In the months leading up to the U.S. intervention in Iraq in March 2003, the dialogue between the United States and France on the appropriate course of action to take in response to Iraq's report on its weapons of mass destruction revealed differences between these traditional allies as to the options available under international law. These differences did not center on the goals of any proposed action-both sides in fact agreed upon the goals, which were to ensure there were no weapons of mass destruction; to prevent an increase in terrorist activity; and to address the continuing violations of international law perpetuated by Saddam Hussein. What was in dispute, however, was the timing and form of action available under international law. The United States and France ultimately did not see eye to eye on the appropriate course of action and in the end, the United States entered Iraq without the support of the French. Many saw this as a manifestation of a growing divide between the two countries. The reasons given for this rift have been plentiful-the French resent U.S. power; the United States resents France's efforts to balance the United States with a stronger European Union; the two countries disagree on trade relations; there is a general growing anti-American sentiment among the French population. But do these accounts truly provide an explanation for the disagreement between the two counties? In fact, is it true that there is even a significant division between France and the United States in terms of the laws of war? Or for that matter, is there, as many of the abovementioned theories would indicate, is there an underlying division between the two states when it comes to international law and the international system generally? Many might argue the evidence is overwhelmingly so. But do these explanations truly provide an accurate depiction of French and American behavior? To address these questions, this essay will examine the approaches of France and the United States towards international law. In doing so, I suggest that although in the past several decades France and the United States have frequently approached international law from different perspectives, neither view results in a greater notion of justice nor an absolutely better record of compliance with international law. At the same time, however, I consider why these two countries, although similar in many ways (both countries are advanced, industrialized democracies founded on the liberal principles of the Enlightenment), and although both having past records of adhering to international law, have a historical tension in their approaches to international law. Further, I theorize that this tension can be illuminated by an examination of the legal traditions that have shaped the behavior of the two countries. Specifically, I suggest that the different legal traditions of France and the United States contribute to the different outcomes we have seen in terms of the two countries and their treatment of international law. The legal tradition of a state, developed from the state's history with law and conception of the role of law in society, coupled with the legal and political institutions that have developed out of this history, help to determine the position a state affords international law as a guiding force in determining state behavior. France and the United States certainly maintain many similarities, and remain close allies in many situations. However, different legal histories and perceptions of the role of law have led to different beliefs today that shape the idea of international law as a guiding factor affecting state behavior.
Dana Z. Falstrom,
Thought Versus Action: The Influence of Legal Tradition on French and American Approaches to International Law,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol58/iss2/5