The Post-Cold War Geopolitics of International Environmental Law
AbstractSince the end of the Cold War, the United States has been routinely described in the international environmental politics literature as obstructing multilateral efforts to protect the global environment by weakening the effectiveness of treaty regimes and refusing to ratify widely supported treaties. In particular, it is alleged that the US has turned its back on those members of the international community who are seeking to create collectively beneficial international environmental agreements (IEAs).
With this thesis, in which I propose that US ratification decisions are more likely to reflect a consistent adherence to heuristic cost-benefit analysis, than a post-Cold War ideological rejection of multilateralism, I challenge that view.
The core research question of the thesis asks, is it possible to show that since the end of the Cold War, members of the international community have added a sufficient amount of costs to make these agreements unratifiable for the United States? And moreover, have soft balancing coalitions used the negotiation of international environmental agreements as a forum to intentionally impose costs on the United States based on objectives other than protecting the global environment? The thesis author makes no claim to be the first to consider the role of power politics in the negotiation of international environmental law and institutions, but observes that realism, statecraft, and geopolitics within the field of international environmental law and politics tend to be approached in a dismissive or otherwise ad hoc way compared with other fields of international relations. By constructing and applying a ‘geopolitics of international law’ framework to the macro-historical analysis of the eight most significant international pollution treaties from 1972 to 2012, it is argued that the presence of competing geopolitical objectives may be analyzed more systematically.
Using a rational choice approach structured by an analytic narratives method to compare cases detailing the negotiation of dynamic international agreements adopted during and after the Cold War, the author finds that the imposition of the operational mechanisms of the geopolitics of international law is pervasive. Advocated primarily by the European Union, and the ‘Group of 77 and China’ (G-77), these normative and structural foreign policies, that disproportionately benefit their norm entrepreneurs, have been routinely negotiated into the architecture of post-Cold War environmental agreements. As a consequence, from an American perspective, the defining feature of post-Cold War IEAs not ratified by the United States is that they impose economic, political, and structural costs on the US but fail to offer a reciprocal reduction of foreign pollution externalities impacting the US (or other comparable geo-economic or geopolitical benefits).
The author concludes that from the geopolitics of international environmental law perspective, there is persuasive evidence that in the post-Cold War era states seeking to bind, balance, and delegitimize the otherwise unrestrained unipolar hegemon have prioritized imposing net costs on the US (through Kaldor-Hicks agreements) over creating IEAs that provide stable individual benefits for all states (self-enforcing agreements).
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