International Law (Treaties, Intergovernmental Relations)

Treaties and National Sovereignty Conference

Hosted by The George Washington National Security and U.S. Foreign Relations Law Program and Sponsored by The Federalist Society's Faculty Division and the George Washington Student Chapter March 27, 08:30 AMThe George Washington University Law School
Washington, DC 20052

The relationship between treaties and national sovereignty is somewhat complex. On the one hand, a nation’s  power to enter into treaties has long been viewed as a core incident of sovereignty. On the other hand, treaties generally confer not only mutual rights but also mutual obligations on their signatories. Therefore when a nation enters into a treaty, it theoretically both expands and limits its own national sovereignty by, on the one hand, obtaining other countries’ agreement to abide by the treaty’s limitations, but on the other hand accepting whatever obligations the nation undertakes pursuant to the treaty.

Several developments over the past few decades invite serious reflection about how the United States should think about this tradeoff. For one thing, treaties increasingly extend beyond customary areas of cooperation among nations to create various obligations on the part of countries with respect to how they treat their own citizens. For another, many international law advocates, and some courts, increasingly argue that these obligations are legally enforceable, either by domestic courts or international bodies, and regardless, in some instances, of whether a nation has actually agreed to them, or agreed to them with reservations. This exacerbates the danger that countries that believe more strongly in the rule of law will find themselves, as a practical matter, asymmetrically giving up sovereignty that less law-abiding countries effectively retain. On the other hand, the notion that there are supra-national norms that ought in some fashion to guide the conduct of nations has a long and distinguished pedigree, and has long been one of the lodestars of the United States’s involvement in the international arena.  

The purpose of this conference is to stimulate reflection and discussion about these questions.  It will do so in the context of hearing presentations based on research papers and comments on those presentations the following topics:

  • Should the United States still be entering multilateral treaties? If so, what criteria should it apply in deciding whether to do so?
  • How much regulatory and monitoring treaty compliance authority should ongoing international governance bodies have in areas where there may be a need for international cooperation, such as the UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)?
  • How do the treaty power and Congress’s power to implement treaties under the necessary and proper clause relate to the Constitution’s other limits on Congressional power, especially its creation of a federal rather than a national government? Does the latter suggest not only constitutional but prudential considerations that may bear on how the President and the Senate should exercise the treaty power?
  • How do reservations operate, especially in the context of human rights treaties?  

America In Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder - Podcast

International & National Security Law Practice Group Podcast
Bret Stephens December 19, 2014

In December 2011 the last American soldier left Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” boasted President Obama. He was proved devastatingly wrong less than three years later as jihadists seized the Iraqi city of Mosul. The event cast another dark shadow over the future of global order—a shadow, which, Bret Stephens, Deputy Editorial Page Editor and Foreign Affairs Columnist for The Wall Street Journal, argues, we ignore at our peril.

America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder identifies a profound crisis on the global horizon. As Americans seek to withdraw from the world to tend to domestic problems, America’s adversaries spy opportunity. Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to restore the glory of the czarist empire go effectively unchecked, as do China’s attempts to expand its maritime claims in the South China Sea, as do Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear capabilities. Civil war in Syria displaces millions throughout the Middle East while turbocharging the forces of radical Islam. Long-time allies such as Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, doubting the credibility of American security guarantees, are tempted to freelance their foreign policy, irrespective of U.S. interests.

Mr. Stephens argues for American reengagement abroad. He explains how military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan was the right course of action, foolishly executed. He traces the intellectual continuity between anti-interventionist statesmen such as Henry Wallace and Robert Taft in the late 1940s and Barack Obama and Rand Paul today. And he makes an unapologetic case for Pax Americana, “a world in which English is the default language of business, diplomacy, tourism, and technology; in which markets are global, capital is mobile, and trade is increasingly free; in which values of openness and tolerance are, when not the norm, often the aspiration.”

In a chapter imagining the world of 2019, Mr. Stephens shows what could lie in store if Americans continue on their current course. Yet we are not doomed to this future. Mr. Stephens makes a passionate rejoinder to those who argue that America is in decline, a process that is often beyond the reach of political cures. Instead, we are in retreat—the result of faulty, but reversible, policy choices. By embracing its historic responsibility as the world’s policeman, America can safeguard not only greater peace in the world but also greater prosperity at home.

  • Bret L. Stephens, Deputy Editorial Page Editor, Foreign Affairs Columnist, The Wall Street Journal

The Regulatory Reach of the FTC, and its International Implications - Event Audio/Video

Patents and Innovation: Addressing Current Issues
Alden Abbott, Joshua D. Wright, Paul R. Michel, Dean A. Reuter December 04, 2014

Parity between the treatment of intellectual property rights (IPRs) and real property is a core principle of the DOJ/FTC 1995 Guidelines on licensing patents, which provide that the “[a]gencies apply the same general antitrust principles to conduct involving intellectual property that they apply to conduct involving any other form of tangible or intangible property.”  Are these guidelines still being followed, or have the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice have taken actions that signal a departure, and perhaps a skepticism about patent licensing activity, particularly with respect to technological standards?  Under either scenario, what are the implications for innovative U.S. companies at home and abroad, including in China where regulators are using antimonopoly powers to extract commercial concessions from U.S. technology leaders?   How can patent rights and competition policiesbest co-exist while preserving incentives for firms to invest in R&D and disseminate patented technologies through licensing, standard setting, and other voluntary arrangements?

This panel was part of a conference titled "Patents and Innovation: Addressing Current Issues". The conference was held on Tuesday, December 2, 2014, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC.


  • Mr. Alden F. Abbott, Deputy Director, Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies; John, Barbara, and Victoria Rumpel Senior Legal Fellow, The Heritage Foundation; former Director of Patent and Antitrust Strategy, BlackBerry
  • Hon. Joshua D. Wright, Commissioner, Federal Trade Commission
  • Moderator: Hon. Paul Michel, former Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit
  • Introduction: Mr. Dean A. Reuter, Vice President & Director of Practice Groups, The Federalist Society

Mayflower Hotel
Washington, DC