Research: Publications

The Trend Toward Unilateralism in U.S. Foreign Policy

November 1, 1999 | Report

By Wayne Smith

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On May 20-21, 1999, the Center for International Policy, based in Washington, D.C., and the Royal Institute of International Affairs, based in London, co-hosted a conference in Washington to discuss the pros and cons of what many see as a disturbing trend toward unilateralism in U.S. foreign policy -a trend which subsequently, on October 13, 1999, was most dramatically manifested in the U.S. Senate’s defeat of the crucially important Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, a defeat seen by many as reminiscent of the Senate’s refusal to ratify the Versailles Treaty after WWI. The following essay is loosely based on discussions at the conference and on subsequent exchanges among participants. The individual presentations of many of the participants will shortly be published by the Royal Institute at the address given below. Conference agenda and participants are attatched.

While both sides of the debate were heard on May 20–21, it should be stated at the outset that the Center for International Policy remains firm in its conviction that the United States is squandering the best opportunity the world has yet seen to construct an international system based on rule of law and on rules of conduct agreed to by all in such international fora as the World Trade Organization. The result of such an effort, eventually, could be a more stable, predictable, and prosperous world.

U.S. rejection of the test ban treaty, it’s failure to pay its dues to the United Nations (minuscule compared to the U.S. national budget), other actions which have tended to undermine the world body and other international organizations, a series of sanctions which are not only unilateral but which flout international law and the rules of conduct of the WTO, and which are extraterritorial in nature, all weaken the international system and have helped create a context in which we have not a more stable world but one which is more violent and unpredictable and in which the problems which really confront humankind—poverty, hunger, disease, destruction of the environment—are not being addressed. This is little short of tragic.

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