those, John Bolton and Paul Stephan among them, who worry that international law poses something of a threat to the US national interest. They argue that the United States should disengage from international law and international institutions, that to the degree the United States involves itself in foreign affairs, it should favor unilateral over multilateral action. To others, this concern seems misplaced: what does the sole superpower have to fear from international law? Moreover, the response continues, even if international law is not directly beneficial to the United States, it is dearly beneficial to at least some other countries. Therefore, the non-threatened and magnanimous superpower should support the creation of an effective international legal system that would enable others to cooperate, develop, and prosper. These two positions, which might be characterized as the "realist" position and the "idealist" position, are both flawed. International law is in fact very much in the US national interest. For the United States, engagement with international law and international institutions offers a stability in international politics-and therefore security-that could never be achieved through isolationism and unilateralism.

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