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International Law, the U.S. and the Holy See

Paolo Carozza on the Lessons of Iraq, and Other Topics

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, AUG. 23, 2004 (Zenit) - Despite some high-visibility conflicts, the United States generally agrees with John Paul II's call for an effective international rule of law, says a scholar.

Paolo Carozza, a faculty member of the Notre Dame Law School and the Center for Civil and Human Rights and an expert on international law, shared with Catholic Online why the United States is in accord with the Holy See as one of the most active and insistent promoters of international agreements and international legality, but diverges from the wishes of the Vatican on other issues.

Q: From your perspective, what are the major points of convergence and points of divergence between the Holy See and the United States in international affairs? How would you evaluate the relationship overall?

Carozza: One has to be very careful in generalizing about the views of "the Holy See" or "the United States," because in all such complex and sophisticated entities there are often subtle but significant divergences internally.

We could see important differences, for example, in the way that various representatives of the Holy See responded to the U.S.-led war in Iraq; some were much more nuanced than others in expressing the grounds and scope of opposition.

Similarly, in the government of United States, there are various attitudes and positions with respect to the value of international law and its limitations.

That said, nevertheless, I think that the relationship in general is a strong one, although of course it has suffered from the sharp differences over the war in Iraq.

United States foreign policy overall often tends toward a moral reading of the world -- that is, the American people and their elected leaders often view international affairs as part of a much larger struggle to advance good in the world.

This is a contrast to many other states in the international community, who appear to regard the international order as an essentially anarchic or amoral arena of self-interest and power. This moral reading of international order is in broad terms quite consonant with the approach of the Holy See, which affirms the Catholic tradition of understanding politics and law to be in the service of the common good.

At the same time, however, this common point of departure also leads to a significant difference between the United States and the Holy See. In the United States, a moral reading of the world can often become moralistic, reducing politics to an overly simplistic dualism that demonizes the other: us vs. them; good vs. bad; the vindicators of justice vs. the evil and corrupt.

The Catholic tradition is a more adequately realist one, fully aware of the failings and limitations of man, and thus more conscious of the capacity for evil present in the heart of every one of us.

It is for this reason that Pope John Paul II, in particular, constantly calls us to beg for mercy, to remember that our desire for a just and peaceful world will not be realized merely through our own efforts but through the event of the mystery of Christ entering into the world. This leads to a greater sensitivity to the dangers of grand, ideological projects for the world.

The American approach, by contrast, can sometimes tend toward an excessive and misplaced confidence in our ability to remake the world through the projection of American ideals.

Q: The Vatican and the U.S. administration had differed on the necessity of the Iraq war. What lessons has the United States learned over the past year in regard to the Holy Father's initial warnings?

Carozza: The divergent judgments of the Holy Father and of President Bush regarding the war in Iraq exemplify lucidly the differences that I have already described.

I would like to be able to say that the United States has learned a lesson from the experience of postwar Iraq, including a greater appreciation of the way that any war, even one that might appear to many to be necessary and just, is a failure of humanity that inflicts tremendous costs on all people.

Unfortunately, I really I don't know that any lesson has in fact been learned. We tend to have a persistent amnesia about even the recent past, and when we do learn "lessons" from history, they are often the wrong ones.

But this is not true only of the United States. Most political societies suffer from the same lapses.

For example, many of the European states have important lessons to learn from their failure regarding Iraq, too -- lessons about the sterility and utopianism of a "pacifism" that is in large part little more than an unreflective anti-Americanism. Yet, I don't see many signs that they are re-examining their mistakes, any more than Americans are.

Q: Immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was much world sympathy for the United States. Does the United States still enjoy that kind of sympathy? Has the Iraq war affected the world's perception of the United States?

Carozza: Certainly the situation in Iraq has had a terribly negative effect on relations between the United States and much of the rest of the world, and has contributed to the dissipation of much of the sympathy that had arisen out of the ashes of the twin towers.

Again, however, it would be a mistake to focus exclusively on this dynamic -- which puts the blame solely on the United States for having "squandered" its good will -- without also looking soberly at the way that anti-American political ideologies have played at least as great a role in impeding the international cooperation needed to construct peace, foster development and further the universal common good.

Q: The Pope has called for a return to reliance on international law, to solve situations such as those in the Middle East. Is this something the United States can support in the short term? If not, why not?

Carozza: Yes, the United States can, and indeed generally does, support an effective international rule of law.

Setting aside for a moment a limited number of high-visibility conflicts over international norms and institutions, the United States is in fact one of the most active and insistent promoters of international agreements and international legality, understanding that a just and stable international order, which is in the self-interest of the United States, needs the predictability and consistency afforded by law.

Why then has it resisted vociferously some recent multilateral efforts to expand the scope of international law and institutions? There are at least two sets of reasons.

First, it must be acknowledged that in certain sectors of the American political community there is a visceral belief that international law necessarily compromises our sovereignty and therefore is to be rejected except insofar as it serves our self-interest -- conceived in a very narrow and immediate sense.

I think this view is very wrong and ill-advised, and deeply misunderstands the sources and ends of international law. Regrettably, at least some representatives of the current government of the United States seem to be attracted to it.

The second set of reasons is subtler and in the long run more important because it has to do with the authority of international law as "law." Nothing in the tradition to which the Holy Father appeals suggests that we ought to follow an international rule of law merely because it is formally posited by some bureaucratic entity. On the contrary, John Paul II has insisted on the renewal of natural law as the foundation of a peaceful international order.

Part of the American skepticism of international law is implicitly linked to this principle. We are, and should be, hesitant to accept international law solely because it satisfies certain positive formal criteria. We want to be convinced that it is "law" in the fullest sense, that is, because it does in fact serve the universal common good.

Q: What needs to change in international law to make it more effective? What moral principles should come into play?

Carozza: The effectiveness of international law is a function of many different factors, but its moral foundation is a critical part of what gives states and other international actors good reason to order their actions according to the rule of law.

To have that legitimacy, international law must above all serve both the dignity of the human person and the integrity and freedom of human communities. Both of these basic concerns are in a certain sense subsumed in the principle of subsidiarity.

International law should, in other words, serve to advance the flourishing of every human person first by sustaining those rules and institutions that help smaller, local communities achieve their own ends.

Q: President George Bush is facing a pro-abortion Catholic in this year's election. How will Catholic voters respond? Do you think the elections will affect U.S. Catholics' views of political life?

Carozza: I am not an expert on the voting patterns of Catholics in the United States, but all the superficial indicators at least suggest that American Catholics as a whole do not participate in politics or make decisions about issues of public import in substantially different ways than most other Americans do.

That leads me to think that this election will mostly confirm two things about American Catholics and political life.

First, that Christianity in the United States has in large part been captured by the dominant currents of the secular culture surrounding it. And second, that it would be difficult to overstate the need for Catholics -- not just the bishops, clergy and religious but every layperson -- to educate themselves and one another more deeply about the meaning of the presence of Christ in the world today and about the new humanity that our encounter with him generates.

The failure of Catholics to speak with persuasiveness and authority in the public square about fundamental issues of our human dignity is in the first instance a failure to transmit such an education.


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Iraq, Law, Human, Rights, Vatican

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