Interesting post by Brhama Chellaney (Professor of Strategic Studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research) on ProjectSyndicate.com about the similarities in how China and the U.S. view international law.
Despite a widely held belief that the current international system is based on rules, the fact is that major powers are rule makers and rule imposers, not rule takers. They have a propensity to violate or manipulate international law when it is in their interest to do so. If universal conformity to a rules-based international order still seems like a distant prospect, an important reason is that countries that should be leading the charge still so often behave like rogue states.
This is not news to anyone from Latin America or other similar areas, and it’s simply realpolitik at its best/worst, of course. I think it has always been and will always be the case that those nations whose power stands (almost) unchallenged will regard international law as a useful prod when it agrees with national interest and an inconvenience to be ignored/avoided when it doesn’t. But this is not just a “superpower” issue: lots of second tier powers have the same attitude to this issue. At the end of the day, only the citizens of a nation are able to counter any government’s natural inclination to put its own interests above any extra-national authority. So long as ordinary U.S. and Chinese citizens remain ignorant or apathetic about international rules and agreements, there will be no pressure on either government to treat these agreements as anything more than voluntary.