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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

4 - The United States and the International Court of Justice: Coping with Antinomies


Since 1946, the United States has had an uneasy relationship with the International Court of Justice (ICJ, the World Court, or the Court). On one hand, the United States embraces the rule of law within its own society and, in principle, within the international system of states. The United States has been and remains an active participant in cases before the Court, appearing before it several times, more than any other state, even in recent years. On the other hand, the United States has never been willing to submit itself to the plenary authority of the Court and has typically reacted negatively to decisions by the Court that are adverse to U.S. interests. As is well known, in response to decisions that were reached by the Court, the United States refused to participate in the proceedings on the merits of the case brought by Nicaragua in 1984, withdrew from the Court's compulsory jurisdiction in 1986, and recently terminated its acceptance of the Court's jurisdiction over disputes arising under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

This chapter addresses certain salient aspects of the U.S. relationship with the ICJ. Following this introduction, Part A briefly sets forth three antinomies (i.e., equally rational but conflicting principles) in U.S. foreign relations that have had important ramifications for the U.S. relationship with the Court from the outset. First, the United States operates on the basis of conflicting principles with respect to the relevance of international law and institutions for U.S. foreign policy.

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