The Global Radicals and Barack Obama

The international social radicals do their best work away from the public gaze. These are the ones who want a global right to abortion, global same-sex marriage, and who generally want to give increasing power to international bureaucrats at the United Nations and the European Union. These people prefer it when attention is focused elsewhere.

With the global economic crisis and with war and the continuing threat of war, few are focused on their agenda. All they need to make great advances is a great leader. Enter Barack Obama. If he is the next president of the United States, the international social radicals will have free rein to do whatever they wish. And here is what they wish.

First, they need the United States to sign a bunch of treaties. It embarrasses the left that we – almost alone in the world – have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the International Criminal Court (ICC) There are other treaties they want the US to ratify, like the Land Mines Treaty, but here let’s concern ourselves only with social policy.

These are among the most widely ratified treaties in the world. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, for instance, has been ratified by every country in the world except the United States and Somalia. Talk about embarrassing – to the left, anyway.

Each of these treaties has been signed by an American president: Carter signed CEDAW and ICESCR; Clinton signed CRC; Bush signed and then “unsigned” the ICC. But none has been ratified by the Senate whether under Republican or Democratic control.

Here is a snapshot of the problems with each treaty. CEDAW is used to promote abortion. CRC undercuts the rights of parents. ICESCR introduces things like a right to health care and certain economic rights that Americans have found off-putting and that come with hefty price tags.

Lack of merits aside, the United States views its treaty obligations seriously. Many other countries ratify these things simply to get the United Nations off their backs. Those governments sign these treaties and promptly ignore them. We incorporate treaty obligations into our domestic laws, which can then be litigated in the federal courts. So we are cautious, but our resolve to resist may be growing weaker.

There is growing pressure both internationally and domestically for the United States to get with the new international program. The charge that America is isolationist rests largely on our refusal to ratify these treaties. Ignoring them is now seen as a remnant of the discredited Bush days.

Obama has endorsed CEDAW as has his vice presidential running mate Joe Biden. Both are in favor of the ICC, too. It is likely that, with a larger and more left-leaning Senate, a whole slew of left-leaning treaties will be ratified.

Besides existing treaties there is also the threat that an Obama administration will rejuvenate what has been a fairly sleepy United Nations. In the Clinton years, there were repeated global conferences on social policy. That died out in the Bush years. There is a lot of pent-up energy that will explode if Obama takes the oath of office.

But there are even larger issues than these particular treaties or new UN conferences. There is larger mischief afoot. It is called global governance.

The traditional understanding of international relations and international law is that they regulate behavior among and between sovereign states. By contrast, global governance holds that international relations and international law should have more to do with regulating the behavior of individual citizens within each state and that these decisions should not be left to sovereign states, but to international bodies like the United Nations and its various commissions and committees.

Harold Koh, a high-ranking State Department employee under President Clinton and currently the dean of the Yale Law School, writes that national sovereignty as we used to know it no longer exists. It has been replaced with a notion of sovereignty that says nations hold it as long as they are actors in good standing in the new international order. The only way to do this is to accept all of these new treaties and cede your sovereignty to international bodies. Koh will likely be high on the list for the Supreme Court under Barack Obama.

Whether Koh is elevated to the Supreme Court is not as important as whether Obama himself holds these views. Given his support of these treaties, and given the legal and ideological milieu in which Obama travels, one suspects that Barack Obama has no problem with any of this.


Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-Fam.