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The Obama administration’s “pivot” or “rebalance” to Asia has shaped the Obama administration’s impact on international law. The pivot or rebalance has been primarily about regional security in East Asia (principally, the challenges of coping with a rising and more assertive China—particularly in the context of disputes over the South China Sea—and resulting concerns among regional states), and secondarily about U.S. economic relations with the region (including, as a centerpiece, the Trans-Pacific Partnership). In both areas, the Obama administration has made international law more significant as an element of U.S. foreign policy and has sought to present the U.S. as defending and promoting status quo international legal norms, largely against challenges posed by China. This approach has been somewhat more plausible on security / South China Sea issues than on economic / TPP issues. At the end of the Obama administration, significant uncertainty looms about the prospects for this aspect of the Obama-era approach international law and the international and domestic conditions that helped to produce it.


International law, norms & rules, sovereignty, maritime jurisdiction, foreign relations, United States, China, trade, globalization, security, South China Sea, Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP

Publication Title

Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law

Publication Citation

48 Case W. Res. J. Int'l L. 143 (2016)