Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 02/2009

Law & the Lone Superpower: Rebuilding a Transatlantic Consensus on International Law

William H. Taft IV, Frances G. Burwell

April 2007

Atlantic Council


Throughout 2006, allegations of U.S. involvement in "renditions" of suspected terrorists from Europe to prisons in Afghanistan and elsewhere reverberated around European capitals. Charges that the United States had established secret prisons in some European countries raised the temperature even further. The European Parliament and the Council of Europe initiated investi- gations, while some European leaders called for the United States to close its detention facility in Guantanamo, describing the facility as contrary to international law. The controversy over Guantanamo and U.S. treatment of "enemy combatants" is only the latest example of transatlantic differences over international legal matters. In recent years, the U.S. refusal to join a number of high-profile multilateral legal agreements has been seen by many in Europe as evidence that the United States is moving away from the international legal system. In response, U.S. officials and analysts have criticized European governments for supporting multilateral treaties that they see as neither effective nor enforceable.