Grand Strategy and International Law -- A New Strategic Forum by Dr. Nicholas Rostow
Strategic Forum #277
Grand Strategy and International Law
By Nicholas Rostow
Grand strategy is, or should be, the “calculated relationship of means to large ends.” Interrelated strategic and legal dimensions provide a leitmotif to the modern history of relations among powerful states. States employ an array of means to achieve their large ends—military power, as well as diplomatic, informational, economic/financial, and legal tools and influence. They differ in effectiveness and precision. In the web of interactions that shape contemporary international relations, the legal dimension as a framework and guide to choices is more often overlooked than particular legal instruments that might be invoked in the belief, or more often the hope, that they will serve policy and strategic objectives.
Views of the relevancy and content of international law vary. At one extreme, Dean Acheson famously remarked that “law simply does not deal with such questions of ultimate power—power that comes close to the sources of sovereignty.” At the other end of the spectrum is the view that the effectiveness of the International Criminal Court is the test of the health of international law and legal regimes.3 The truth does not lie in between: whether or not the International Court of Justice is a success—and defining success depends on one’s perspective (for some, failure would be success)—is not a test of the health of international law.
Since World War II, successive administrations have conceived of U.S. alliances, partnerships, arms control agreements, and international actions more generally as grand strategy. A central component of U.S. success has been creating, leading, and sustaining a minimum world order that all states have come to see as representing their core interests.
International law cannot be and has never been far from U.S. policymaking because Americans have believed that it is essential to the maintenance of the minimum world order necessary for peace and the prevention of nuclear war insofar as it is possible to achieve these goals.
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