U.S. Needs to Reclaim Mantle of Liberty Abroad, Slaughter Says

April 19, 2007

The United States should hold itself to the same standards of restraint that it requires of other countries if it wants to reclaim its mantle as a protector of liberty under law on the international stage, said Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton University.

Anne-Marie Slaughter "When we do not restrain ourselves, other nations band against us," she said.

Slaughter is the 2007 recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, and her lecture on Thursday, April 12, accompanied the recognition. The Thomas Jefferson Medal in Law is the highest award the University, which gives no honorary degrees, grants to individuals outside of the University community.

In her lecture, Slaughter suggested that the international community should hold governments up to the "PAR" standard, an acronym created by Slaughter that represents standards of popularity, accountability, and how well a government regards the rights of its citizens. Slaughter suggested that a government that has all three of these dimensions could be considered the best representation of liberty under law — an ideal that the founders sought to achieve within the United States.

Slaughter said it is important to see how Americans understand these different dimensions of what we mean by liberty under law at home, because these conceptions become extremely important when we then think about what it means to stand for liberty under law abroad.

The Bush administration usually proclaims that the United States stands for liberty under law, Slaughter explained, and states that the U.S. stands against tyranny anywhere in the world, and that is our country's destiny.

"In rhetoric, it's very similar to many things that Thomas Jefferson wrote. [The Bush administration] had a more forceful view of how that ball should be put in motion. It wasn't just a gentle push, it is much more muscular view; it is encouraging democracy, and removing governments that are not democratic."

However, Slaughter said, this still begs the question of whether the United Sates actually stands for liberty under law abroad.

"Recently, the United States has been very big on liberty, and not too big on order. We have not embraced the international order, the order of rules and institutions that constitutes the rule of order in the international system," she said.

The popular counterview to our foreign policy today is that we should not stand for the ideals of liberty under law in foreign policy — we should become a realist nation, and that we should pursue our interests just as all other nations do, Slaughter said.

However, Slaughter suggested that there is a policy option that falls between the two: apply the PAR standard of creating a domestic framework of liberty under law to the international scene as well.

"If we thought about all nations, worldwide, being required to be up to PAR, to be popular governments, accountable governments, and rights-regarding governments, [then we would have] a much more nuanced approach than promoting democracy by which we almost inevitably mean elections with universal suffrage as soon as possible, without, often, the complicated compromises of our own country," she said.

Slaughter suggested that the PAR model allows us to consider models of "ordered liberty" outside the traditional American conception; Slaughter referenced the extremely popular Chinese government.

"Why are we so certain that elections — universal suffrage elections — are the automatic key to popular government?" she asked.

Another result of applying the PAR model to the international scene is increased dialogue on ways of evaluating the conduct of the world's governments.

"Imagine if nations came together and developed an index of popular government, of accountable government, or rights-regarding government, of ways to evaluate all governments along those dimensions, certainly including our own imagine also what the global discussion may be," she said.

The task of the United States, Slaughter said, is to allow ourselves to be held up to scrutiny by the rest of the world.

"To have and to stand for such a system, as the United States, we would also have to subject ourselves to that scrutiny. We would have to allow other nations to look at us, to take on board how popular our government is, how rights-regarding it is, and how accountable it is."

Slaughter closed by suggesting five ways the United States could work to reclaim its mantle of standing for liberty under law on the international scene. First, she said, the U.S. government has to close the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp.

"There is no greater symbol in the world of what other nations see as our hypocrisy than the existence of Guantanamo, the existence of a place where we hold individuals who have no legal rights," she said.

Second, Slaughter suggested that the United States should lead the world in combating global warming, which constitutes an environmental and international security threat. Third, the United States should seek reform of the U.N. Security Council, and all of the institutions that it sought to create after 1945. These actions would signal to other countries that it is time for us to make some room at the table for India, Brazil, Muslim countries, and African countries, so the council is a more genuinely representative order. Fourth, the United States should lead the international community in the reduction of nuclear weapons, and finally, Slaughter said, the U.S. should join the International Criminal Court and abide its polices and procedures.

These measures would show that the United States is willing restrain itself, and are consistent with U.S. values, Slaughter said.

"Traditionally, that kind of order has served the United States very well."

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