Experts Explore the Future of International Law

January 25, 2017

On a day when newly inaugurated President Trump began his efforts to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, two events at Georgetown Law examined the future of international law.

A January 23 conference entitled “International Law in the Trump Era: Expectations, Hopes and Fears,” included a lively luncheon discussion between Associate Dean Rosa Brooks and John B. Bellinger III about whether international law will matter to the new administration. Among their other roles, Brooks was an adviser in the Defense Department during the Obama Administration; Bellinger served as legal adviser at the State Department and on the staff of the National Security Council during the George W. Bush presidency.

The panel — moderated by Professor David P. Stewart, who spent 32 years as a legal adviser at the U.S. Department of State — explored what trade agreements might look like in the new administration, the administration’s likely approach to international alliances, the prospects for ratification of international treaties, the war on terror and more.

“Generally speaking…there is a reason the U.S. has long been the champion for the post-World War II international order,” Brooks said. “We benefit from it in all kinds of ways — notwithstanding the numerous short-term inconveniences that it poses to us — and I think that is going to continue to be true.”

Bellinger said that “the big $64,000 question” will be whether we will see skepticism or hostility towards international law. “I think that’s what many of our allies particularly in Europe are wondering, it’s what the international law community is wondering,” he said. “I think we are not going to be able to tell that until we see some of the people who come into the administration.”

Republican administrations, Stewart noted, have historically been more active in the support and ratification of human rights and arms control treaties than Democratic ones. Bellinger pointed out that during the George W. Bush years, the Senate approved 163 treaties, more new international law than at any point in our history.

The conference — sponsored by the International & National Security Law Practice Group and Georgetown Student Division of the Federalist Society, as well as the American Branch of the International Law Association — also featured a morning panel on the future of trade law, including free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and NAFTA.

Professor Alvaro Santos suggested a reimagination of trade law that incorporates the concerns of globalization — one that retains the benefits of trade while addressing dislocation and job loss. “While trade has had very positive effects, it has also created enormous disruption and those concerns have to be addressed,” Santos said.

Renegotiating NAFTA

A separate event featured Ken Smith Ramos, head of the Trade and NAFTA Office of the Ministry of the Economy of Mexico, who shared an insider’s perspective on “Renegotiating NAFTA: The View From Mexico.” The event was hosted by Georgetown Law’s Institute of International Economic Law, as part of Professor Chris Brummer’s International Economic Law and Policy Colloquium.

Ramos noted that 5 million U.S. jobs depend on trade in goods and services with Mexico; Mexican companies are also creating jobs in the United States, employing more than 120,000 workers. Investing in other countries is “a win win,” Ramos asserted. “It’s not a zero sum game.”