COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | MILBURN LINE
From 'Drill, baby, drill' to a blue ocean strategy

U.S. leadership for a changing world

As 100 million gallons of crude flowed into the Gulf of Mexico, the echoes of "Drill, baby, drill" temporarily faded but are still part of a national tendency that is one of our greatest challenges for a sustainable future.

Regulation has been the political scourge of business and small-government conservatives for over a generation now. But while we have seen unprecedented economic growth in the United States during this period, the excesses of deregulation and flawed regulation have also led to failures ranging from the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf and increasing air and environmental degradation to the return of E. coli bacteria following reduced inspection capacities and a financial crisis that threatened another Great Depression.

Transforming the demonized concept of bad bureaucratic regulation into one of good standards with verification that protect workers, children and the environment may be needed for our way of life to survive the environmental and related health challenges of this century.

Our national reticence to commit to such standards has a parallel in the realm of international affairs. American leadership has been critical for a relatively stable international system since the end of the Second World War, when Cold War rivalries and nuclear capabilities threatened the survival of our species. But American exceptionalism -- the belief that we are different historically and somehow beyond the standards of scrutiny -- continues to be a hurdle for leadership in this new century.

Despite originally leading the development of international human rights instruments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States has become so hesitant in ratifying them -- and only doing so with many legal reservations that weaken their application -- that some have coined the term American "exemptionalism."

This hesitance is due to several factors.

Historically, southern congressional leaders feared that international human rights standards might be used to indict racism in the South. And many of the same fear mongers who told us that Social Security is the first step toward socialism would also have us believe that participating in an international architecture of human rights and democracy standards would limit the United States or subject us to undue scrutiny.

Our recent flirtation with legally authorized torture, however convoluted the justifying logic, should make the reaffirmation of international human rights standards and our commitment to them more important than ever. This commitment could be demonstrated immediately in numerous situations, but here are two.

Just a few weeks ago in Kampala, Uganda, an important review of the International Criminal Court took place that will hopefully define a path for eventual U.S. participation. Delegates adopted a compromise resolution on the crime of aggression, a sticking point for the U.S. government, which allows any ICC investigations to be initiated by the U.N. Security Council -- where the United States has veto power. Meanwhile, a draft of a Crimes Against Humanity Act that reflects international standards for mass atrocity crimes has been sitting in the Senate for over a year.

Similarly, the 1979 Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has not been ratified by the United States, along with a few other countries including Iran, Somalia and Sudan. It is hard to understand how this standard has been stuck in a Senate committee in a country that, in many ways, has led the way on gender empowerment.

Secretary Gates and the new administration have offered an important idea for a more preventative security architecture based on three Ds: development, diplomacy and defense. But a fourth "D," democracy -- building on the egalitarian participation reflected in the gender equality and civil rights efforts that have been a product of U.S. democracy -- is key for inspiring our global partners. That would also mean transcending American exceptionalism and becoming a more active team player in the international arena. Pushing the Crimes Against Humanity Act and CEDAW ratification through the Senate would be a good start.

A blue ocean strategy is a recently coined business term for a niche that creates an uncontested market space and thus makes the market irrelevant. Democratic accountability and leadership for human rights is that blue ocean strategy for international affairs: they deeply reflect American values and resonate across the globe. Re-engaging the world on international justice issues is critical for U.S. leadership to ensure effective, efficient standards that protect us all.


Line is executive director of the Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice at the University of San Diego.

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