Stephen Wall: The US can only be constrained by international law

From a speech at Chatham House by the former Head of European Secretariat, Cabinet Office, 2000-2004

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I believe the central divergence between the United States and Europe is not about power versus paradise, about America as Mars versus Europe as Venus. The central argument is about the rule of law. About whether might is right and about the use, and abuse, of absolute power.

I believe the central divergence between the United States and Europe is not about power versus paradise, about America as Mars versus Europe as Venus. The central argument is about the rule of law. About whether might is right and about the use, and abuse, of absolute power.

There may be a better way of administering and implementing international law than the existing post-war arrangements. I certainly hope our own country's attitude to Security Council reform will be based on what is likely to be most effective for the international rule of law, not on what massages our ego as a one-time world power. But the UN is the best we have. The fact that the United States is a great democracy to whom we owe our continued survival as free nations is not sufficient reason to give them the benefit of the doubt when they unilaterally withdraw from the Test Ban Treaty, or deny the jurisdiction of the international terrorism court, or want nothing to do with the Kyoto treaty, a tentative step towards tackling a threat to life on our planet much greater than that posed by terrorism.

We have to be firm in our adherence to that rule of law, even if it sometimes means parting company with the United States and adhering to the UN as the only defence against the rule of might that we have. To portray that choice, as is sometimes done, as a choice between effective action, American style; and inaction European or UN style is a caricature.

A European Union which eschewed all use of force would not be a fitting partner of the US. But that is not what is on offer. Tentatively, we are reaching our own defence identity which need not conflict with Nato, though it may sometimes conflict with the United States' view of what Nato's , or at least America's, position of pre-eminence should be.

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