ON THE LAW OF NATIONS by Daniel Patrick Moynihan


Email this review


Here, New York's Senator Moynihan takes on Ronald Reagan's foreign policy--and makes an impassioned and well-reasoned plea for a return to the rule of international law. According to Moynihan, international law consists of two elements: treaty obligations and customary norms of conduct. Until the advent of the Reagan Administration, the US, he says, traditionally led the way in promoting worldwide adherence to both. But in 1980, Moynihan argues, something changed: Reagan arrived in Washington, accompanied by a coterie of bitter intellectuals, such as Jeane Kirkpatrick, that had only contempt for international law. As a consequence, America embarked on a series of military adventures, beginning with the invasion of Grenada and culminating in the mining of Nicaragua's harbors. When the latter action led to a lawsuit against the US in the World Court, Washington simply announced that it no longer recognized that tribunal's jurisdiction. For Moynihan, this defiant stance signifies the nadir in America's relations with the rest of the world. He believes that jettisoning the rule of law has cost the US precious credibility in the world at large, foreclosing our ability to play a meaningful role in solving crises such as the Palestinian intifada. In addition, he finds, the abandonment of international law has created a dangerous thrust within the US toward an imperial presidency. Finally, Moynihan says that the historical driving force toward American adventurism--a ferocious hatred of communism--has little contemporary relevance in the present era of Gorbachev and Havel. Writing in a somewhat arcane (if endearing) style, Moynihan supports his many controversial theses with solid analysis and impeccable scholarship. Sure to raise hackles--and hopes--in D.C. and beyond.

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 1990
ISBN: 0674635760
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press