Former UN Ambassador John Bolton Talks US Sovereignty at Law School

by Thomas Stilson on May 1, 2009

Bolton stressed that the US Constitution trumps international law. (Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File/AP Photo)

Bolton stressed that the US Constitution trumps international law. (Keystone, Laurent Gillieron, File/AP Photo)


Two weeks ago, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton spoke the Stanford Law School in a speech entitled “The Coming War on Sovereignty.” Ambassador Bolton criticized the idea of allowing global governance to usurp the United States’ interests.

Bolton defined global governance as, “[an] oblique way of saying, you have too much control over your own government. You really need to give a little bit of that up to other institutions or other countries. [W]e have global problems and we need global solutions.”

He argued passionately against allowing organizations like the UN or NATO to control US foreign policy. With regards to the European Union, Bolton cited a lack of popular support in the UK, for instance, with opposition to EU treaties approaching 60-80%.

Bolton explained, “[O]ne of the most pressing problems of the European states is what they call the democratic deficit. That’s a polite way of saying, things happen in the European Union that are not subject to popular political control. These [treaties] are not transparent. They’re not subject to democratic accountability.”

The ambassador discussed which aspects of U.S. sovereignty were under the greatest threat by global governance. His primary concern was the United States’ ability to use military force.

“The Constitution trumps international law. If you look for a source of authority, you have to follow our own Constitutional procedures on the use of force,” Bolton argued.

Throughout his speech, Bolton was quick to defend the Bush Administration’s policies, most notably the decision to use force in Iraq. When asked why Bush sought UN support for Iraq with UN Resolution 1441, Bolton explained that it was at the request of Tony Blair and out of respect for our allies.

In another example, Bolton discussed the peacekeeping action in Kosovo. Clinton pursued and received international support through NATO as opposed to the UN since he knew Russia would veto a UN Security Council resolution.

The ambassador went on to quote then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, “[I] look forward to the day when the UN Security Council is the sole source of legitimacy for the use of force.’”

“This is flatly wrong. It is, at best, a tertiary source of legitimacy,” Bolton said regarding Annan’s statement.

Bolton discussed the ineffectiveness of globally-controlled foreign policy actions, citing the hundreds of UN resolution violations that have resulted in no enforcement and the irrational willingness to engage in diplomacy at all costs.

“There is a debate on the appropriate role of diplomacy in American foreign policy and I think it is between two groups of people,” Bolton said, “On one hand is the group that believes in diplomacy as the answer to 99 and 44/100… of our nation’s problems. The other group essentially says that diplomacy is the solution to 100% of the world’s problems. …Diplomacy is not a policy. Diplomacy is a tool.”

The ambassador was concerned regarding Iran’s 20-year pursuit of a nuclear weapons program and Obama’s willingness to pursue direct negotiations with Iran:

“This is hailed as a real breakthrough – a departure from those cowboys in the Bush Administration,” Bolton said, “But let’s review what’s actually been going on here. For the past six years, the EU has been conducting negotiations with Iran where it has been known from the outset that Iran was speaking to the USA through the EU. It was made very clear to Iran from the beginning that if they were to give up their uranium enrichment activities, they could have a different relationship… with the United States.”

Bolton criticized this approach suggesting this was exactly what Iran wanted to see occur. Bolton said, “What the European Union did was give Iran another 6 years. The answer [to this diplomacy] is that Iran is that much closer to having nuclear capabilities.”

When later asked about Israel’s role in stopping Iran’s nuclear arms program, Bolton added that none of the Arab states in the region want a nuclear Iran. Bolton argued that Israel has a limited time to act and will make a decision by the end of the year or face the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

Citing the death penalty, gun control, and other volatile topics, Bolton expressed concern over American special interest groups who, not achieving their political and social goals at home, look to internationalize their issues.

While ambassador to the UN, Bolton refused to sign a UN arms treaty that would have placed most common firearms in the United States in the same class as rockets and other military weaponry. When he announced that the US would not sign any treaties that violate the Second Amendment, a UN representative cited “America’s irrational attachment to the Constitution” as our principle problem with the treaty.

When asked about the UN’s role in addressing global warming, Bolton saw it as a very present concern, “I think we’ll see a charter regarding capping carbon footprint per capita. These ideas are incidental to global warming [though]. Global warming is being used as a tool for people who don’t like free market systems, capitalism.”

“I think we are actually capable of debating these issues, like gun control, death penalty, and a range of other issues right here in the United States,” stated Bolton, to which he sarcastically added, “without reference to paragons of human rights like Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe.”

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