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Obama’s Weakness on Treaties

Author: John B. Bellinger III, Adjunct Senior Fellow for International and National Security Law
December 18, 2012
New York Times

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ON Dec. 4, the Senate rejected the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a vote of 61 to 38, five short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval. Conservative Republicans had mischaracterized the treaty, which was intended to promote the rights of the disabled in other countries, as infringing on American sovereignty. But the treaty was also mishandled by the Obama administration, which has secured Senate approval of the fewest treaties in any four-year presidential term since World War II.

It isn't enough to blame Republican opposition to international agreements, which certainly has risen among the party's senators in recent years. That trend only makes it more important that President Obama work harder to gain Senate support for treaties in his second term.

The disabilities convention was negotiated between 2002 and 2006, and 126 countries have since become full parties to it. Much of it is modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, which President George Bush signed in 1990.

The administration of his son, George W. Bush, took part in negotiating the convention and endorsed its substance, but did not sign it, on the ground that disability rights are more appropriately protected by domestic laws than by treaties. For the United States, the convention's value is primarily symbolic; the treaty does not require other countries to give Americans special rights, as many other types of treaties do.

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