Ambassador Susman Makes Case for a Strong Rule of Law During Harris Institute Lecture


H.E. Ambassador Louis Susman, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom, has a message for those who see America in a permanent state of “irreversible decline”: not so fast.

Susman, a 1962 graduate of the law school, kicked off the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute’s Speakers Series for 2012–13. In his address, “The Enduring Value of the Rule of Law,” he reminded a full Bryan Cave Moot Courtroom that the “narrative of America in decline is nothing new.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, the country was said to be losing ground to the Soviet Union in “technology and ambition.” The 1970s brought recession, unemployment, Vietnam, and Watergate. In the 1980s, “the tiger economies of East Asia” seemed
to be bypassing the United States.

“Each time America’s standing was questioned. Each time America rose to the particular challenges it faced,” Susman noted. “Time and time again the doom mongers and the defeatists were proven wrong. And I am confident they will be again.”

Susman listed four reasons for his optimism:

First, the American economy—the largest economy in the world—is growing and “is responsible for one-quarter of all global economic output.”

Second, America’s military is strong, with the defense budget growing from $319 billion per year in 2001, the year of the 9/11 attacks, to $691 billion today.

Third, America knows that its challenges are “too complex to go it alone.” He noted: “The United States has a range of formidable alliances on every continent.”

Finally, underlying the strong economy, military, and partnerships is the American commitment to the rule of law.

In a nod to Nuremberg prosecutor Whitney R. Harris, Susman said that we must remember that at the end of World War II, four nations—the United States, France, Britain, and Russia—decided to “stay the hands of vengeance and make Germans subject to the rule of law” at the Nuremberg trials. Ever since, the rule of law has been the United States’ “core value” on the international stage.

For example, “the U.S. was the first country to send a message to the world on transparency and bribery,” Susman noted. “Where the rule of law is weak, innovation is snuffed out by criminality and corruption. Where it is strong, wealth is created.”

This is so, Susman argued, because adherence to the rule of law leads to a more predictable business environment, good governance, enforceable contracts, and foreign aid and investment for development. “Businesses must know that they are protected, but flawed legal systems in developing nations make it impossible to succeed,” he continued.

In addition, the rule of law is necessary for a nation’s security.

“One of the lessons America has learned in Iraq and Afghanistan is that entrenching long-term stability in a country requires the creation of an efficient system of justice and governance based on the rule of law, “Susman said. “That is why today America has many civilian teams, which include lawyers, to train judges and prosecutors on the ground in these countries.”

Striking a more personal note, Susman added that his Washington University law degree has been critical to his success as an ambassador. Though he has “the best job in the world”—a job in which he has been able to go attend royal weddings, celebrate the Queen’s 60th Diamond Jubilee, and attend the Olympics—he said he “spends 80 percent of [his] time on matters of substance” that draw on the critical thinking and writing skills he learned in law school.

“Legal issues are a big part of my daily life, and my legal training is central. I take immense pride to be an alumnus of one of America’s best law schools,” he said. “At Washington University, you are challenged to look at problems and solutions from different perspectives. It has helped to make my life possible.”

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By Timothy J. Fox