United states a rogue state

Is the United States a Rogue State when it comes to the environment?

In this day and age it is common place for the United States of America to be targeted by eco-warriors and tree huggers who have labelled the US as experts in environmental destruction. In order to evaluate whether the United States is a Rogue state when it comes to the environment, one must compare the policies and actions of present day rogue states to the policies and actions of the United States in relation to the environment. Furthermore the role of environmental law and regulation must be analysed in order to determine whether the United States is an environmental rogue state. Assuming that climate change is a manmade disaster and ceteris paribus[1], it is my firm belief that the Unites States is a rogue state when it comes to the environment.

The term Rogue State was coined during the Cold War and is loosely defined as, "A state that is considered threatening to the world's peace due to the dangerous and unpredictable way by which is conducts in policy, usually disregarding international law and diplomacy."[2] It is a complex task to evaluate whether the United States is a rogue state in terms of the environment because the term rogue state is normally applied to countries with authoritarian regimes that abuse human rights and sponsor global terrorism. In order to establish the United States as a rogue state, in terms of the environment, one must alter the categories by which states are classified as "rogue." Thus I have created a new classification system to establish whether or not a state can be categorized as rogue when it comes to the environment. Firstly, environmental rogue states display no regard for international environmental law due their excessive amount of resource consumption and environmental damage. Secondly, rogue states terrorize the local as well as the international population with their largely unregulated policies and actions. And lastly they are not open to conventional means of negotiation. Based on these criteria I will analyse whether or not the United States is a rogue state when it comes to the environment.

International Environmental Law has been developed on a system of norms[3]. These norms represent a general standard of behaviour expected in the international community and, furthermore, identify the obligations of the state. Norms are especially useful in providing legislation over the global commons or areas where there is no national jurisdiction; the high seas, the deep ocean, Antarctica and especially the global atmosphere fall into this category. When it comes to the atmosphere, arguably the most important global common, world governments such as the UN must receive the support of nations all over the world in order to be able to institute standards to prevent its exploitation. The Kyoto Protocol of 1997[4] was proposed by the UNFCCC[5] in order to combat the exploitation of the atmosphere due to rising levels of CO2 emissions. The United States is the nation only in the world that has no intention of ratifying the treaty. The Bush administration quickly denounced it as being "fatally flawed."[6] This significantly undermines the Kyoto Protocol because the US is responsible for roughly one fourth of the world's carbon emissions and without their signature, cutting carbon emissions globally becomes significantly harder. The Kyoto Protocol has recently become a binding contract[7] for countries that have signed it and therefore it is an essential part of international environmental law. If a country decided not to ratify the Geneva Convention or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they would without a doubt be considered a threat to global stability. The US only escapes this label not only because it's the world's sole super power but also because the issue is the environment and not human rights. In addition to not helping reduce carbon emission levels the United State has become a global free rider. The US benefits greatly, from the costly reduction of greenhouse gases made by other countries, even though they make no contribution to the global effort. Multilateral Environmental Agreements prevent chemical waste from moving trans- boundary without "prior informed consent."[8] In the case of CO2 emissions the United States produces a staggering 5 billion[9] metric tons of carbon dioxide each year without any prior informed consent and therefore breaks the International norm once again. It is clear that the United States government has shown little or no regard for environmental norms and international environmental law. Furthermore the dangerous and unpredictable way in which policy is carried out leaves the United States as a threat to global environmental safety.

The term rogue state conjures up the association of a state being out-of line or simply out-of-control. And if a state being out of control proves it to be a threat to international peace then it is guilty of sponsoring global terrorism. This argument requires the preconception that climate change is in fact caused by humans and thus the consequences that arise from climate change are a cause for international concern. The United States not only holds the record for the largest carbon dioxide emissions but it also stands in a league of its own in terms of population to carbon emission ratio. Numerically speaking the United States is responsible for one-fourth of global warming. The devastating Hurricane Katrina of 2005 clearly illustrated one of the worst consequences of climate change. Thousands of lives were lost and nearly a million people were left homeless[10]. Shortly after the hurricane, scientific evidence surfaced that directly linked Katrina to the rising temperatures of ocean waters. Since carbon emissions cause the ocean temperature to rise; the United States has been a large contributor to the terrorization of its own local population. Receding coastlines of small islands in the pacific, increased spread of disease, and an increased frequency of violent natural disasters have all been scientifically linked to climate change and as the largest single contributor; the United States is directly responsible. On an international level the United States has often come under scrutiny for destroying other countries' environments. In the case of Iraq, the US army has been dumping military fuel waste, lead-acid batteries and un- useable oil into the Iraqi water system[11]. Which has caused an increase of thyroid problems and sickliness amongst children; this contamination has caused a reduction in the bio diversity of the environment and is now beginning to affect the fishing industry. Thus the dangerous military policy of the US is leading to environmental disaster in Baghdad. Ultimately the local and international environmental terrorism sponsored by the United States makes it a Rogue state when it comes to the environment.

In this essay I have demonstrated how the USA fits the criteria for being an environmental rogue state. However the United States does not fit the criterion on the count of not being open to conventional means of negotiation. On the surface this could be seen as a reason to celebrate, because it would mean that the US does not fit the criteria on all counts for being an environmental rogue state; but when you look deeper it becomes apparent that simply being willing to negotiate with other countries and environmental lobbyists is not enough. After scores of negotiations, environmental conferences and carbon reduction promises the USA continues to act in the same manner it always has. The lack of ambition when it comes to the environment is apparent in American politics. Obama's cap and trade bill[12] has been languishing in congress for months whereas the 700 billion dollar economic bailout package was rushed through the House and the Senate within days. This clearly demonstrates the US government's lack of commitment to the environment. When Bush refused to sign the Kyoto treaty, he came under immense scrutiny from other nations and NGO's such as Green Peace. After several negotiations Bush passed the US alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, the Clear Skies Initiative[13]; it proposed to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18%. However the fine print on this initiative states that carbon emissions could continue to grow as long as the economy grew at the same rate. It seems the Clear Skies Initiative was Bush's attempt to save some face for not signing Kyoto, however the initiative is evidently empty and will do little or nothing to reduce global warming. The environment is a small priority in American politics; this was evident during the 2009 president elections where issues of the economy, health care and war were given priority. The US is clearly worried about climate change but it refuses to enact any environmental policy that could potentially damage the economy. This was palpable at the Copenhagen Climate Conference of 2009, where arguments between China and the USA left the conference a failure. The USA refused to agree to significant cuts and simply gave economic reasons for why carbon cuts of above 12% were not feasible. The USA along with China prevented any substantial agreements from being reached and thus the UN sponsored conference met a disastrous end. After the conference, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, in relation to the US and China, "What we need is not just one part of the world going to higher ranges of ambitions; we need the other part of the world as well."[14] This quote clearly illustrates that simply being willing to negotiate at environmental conferences isn't enough to prevent the US from being labelled an environmental rogue state; the US must also demonstrate greater ambitions to cut emissions and fulfil its environmental promises. Thus in my opinion the US still deserves to be classified as a rogue state when it comes to the environment.

There is a principle of common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to the issue of the global environment. Every nation has a responsibility to protect the world's environment but the biggest contributor to environment degradation should be the leader in the fight to find a solution. The United States has failed on this front and in the process put world peace in jeopardy. The largely un- regulated environmental policies of the US are directly in conflict with international environmental law and this has subsequently led to the terrorization of the global population. Furthermore empty negotiations paired with increasing carbon emissions makes the United States a global environmental rogue state.



Steans, J. and Pettiford, L. (2005) International Relations: Perspectives and Themes, 2nd Edition, (Harlow: Pearson Education)

Baylis, J. Smith and Owens P. The Globalisation of World Politics: An introduction to International Relations, 4th edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Web Journals

Khalfan, Ashfaq: The Principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities: Origins and Scope (2002)


Khan, A: Rogue States and Surrounding Issues


Rankin, Jennifer: Is the US a rogue state? (2003)


Bluth, Christoph: Norms and International Relation: The anachronistic nature of neo-realist approaches (2004)











[1] http://economics.about.com/od/termsbeginningwithc/g/ceteris_paribus.htm

[2] http://www.thefreedictionary.com/rogue+state

[3] http://www.polis.leeds.ac.uk/assets/files/research/working-papers/wp12bluth.pdf

[4] http://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol/items/2830.php

[5] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

[6] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/1382564.stm

[7] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/4267245.stm

[8] http://www.unep.org/dec/links/index.html

[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions

[10] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/09/0906_050906_katrina_facts.html

[11] http://mssparky.com/2009/12/us-army-recycling-progam-is-destroying-iraq-environment-claim-iraqis/

[12] http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6115V820100202

[13] http://www.epa.gov/clearskies/

[14] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/6859567/China-and-America-to-blame-for-Copenhagen-failure-says-Brown.html

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