America Was Not Created by the ‘International Community’

by Charles C. W. Cooke

The Chair of American Studies at Harvard weighs in on Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Accord:

In a bumper day of silly and ignorant comments, this one has to take the cake. The United States was not “created” by the “international community,” and nor was the Treaty of Paris the key moment in its development. Rather, by 1783, the United States was a fact on the ground. In Paris, the British merely accepted that.

How was the United States “created”? By a combination of the pen and the sword. In 1776, the world had been informed by a “unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America” that:

these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.

By 1783, the “united Colonies” had made good on this by winning a war. To hear Chaplin tell it, you’d think that the United States was proactively invented by a collection of meddlesome powers — that its creation story was akin in nature to Belgium’s or to Pakistan’s or to Palestine’s. But it wasn’t. It was made by insurrectionists who threw off an imperial yoke, and it was recognized by the defeated entity’s surrender. Grand as its name may sound, the Treaty of Paris was not a meeting of the “international community” but a bilateral agreement — that is, an agreement that had only two signatories. Those signatories were Britain, which was surrendering and agreeing to both the terms of that surrenders and the border adjustments it yielded, and the United States, which was being recognized as a new nation. That the U.S. was soon widely recognized is interesting, certainly. But its existence as a sovereign nation was not the product of the Treaty of Paris any more than the existence of the incandescent lightbulb was the product of the U.S. patent office. 

Even if we accept Chaplin’s premise, I can’t for the life of me work out what she is trying to argue. Suppose that the U.S. had indeed been created ex nihilo by a collection of superior powers. So what? Are we supposed to conclude that any country that has benefited at some point from the “international community” is obliged in perpetuity to defer to its wishes? Or is it that Paris is now sacrosanct when it comes to American policy, such that any transnational agreement made there must be held to be inviolable? Belgium’s independence was decided by a host of major players at the 1830 London Conference. Does this mean that the Belgians are now “betraying” the “international community” if they decline to acquiesce to the wishes of people who meet there? And to what lengths should we take the duties of “gratitude”? The American revolutionaries enjoyed help from France during their struggle, certainly. But at what point does that cease to impinge upon their ability to exercise sovereignty? Much more recently, France was liberated by the Allied Forces in World War II. Should we assume that it is not free to chart its own course? 

What a lot of nonsense we are seeing these days.

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