As the future of the international legal order hangs in the balance in the United Nations Security Council, it is necessary for government officials, academics, activists and citizens to engage in constructive dialogue about the role that the global legal order is to play in global security. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation sponsored a symposium entitled International Law & the Quest for Security enabling such timely discussion to take place at the University of California at Santa Barbara on October 25, 2002.

The keynote speakers were Richard Falk, professor Emeritus of International Law and Practice at Princeton and Chair of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, his Excellency Arthur N.R. Robinson, President of Trinidad and Tobago, and John Burroughs, Executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy. They were accompanied by a variety of panelists with varying backgrounds in international law. The resulting conversation was constructive and cutting edge as the participants proceeded to challenge one another’s assumptions about the future of the world legal order.

Detoured or Derailed?

Professor Falk set the tone for the first half of the symposium by expounding upon the crisis of security that the international community is currently suffering. He illustrated how US policies on Iraq challenge the very notion the territorial state and threaten to undermine the legitimacy of the United Nations Security Council. Falk ended his initial remarks by posing the question of whether Sept. 11 and the events that have ensued have derailed or simply detoured the post-Cold War progress in fortifying a global legal order.

The four members of the panel that followed, monitored by Professor Peter Haslund, Director of International and Global Studies Program, Santa Barbara City College, approached the issues addressed by Falk from a variety of perspectives. Jackie Cabasso, Executive Director of Western States Legal Foundation and a nuclear weapons abolition activist, drove home the severity of the US military’s enthusiasm for nuclear weapons by quoting from various military documents and speeches. She also urged the audience to organize around a set of values that differ from this militaristic approach instead of focusing on particular issues or weapon systems.

Cecelia Lynch, an associate professor of political science at UC Irvine, commented on historical trends of social movements and described the tensions between the environmental, peace, humanitarian, and anti-globalization movements today. Professor Lynch also emphasized the need to increase the responsibility of the state for welfare and to decrease the emphasis on militarism.

Though many of those at the symposium concentrated on evaluating recent US policy, particularly its aggressive stance against Iraq, Professor Manou Eskandari, Chair of the Department of Political Science at Santa Barbara City College, pointed out that, “unilateralism is not just an American problem.” Eskandari also criticized the Security Council as being less than a truly a global forum, and called for democratization of the United Nations.

Marc McGinns, a senate lecturer in Environmental Studies at the UC Santa Barbara, took an environmentally-based approach to the issues of human and global security. McGinns addressed the tensions between manmade international legal systems and the law of nature claiming that “we are making war against the earth” with our consumption habits. Highlighting the stark inequalities in world consumption, and its destabilizing effects on world security, McGinns put forth the questions, “What’s it to be? Justice or just us?”

Debating the International Criminal Court

In the afternoon session of the Symposium the discussion focused on the International Criminal Court (ICC), the statute of the Court having come into force this past July.

His Excellency President Robinson, who was instrumental in getting the ICC back on the U.N. agenda in 1989, started off the afternoon by delivering a powerful speech delineating his personal involvement in the struggle to establish the ICC. Identifying the Court as a means of establishing standards of behavior he stated, “it is necessary that rules must be devised whereby humankind can live with one another because, with the advances that will take place in science and technology, a new world war of this kind will result in the destruction of humanity.”

Dr. Burroughs began his talk on opposition to the ICC by pointing out the accuracy of Professor Eskandari’s position that there are other nations besides the US the establishment of the Court. Burroughs pointed out that China, India, Indonesia, Russia, and the United States—the five most populated countries in the world—have not ratified the ICC statute. He then went through the major objections to the court that Marc Grossman, US Under secretary of State, has outlined, displaying the pitfalls of each objection.

Burroughs’ remarks were followed by an engaging discussion of the value of the ICC as a new element of international law. While panelists such as Judge Paul Egly supported the ICC as a “wonderful document,” Professor Lisa Hajjar, assistant professor of the Law and Society Program at UC Santa Barbara, challenged the ICC approach to international criminal law. Hajjar favored the use of universal jurisdiction in national courts, such as was used in the case against ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. She described this approach as being a more decentralized and democratic and suggested that the establishment of the ICC could actually impede the pursuit of universal jurisdiction in national courts.

In his remarks, Stan Roden, a practicing attorney from the local community, described how the ICC was consistent with the rights guaranteed in the US constitution. Professor Eskandari questioned this somewhat nation-centric approach asking if the ICC would be any less legitimate if it did not adhere to US constitutional rights.

Dr. J. Kirk Boyd, a Visiting Professor at UC Santa Barbara, spoke mainly about the Bill of Rights Project, which is working to create an international composition of human rights, consolidating existing documents. Boyd described this project as part of an effort to prevent crimes such as those to be tried under the ICC, creating an international environment where such crimes would become less likely.

As the symposium wound down, participants enthusiastically welcomed an unexpected appearance by Daniel Ellsburg, releasing the Pentagon Papers to the press during the Vietnam War. Ellsburg voiced his opinion that we are at much risk of nuclear weapons going off in the next weeks or months than we were during the Cold War, emphasizing the need for a long-term approach to weapons proliferation.

The symposium was wrapped up with the conclusions of David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and Richard Falk who synthesized the varying points made throughout day. Falk also left the audience with the hopeful idea of “politics as the art of the impossible,” reminding participants of the importance of continuing to engage in dialogue and action to promote peaceful solutions to conflicts in the face of extreme militarism.
Devon Chaffee is the Research and Advocacy Coordinator at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.