Chicago Journal of International Law


In this brief essay, I argue that, in principle, the United States' position involves a wholly legitimate definition of "security interests" and that the US stance, rather than representing a retreat from international legal norms, reflects and contributes to them. In making this claim, I rely on the legal and social history following World War II that has integrated into the concept of security interests a concern for human rights conditions in other countries. Based on this history, I submit that the US invocation of the particular defense-that another state's severe mistreatment of its citizens threatens US security interests-accords with emergent international norms. Of course, the US taking this position before the WTO may diminish compliance with international trading obligations. However, the dimension that I explore here- consistency with and furtherance of robust international norms of security-should be taken into account in rendering any broad assessment of the relationship between the US actions and international norms. Indeed, I use the opportunity of this essay to suggest a few implications this particular dimension has for understanding the construction and operation of international norms more generally. While the WTO controversy mainly provides the occasion for starting such a discussion, it is also important to analyze the discussion's particular importance for the WTO. Let me first address some of those issues before examining the broader theme of normative constructions of security and human rights.