International Law Advantage Backlines

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International Law Advantage Backlines

Soft Power Add-On

Human rights credibility is key to overall U.S. soft power.

Hooper et al. 15 — Melissa Hooper, Director of the International Law Scholarship Project/Pillar Project at Human Rights First, former Regional Director for Russia and Azerbaijan for the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative in Moscow, holds a J.D. from the University of California-Berkeley School of Law, et al., with Ignacio Mujica, Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Fellow at Human Rights First, and Megan Corrarino, Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Fellow with Human Rights First, 2015 (“U.S. Must Affirm Leadership Role on Human Rights,” New York Law Journal, February 27th, Available Online at, Accessed 06-30-2015)

The United States once positioned itself as a human rights leader, and that moral authority gave it considerable soft power around the world. U.S. leadership was instrumental in creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The significant due process components of the U.S. justice system have been used as the basis for rule-of-law reforms in numerous other countries. The United States still has among the broadest frameworks for protection for free speech and freedom of religion in the world.

But any claim that the United States might have to leadership in human rights is undermined by the fact that, over the past decade and a half, it has failed to satisfy its own international legal obligations. The most famous and egregious examples are those that have come from the so-called "War on Terror," reliance on torture as outlined in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report, and arbitrary detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, often based on secret evidence without access to due process.

But there are many other areas where the United States has contributed to a culture of impunity and indifference to international law: repatriating people to countries where they are likely to face torture or death, in violation of the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee Convention; imprisoning more of its population than any other country in the world in violation of international law principles of proportionality, personal dignity and anti-discrimination; and continuing to imprison individuals in conditions that are shocking to the conscience, in violation of the obligation to refrain from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

This disconnect between the legal principles that the United States purports to uphold and its actual practice is one reason why Human Rights First has been working with leading scholars, practitioners and policymakers to urge the United States to reassume its leadership role in the sphere of human rights by adhering to the international norms that it consistently urges other countries to observe. For the United States to credibly address extrajudicial killings in Pakistan; arbitrary detention in Belarus, China, Cuba, North Korea, and Syria; or global prison conditions, it must ensure that its own practices adhere to international legal standards.

Human rights law, which places human dignity at its core, must be a central goal of national and international legal regimes, and of efforts to promote rule of law at home and abroad. While the United States may have limited power to create foreign enforcement mechanisms, and must rely on soft power in the international sphere, at home we have the power and obligation to enforce international human rights law. The power of international norms increases with the number of powerful states that comply and hold themselves accountable. In leading by example, the United States gains the moral currency necessary to hold other states to account.

We must make the U.S. judicial system a place where this country more consistently lives up to its international obligations. This means giving detainees access to justice, prosecuting torturers, granting asylum when a refugee has met the legal criteria, and ensuring that our jurisprudence comports with our international treaty obligations, which are binding on U.S. courts under article VI of the Constitution.

Human rights law is thriving around the world. Courts in Canada, Latin America, Europe, India and South Africa, among others, are developing bodies of jurisprudence that incorporate human rights law and citing international and comparative law in their decisions. International tribunals, such as the International Court of Justice, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, hold states accountable to protect refugees, to adopt mechanisms to prosecute torture, and to provide humane conditions for prisoners. As the rest of the world is taking these steps forward, however gradual, the United States must not allow itself to step backward and lose its moral credibility by backing down from its international legal commitments.

Human rights law is only as irrelevant as we allow it to be. The United States is still a leader on the world stage, and what it does matters. If we want to hold other states accountable for human rights violations and promote the global legitimacy of human rights, we must honor our own international legal obligations and recognize that they are an integral part of the law of the land.

Soft power prevents existential threats.

Nye 17 — Joseph S. Nye, Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor and Former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology, holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University, 2017 ("Will the Liberal Order Survive?," Foreign Affairs, January/February, Available Online at, Accessed 01-27-2017)

The order is facing its greatest challenges in generations.

The order will inevitably look somewhat different as the twenty-first century progresses. China, India, and other economies will continue to grow, and the U.S. share of the world economy will drop. But no other country, including China, is poised to displace the United States from its dominant position. Even so, the order may still be threatened by a general diffusion of power away from governments toward nonstate actors. The information revolution is putting a number of transnational issues, such as financial stability, climate change, terrorism, pandemics, and cybersecurity, on the global agenda at the same time as it is weakening the ability of all governments to respond.

Complexity is growing, and world politics will soon not be the sole province of governments. Individuals and private organizations—from corporations and nongovernmental organizations to terrorists and social movements—are being empowered, and informal networks will undercut the monopoly on power of traditional bureaucracies. Governments will continue to possess power and resources, but the stage on which they play will become ever more crowded, and they will have less ability to direct the action.

Even if the United States remains the largest power, accordingly, it will not be able to achieve many of its international goals acting alone. For example, international financial stability is vital to the prosperity of Americans, but the United States needs the cooperation of others to ensure it. Global climate change and rising sea levels will affect the quality of life, but Americans cannot manage these problems by themselves. And in a world where borders are becoming more porous, letting in everything from drugs to infectious diseases to terrorism, nations must use soft power to develop networks and build institutions to address shared threats and challenges.

They Say: “Alternate Causalities Thump”

Recognizing a domestic right to education is key to global democracy promotion.

Lerum et al. 5 — Eric Lerum, Legislative Counsel for the Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation for the Council of the District of Columbia, former Policy Analyst at the DC Board of Education, holds a J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University, et al., with Sheila Moreira, Attorney with the Moreira and Associates, LLC—a New York law firm, holds a J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University, and Rena Scheinkman, Associate at Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P.—an international law firm, holds a J.D. from the Washington College of Law at American University, 2005 (“Strengthening America's Foundation: Why Securing the Right to an Education at Home is Fundamental to the United States' Efforts to Spread Democracy Abroad,” Human Rights Brief (12 Hum. Rts. Br. 13), Spring, Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)

A true democracy, however, is a system that requires the consent of the governed; and genuine consent is informed consent. Because the United States has positioned itself as a champion of democracy, it too must become an outspoken champion of education.

Unfortunately, our public education system continues to fail too many of our students and serves as a poor model for developing democracies around the world. Access to educational opportunities in the United States varies based on race and wealth. Disparities also exist among urban, suburban, and rural schools. A recent study by the Harvard Civil Rights Project found that during the 1990s, the proportion of black students in majority-white public schools in the United States decreased to a level lower than any year since 1968. Today, a growing number of public schools are comprised mostly or entirely of students of color. These schools tend to have much higher concentrations of students below the poverty line and students with other social and health concerns that interfere with, or take priority over, their ability to learn. Not coincidentally, these schools also offer less robust educational opportunities compared to schools with predominantly white student bodies. In general, they offer less rigorous curricula; fewer courses and extracurricular activities; larger class sizes; limited textbooks, computers, supplies, and educational materials; and fewer qualified teachers and counselors. Our country's persistent lack of commitment to education, manifested in the continued failure over the past four decades to deliver on the promise of equal education for all children, calls into question our commitment to democracy at home.

Education as a Fundamental Human Right: Comparison of Education Rights Internationally and in The United States

The United States must articulate and promote a strong commitment to education, both as a mechanism to provide the fulfillment of human rights envisioned in our founding documents and as a way to promote democracies that are sovereign and stable. The time is ripe for the United States to align its domestic priorities with those it promotes throughout the world.

The plan is key to U.S. global leadership on democracy and human rights.

Holland 8 — Angela Avis Holland, J.D. Candidate at Vanderbilt University Law School, Recipient of the National Association of Women Lawyers Outstanding Law Student Award, 2008 (“Resolving the Dissonance of Rodriguez and the Right to Education: International Human Rights Instruments as a Source of Repose for the United States,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law (41 Vand. J. Transnat'l L. 229), January, Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Lexis-Nexis)

The profoundly negative implications of Rodriguez linger, and its fruits continue to pervade American society today. n16 The United States' failure to recognize education as a fundamental right has caused a host of unwieldy ramifications including, the prolonged provision of substandard education for racial minorities and the urban poor. n17 This failure also has hampered the United States' ability to function as a democratic society - one in which citizens can fully exercise fundamental rights and liberties. n18 Furthermore, it has reduced the influence of the United States as a global leader, and as a byproduct, has contributed to the decline of America's image as an ultimate sovereign state. n19 Stated more aptly, failure to recognize [*234] such a right has placed the United States "out of step with the rest of the world." n20

They Say: “Impact Not Unique (Trump)”

Trump doesn’t thump the advantage.

Carothers 17 — Thomas Carothers, Senior Vice President for Studies and Director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Distinguished Visiting Professor at the Central European University, holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, 2017 (“Prospects for U.S. Democracy Promotion Under Trump,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 5th, Available Online at, Accessed 07-13-2017)

The Breaking Point

Taken at face value, Trump’s signals regarding democracy and human rights support point to a serious deviation away from a basic recognition that has informed U.S. foreign policy for the past thirty years—that it is in the United States’ interest to give at least some serious attention to these issues. However, there are reasons to think that Trump and his foreign policy team will not end up diverging from this norm as drastically as these signals indicate. They will discover that supporting democracy and rights also helps to serve hard interests vis-à-vis many countries and that significant opposition to dismantling democracy policies will arise from within the U.S. government, as well as from the U.S. public and many U.S. allies.

The plan solves despite Trump.

Nossel 17 — Suzanne Nossel, Executive Director of the Pen American Center, former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations at the U.S. State Department, former Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation, the Center for American Progress, and the Council on Foreign Relations, 2017 (“It’s OK That Trump Doesn’t Care About Human Rights,” Foreign Policy, June 19th, Available Online at, Accessed 07-14-2017)

Given all this, human rights advocates need to do more than decry each and every missed opportunity for the president to articulate a set of values that he manifestly does not share. Even those U.S. presidents most passionate about the spread of rights and freedoms — Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama — walked a tightrope in trying to maintain America’s credibility on human rights while seeking to advance a breadth of foreign-policy interests, many of which directly contradicted rights-respecting policies. For as long as the United States has had an articulated human rights policy Washington has been dogged by charges of selectivity, hypocrisy, and empty rhetoric. Against this backdrop, Trumpian pronouncements on human rights seem liable to hurt more than they help, making it easier to impugn other American leaders and future presidents as equally insincere.

This is not to suggest that advocates should give up on the role of the United States as a defender of human rights. Now, with authoritarianism on the rise in China, Russia, Turkey, the Philippines, and Hungary and intact in much of the Middle East and Africa — and backsliding likely to accelerate amid an absence of leadership from the White House — brave rights defenders and dissidents in those countries need more international support, not less. Left to their own interests, governments like Russia and China that wish to weaken international human rights institutions and instruments will seize opportunities to expand their influence. Progress made in advancing norms of international accountability, LGBT rights, and the protection of journalists and human rights defenders will almost certainly atrophy.

But crocodile tears from President Trump, should they even be offered, will address none of that. Much more important are efforts to show the world that the current administration is neither the only face of America’s role in the world nor the sole vessel for U.S. values. Most foreign governments and informed citizens know that most of Washington regards his leadership with skepticism and that his public approval ratings are at historic lows. Members of Congress, civil society organizations, and other institutions work to defend human rights globally and can speak out and step up where the current administration won’t. The role of these actors in showing solidarity with dissidents, calling out repressive policies, supporting rights defenders, and advocating for the role of institutions and norms should redouble as the White House retreats. That Trump won’t — and can’t credibly — speak out doesn’t mean that American society or even the American government must go quiet. Members of Congress can hold hearings, send letters, take meetings with visiting advocates, take part in delegations, and otherwise demonstrate that the U.S. government as a whole takes seriously its role as a human rights standard-bearer, even if the current administration amounts to an egregious lapse.

Funders should step up to help alleviate the strain that civil society organizations face in trying to address the challenges posed by the president’s domestic policies while simultaneously trying to fill the vacuum created by the administration’s retreat from America’s traditional role as a rights defender globally. These groups should not be forced to choose now that the agenda at home has grown so imperative as well.

In recent years, private funders of human rights campaigns have been shifting their support away from U.S.- and European-based groups in favor of direct help to advocates working in hotspots around the world. The logic is simple: The solution to human rights abuses in Turkey, Russia, or China won’t be found in Washington. The Obama administration reinforced these efforts through its own campaign to buttress local civil society organizations around the world, offer them financial support, and elevate their participation in international diplomacy. Importantly, this assistance in funding and organizational development came backed with the moral leadership of the U.S. government voiced at the highest levels and through its diplomatic missions.

But with President Trump’s budget dramatically scaling back such support, foundations should reinvest additional resources in organizations and partners who can keep faith with international counterparts, raise the global media profile of rights violations and crises, and apply pressure through international mechanisms and forums. Such efforts will help blunt the impact of the Trump administration’s indifference, catalyze the engagement of Capitol Hill on human rights issues, and sustain and strengthen connections internationally. Trump’s retreat from leadership on human rights can be mitigated if nongovernmental groups lean in. Just as civil society organizations and the media are tempering some of the president’s most constitutionally and morally dubious domestic policies, so they should also help to bridge shortfalls in funding, speak out for those who counted on the United States for support, and fortify civil society groups that the Trump administration is abandoning.

The best way to preserve America’s global human rights leadership is not to put words in Trump’s mouth but to demonstrate that the U.S. system of government, strong independent civil society, and claim to global leadership are strong enough to withstand his term of office.

They Say: “Democratic Peace Theory Wrong”

Effective democracy promotion is crucial to global stability — it solves the root cause of major impacts.

Miller 12 — Paul D. Miller, Assistant Professor in the Department of Regional and Analytical Studies at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University, serves as an Officer in the U.S. Army Reserve and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002, served as Director for Afghanistan on the National Security Council from 2007 to 2009, served as a political analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency specializing in South Asia, holds a Masters in Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Ph.D. in International Relations from Georgetown University, 2012 (“American Grand Strategy and the Democratic Peace,” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, Volume 54, Issue 2, Available Online to Subscribing Institutions via Taylor & Francis Online)

A grand strategy that includes promoting the democratic peace has much to recommend it. The historical evidence seems convincing: established democracies rarely, if ever, fight one another. The more states that adopt democracy, the fewer there are that are likely to become enemies of the United States. Additionally, as summarised by Sean M. Lynn Jones, editor of International Security, democracy has a number of other benefits directly helpful for US national security. Democracies are less likely to use violence against their own people and therefore less likely to draw in outside intervention. They rarely sponsor international terrorism. Democracies have better long-run economic prospects, rarely experience famine, and produce fewer refugees than non-democracies, which means they require less international aid, are more likely to trade with and invest in the United States, and are more likely to become centres of innovation and productivity.27

Scholars have offered a range of reasons why democracies rarely fight one another, which collectively suggest that the benefits of democracy are not ephemeral accidents but permanent features of this form of government. Citizens of democracies believe they share values with other democracies, and thus are slower to see other democracies as potential enemies or combatants. Democracy enforces peaceful dispute-resolution domestically, a norm that democratic leaders may simply transplant to the international arena, especially in disputes with other democracies. Institutional considerations are also relevant. Democracies typically constrain the government's war powers through civilian control and checks and balances, making it harder to launch a war. The public, which pays the cost of war in a democracy, is likely to be more selective about the wars it chooses to fight. And democracies are unable to control information about themselves because of the freedoms of speech and press, which decreases misperceptions that could lead to war and, in a militarised dispute, improves the credibility of a democracy's military threats and hence decreases opponents' willingness to gamble on war.28

Promoting democracy also fits naturally with other long-standing components of US grand strategy. Washington has, for example, long sought to prevent the rise of a hostile hegemon in strategically important areas of the world – especially Europe or East Asia – by maintaining a favourable balance of power through military dominance and a network of allies. Preventing hegemony has rightly animated US policy for generations, from its tack-andweave between Britain and France from 1776 to 1815 to its involvement in both World Wars and the Cold War. A commitment to democracy is, in a sense, the corollary to resistance to hegemony, as democratic systems are defined by a diffusion of power among many actors, thus limiting the chances for tyranny. The same holds internationally: the United States should work to keep power diffused among many sovereign states and international organisations to prevent the rise of a hostile, coercive hegemon. Regimes committed to those ideals at home are more likely to apply them abroad, while autocracies are more likely to seek to expand their power at others' expense, both domestically and internationally. The growth of democracy abroad alters the balance of power in the United States' favour.

Finally, promoting democracy is well suited to one of the major challenges of the twenty-first century: state failure and its attendant threats. The United States can and should respond to the rising tide of state failure across the world with democratic peace-building interventions. The consequences of state failure and anarchy across much of the world – including the rise of terrorist groups, organised crime, drug cartels, human traffickers, nuclear smugglers, pandemic disease and piracy – collectively erode global stability and liberalism and raise the cost of US leadership. Effective democratic peace-building (meaning peace-building that is well armed, well funded and well planned) is the answer to this challenge. When successful, it holds out the promise not just of treating these various symptoms, but of addressing the disease. The alternative is to play global Whack-a-Mole with the crisis du jour, sniping pirates one day, drone-bombing terrorists or barricading drug cartels into narco-statelets the next. Such policy is reactive, defensive and events-driven, the opposite of what strategy is supposed to be. A grand strategy would complement these immediate, short-term actions to stave off threats with longer-term efforts to address the underlying challenges to stability and democracy.

The spread of democracy promotes peace and reduces the risk of conflictstrong statistical evidence.

Lynn-Jones 98 — Sean M. Lynn-Jones, Research Associate in the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, Editor of International Security, Series Editor of the Belfer Center Studies in International Security, 1998 (“Why the United States Should Spread Democracy,” Harvard University Center for Science and International Affairs Discussion Paper 98-07, March, Available Online at, Accessed 08-11-2013)

In addition to improving the lives of individual citizens in new democracies, the spread of democracy will benefit the international system by reducing the likelihood of war. Democracies do not wage war on other democracies. This absence—or near absence, depending on the definitions of "war" and "democracy" used—has been called "one of the strongest nontrivial and nontautological generalizations that can be made about international relations."51 One scholar argues that "the absence of war between democracies comes as close as anything we have to an empirical law in international relations."52 If the number of democracies in the international system continues to grow, the number of potential conflicts that might escalate to war will diminish. Although wars between democracies and nondemocracies would persist in the short run, in the long run an international system composed of democracies would be a peaceful world. At the very least, adding to the number of democracies would gradually enlarge the democratic "zone of peace."

1. The Evidence for the Democratic Peace

Many studies have found that there are virtually no historical cases of democracies going to war with one another. In an important two-part article published in 1983, Michael Doyle compares all international wars between 1816 and 1980 and a list of liberal states.53 Doyle concludes that "constitutionally secure liberal states have yet to engage in war with one another."54 Subsequent statistical studies have found that this absence of war between democracies is statistically significant and is not the result of random chance.55 Other analyses have concluded that the influence of other variables, including geographical proximity and wealth, do not detract from the significance of the finding that democracies rarely, if ever, go to war with one another.56

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