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The United States and the International Court of Justice: Coping with Antinomies


Sean D. Murphy


George Washington University - Law School


THE UNITED STATES AND INTERNATIONAL COURTS AND TRIBUNALS, Cesare Romano, ed., 2008
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 291
GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 291

Abstract:     
Since 1946, the United States has had an uneasy relationship with the International Court of Justice (ICJ or World Court or Court). This chapter addresses certain salient aspects of that relationship. Following an introductory Part I, Part II briefly sets forth three "antinomies" (i.e. equally rational but conflicting principles) in U.S. foreign relations that have had important ramifications for the U.S. relationship with the Court from the outset. First, the United States operates on the basis of conflicting principles with respect to the relevance of international law and institutions for U.S. foreign policy. These conflicting principles have been referred to broadly in international relations theory as "realism" and "institutionalism." Second, the United States operates on the basis of conflicting principles with respect to whether states should be treated as equal sovereigns or as units characterized by inescapable power differentials. Third, the United States operates on the basis of conflicting principles with respect to whether international law should be "embedded" in U.S. law, including the manner in which international courts relate to U.S. law.

Part III suggests that the International Court was initially designed to accommodate such antinomies (which also exist with respect to other states, to varying degrees) by providing the means for mediating between these conflicting principles. These techniques for mediating antinomies are discussed in the context of the history of the U.S. relationship with the Court from its inception to modern times.

Part IV then briefly highlights the unfolding of these antimonies in some of the recent cases of the United States before the Court, with particular attention to the Oil Platforms case, the Israeli Wall advisory opinion, and the Breard/LaGrand/Avena cases. Among other things, Part V suggests that certain formal and informal means for mediating these antimonies may have been forgotten in the past twenty years, leading to a point where the Court readily finds fault in the United States and the United States holds the Court in very low regard. The chapter concludes that these antinomies are unlikely to be resolved through the further development of formal or informal mediating techniques. In the near term, American policymakers will seek to avoid any involvement in matters before the Court, while the Court will embrace opportunities to speak to the legality of U.S. actions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 58

Keywords: International Court, World Court, international tribunal, realism, institutionalism, exceptionalism, Israeli Wall, Iran Oil Platforms, Breard, LaGrand, Avena

JEL Classification: K19, K33

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Date posted: July 13, 2007  

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Sean D., The United States and the International Court of Justice: Coping with Antinomies. THE UNITED STATES AND INTERNATIONAL COURTS AND TRIBUNALS, Cesare Romano, ed., 2008; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 291; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 291. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1000391

Contact Information

Sean D. Murphy (Contact Author)
George Washington University - Law School ( email )
2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-8763 (Phone)
202-994-5654 (Fax)
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