Bart M.J. Szewczyk is an Associate-in-Law at Columbia Law School. Previously, he was a senior associate at WilmerHale and an adjunct professor at George Washington University Law School. He is a member of the Executive Council at the American Society of International Law, term member at the Council on Foreign Relations, and fellow at the Truman National Security Project. He has published or has forthcoming publications in the George Washington Law Review, American Journal of International Law, Harvard International Law Journal, Columbia Journal of European Law, Polish Yearbook of International Law, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, & International Herald Tribune. He holds a PhD from Cambridge, JD from Yale Law School, MPA from Princeton, and BS from Penn.
Describe the impact on foreign policy you have made in your current/past positions.
As an academic, I have sought to make my scholarship relevant to some of the key policy questions of our time. Last year, for instance, my article in the Harvard International Law Journal addressed the future of global governance and, in particular, the role and structure of the United Nations Security Council. In a world of variable multi-polarity, where changing crises demand different combinations of actors with relevant resources and shared interests, the Council’s reform should be based not on expanded permanent membership—as mistakenly held by conventional wisdom—but on inclusive contextual participation in decision-making. The Council’s five permanent members continue to have collective resources relative to the rest of the world that are not significantly different than at the founding of the United Nations, but are nonetheless insufficient due to the shifting crises. Thus, the Council needs to ensure flexibility of response and, depending on the context, engage with specific regional and local actors. In contrast, increased permanent representativeness (except for limited expansion to include India and Japan) would have little, if any, benefit in enabling the Council to better fulfill its responsibility across all crises and would merely risk increased deadlock. Moreover, the key issue for the international community is clarifying what common purpose the Council should serve. There is both a consensus within the international community that the Council’s responsibility under Article 24 of the UN Charter should continue to be the maintenance of international peace and security, and a persistent lack of clarity as to the meaning of this obligation in specific crises. If further agreement is reached on the Council’s purpose—a process that gives primacy to persuasion and can be improved through certain reforms—the UN Charter already provides sufficient legal mechanisms to enable the Council to meet the contemporary expectations of the international community.
Currently, I am working on two separate articles on the role of customary international law in the U.S. legal system. The first one—on international custom and statutory interpretation in U.S. federal courts—will be published next year in the George Washington Law Review. The second one will be on the use of international custom in the Congress and the Executive Branch.
What personal contribution to foreign policy are you most proud of?
In 2009, as a visiting fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies, I researched the role of international administration in Bosnia-Herzegovina and, specifically, the ability of the Office of High Representative to enact laws and remove elected officials under the so-called Bonn Powers. My article found—contrary to conventional wisdom and official EU policy since 2006—that the use of the Bonn Powers was generally legitimate, even though certain decisions and categories of decisions merited criticism. Given the ongoing political problems in Bosnia, the paper recommended that the Bonn Powers be retained by the OHR or the EU Special Representative, but with restraints, such that they are used only to preserve the peace, promote the democratic process, and protect human rights—objectives justified under the Dayton Agreement. In addition, the paper suggested specific improvements in the decision-making process to enhance the legitimacy of the Bonn Powers and prevent their misuse, such as establishing a formal hearing process to have all factual and legal arguments presented by all relevant parties before a decision is taken and to ensure that the decision can be subsequently reviewed in the light of these arguments in the court of public opinion. Four years later, the article has stood the test of time as the OHR still functions and has proven necessary in Bosnia.
What is your vision of foreign policy in the 21st Century?
To maintain our global influence, and even potentially enhance it, we will need to improve our persuasive power and institutionalize it through more integrated partnerships. It is inevitable that U.S. military and economic resources will decline relative to the rest of the world over the next generation. But our aggregate influence need not diminish. And through innovative thinking, the U.S. can remain strong and be a force for good in the world.
What challenges need to be overcome to create better foreign policy? What leadership traits are needed for this?
The main challenge to creating better foreign policy is being mired in twentieth-century old-fashioned thinking about international politics. To be sure, all leaders require—and all citizens should have—deep historical knowledge and understanding. But even more importantly, we need leaders with intellectual creativity, subtlety, and nimbleness to be able to craft solutions responsive to the challenges and complexity of our time—and in our time—while in keeping with our values that transcend over time.
The views in all interviews published in the Top 99 Under 33 feature represent those of their respective owners and not of their place of employment or the U.S. government.