It has become rather commonplace for US ‘opposition’ to raise the early perspectives of American political leaders in discussing American foreign policy. Yet such references to these early alliance warnings and the threat to US sovereignty have become overused and are often offered in an unreflective way. Those who rely on these early cautions, often call on these nostrums abstractly and without any acknowledgment of the context in which they were expressed and the state of the United States at the time such figures as Thomas Jefferson expressed them.
So it is that the new opposition - read this as those who had influence in the last US Administration but appear to have little cache now - have begun the campaign to limit US global governance leadership. Two rather well neo-conservatives - John Bolton and John Yoo - recently in an op-ed in the New York Times on January 5th, presented just such a ‘red-flag’ declaration of the need to protect American sovereignty: “America needs to maintain its sovereignty and autonomy, not to subordinate its policies, foreign or domestic, to to international control. On a broad variety of issues - many of which sound more like domestic rather than foreign policy - the re-emergence of the benignly labeled “global governance” movement is well under way in the Obama transition.”
Where have these two been! Well, participating in America’s unilateralism actually. Bolton was America’s UN representative from 2005-2006 (though only by way of a recess appointment and never confirmed by the US Senate); Yoo was a deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003 who has become rather infamous for his opinion on the extent of executive power in the War on Terror and support for a narrow application of the Geneva Conventions on terror suspects (for a description, see Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into A War on American Ideals).
So the two urge the the new Obama administration needs to revitalize the US Senate’s Treaty making power - read this as a 2/3 majority approval - in other words limit treaty engagement. These former officials see the Senate approval of treaties as striking the proper balance between the legislative and executive branches. Whether they were advocates in the former administration of this approach is an open question. And they do note that earlier ‘Treaties’ - especially the Bretton Woods Agreements, the GATT (and later the WTO) and NAFTA were all passed with what is called Executive-Congressional approval where majorities in both chambers provided congressional approval. Their response appears to be that it might be all right to pass international trade and finance agreements, it would not be all right, among other things, for national security commitments or for treaties that purport to delegate lawmaking and enforcement functions to international organizations.
So ‘buried’ in all the constitutional debate, there is at least a neo-conservative effort to impair US global governance. It is a reminder that blandishments aside, there is likely to be strong resistance in US politics to restructuring global governance and presumably a structure of international politics that eliminates many of the hierarchical rights that the US became used to with US hegemony in many multilateral structures.