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Why U.S. support for international law is so inconsistent

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
1) The United States and International Law: Five Dimensions of Support
Lucrecia García Iommi (Fairfield University) and Richard W. Maass (Old Dominion University) 
Part I: Governing International Relations 
2) Enforcing Territorial Integrity: U.S. Support for the Prohibition of Conquest in International Law
Richard W. Maass (Old Dominion University) 
3) The United States and the International Court of Justice: A Century of Unfulfilled Promise
Charlotte Ku (Texas A&M University)
4) Between Formalism and Instrumentalism: The United States and International Law Governing the Use of Inter-State Force
Christian Henderson (University of Sussex)
5) The United States and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime: Pushing the Limits of the Law 
Jeffrey S. Lantis (The College of Wooster) 
6) The United States and International Trade Law: A Precarious Relationship
Judith L. Goldstein and Christina Toenshoff (Stanford University)
Part II: Governing Individuals 
7) Human Rights Treaties in the United States: The Case of CEDAW
Lisa Baldez (Dartmouth College) 
8) The United States and the International Criminal Court: Interests, American Exceptionalism, and Why the U.S. Relationship with the ICC Does Not Change 
Lucrecia García Iommi (Fairfield University) 
9) The Double Life of Uncle Sam: The United States and the International Laws Banning Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment 
Arturo Jimenez-Bacardi (University of South Florida) 
10) Contemporary U.S. Targeted Killing: Expanding the Legal Boundaries of Warfare to Facilitate State Violence
Rebecca Sanders (University of Cincinnati)
Part III: Governing the Globe 
11) “Exceptional” Leadership: The United States and the International Law of the Sea 
James Harrison and Oliver Turner (University of Edinburgh) 
12) Leader or Laggard? The United States and International Environmental Law 
Pamela Chasek (Manhattan College) and David L. Downie (Fairfield University) 
13) The United States and Cybersecurity Due Diligence: A Continuing Dialogue for International Cyber Norms
Scott J. Shackelford and Rachel D. Dockery (Indiana University)
14) Understanding U.S. Support for International Law 
Richard W. Maass (Old Dominion University) and Lucrecia García Iommi (Fairfield University)
List of Contributors


The United States spearheaded the creation of many international organizations and treaties after World War II and maintains a strong record of compliance across several issue areas, yet it also refuses to ratify major international conventions like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Why does the U.S. often seem to support international law in one way while neglecting or even violating it in another?
The United States and International Law: Paradoxes of Support across Contemporary Issues analyzes the seemingly inconsistent U.S. relationship with international law by identifying five types of state support for international law: leadership, consent, internalization, compliance, and enforcement. Each follows different logics and entails unique costs and incentives. Accordingly, the fact that a state engages in one form of support does not presuppose that it will do so across the board. This volume examines how and why the U.S. has engaged in each form of support across twelve issue areas that are central to 20th- and 21st-century U.S. foreign policy: conquest, world courts, war, nuclear proliferation, trade, human rights, war crimes, torture, targeted killing, maritime law, the environment, and cybersecurity. In addition to offering rich substantive discussions of U.S. foreign policy, their findings reveal patterns across the U.S. relationship with international law that shed light on behavior that often seems paradoxical at best, hypocritical at worst. The results help us understand why the United States engages with international law as it does, the legacies of the Trump administration, and what we should expect from the United States under the Biden administration and beyond.

Lucrecia García Iommi is Associate Professor of Politics at Fairfield University.

Richard W. Maass is Associate Professor of Political Science at Old Dominion University.

The United States and International Law is a superb, systematic, and insightful exploration of one of the most fundamental questions of world order: whether, how, and why the U.S. does—or does not—support the rule of international law. Iommi and Maass provide an elegant framework for analysis, and their excellent team of expert contributors explores the ambivalent relationship of the U.S. to international law in areas as diverse as war, trade, human rights, the environment, and the law of the sea.”
—Mark Pollack, Professor of Political Science and Law, Temple University

- Mark Pollack

“A welcome new contribution to the existing literature on the puzzle of the apparently hypocritical and mixed attitude and actions of the U.S. in respect of international law.”
—Shirley Scott, Professor of International Law and International Relations, UNSW Canberra

- Shirley Scott

“This excellent volume is a sophisticated analysis of what support for international law means and when and why the U.S. provides it. The result is an invaluable tool for those seeking to increase not only U.S. support for but U.S. leadership in international law in addressing threats from aggression to climate change.”
—Mary Ellen O’Connell, Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law and Research Professor of International Dispute Resolution, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, University of Notre Dame

- Mary Ellen O'Connell

“. . . a rich and timely contribution to our understanding of U.S. interactions with international law. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, and international responses to it, highlight the key role of the United States in applying international law to world politics. The book assesses the range of U.S. relationships with international law across multiple substantive issues and with an analytical framework that lends coherence to the complex whole.”
—Wayne Sandholtz, Professor of International Relations and Law, University of Southern California

- Wayne Sandholtz

“The relationship of the U.S. to the global order is quite complicated. The book does a solid job in addressing major points of this relationship.”
—Emilia Justyna Powell, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame

- Emilia Justyna Powell

“This book is certainly correct in arguing that US friction with parts of international law did not start with the Trump administration, although that era showed a pronounced distaste for most multinational norms and constraint. It offers a knowledgeable and sophisticated treatment of this relationship with a breadth that ensures the absence of simple and narrow conclusions. Highly recommended.”