The Problem of International Law (2023)

Modern institutions that hold back the rise of barbarism are being weakened, writes Lawrence Davidson.

ByLawrence Davidson
To the Point

Several recent events suggest that global warming is not the only thing threatening our future. As if they are running on parallel tracks, some of the modern institutions that help make for stable societies — the ones that hold back the rise of barbarism — are being weakened even as the atmosphere is heating up and the oceans swell. In pursuit of short-term state or personal interests, some national leaders are violating or ignoring international law and, by doing so, putting us all at long-term risk.

The first example is the subverting of the International Criminal Court.

International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. (Vincent van Zeijst via Wikimedia)

One of the most hopeful developments to follow the catastrophe that was World War II — the war that brought the world the Holocaust, the Blitzkrieg, the carpet bombing of Europe and the use of nuclear bombs against large cities — was the extension and strengthening of international law. In 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations, seeking to give such laws real force, called for the establishment of an international criminal court. That call triggered resistance because such a court would necessarily impinge on nation-state sovereignty. It took 54 years before the court was finally convened in order to enforce laws against the committing of war crimes and other evils, such as genocide.

(Video) 20 The problem of law-making

Still, there are some nations that refuse to recognize the court’s jurisdiction. Often these are the states most addicted to the barbaric behavior that came close to destroying a good part of the globe during the 20th century. These governments now threaten the very workability of the court. Thus, on Jan. 28 it was reported that “A senior judge has resigned from one of the international courts in The Hague” due to interference and threats coming from both the U.S. and Turkey. The judge’s name is Christoph Flügge.

In the case of the United States, the problem began when the International Criminal Court at the Hague decided to investigate allegations of war crimes, specifically the use of torture, committed by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

At that point President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton (who reminds one of a modern Savonarola when it comes to ideological enforcement), publicly threatened the court’s judges. “If these judges ever interfere in the domestic concerns of the U.S. or investigate an American citizen,” he said, “the American government would do all it could to ensure that these judges would no longer be allowed to travel to the United States — and that they would perhaps even be criminally prosecuted.”

It must be said that (a) torturing Afghanis is not a “domestic concern of the U.S.” And, all too obviously, (b) Bolton is a deplorable one-dimensional thinker. Bound tightly by a lifelong rightwing perspective, he has never been able to get past the concept of nation-state supremacy. This means his perspective is untouched by those lessons of history which have shown the nation-state to be a threat to civilization itself. Thus, when in 2005, President George W. Bush appointed John Bolton ambassador to the United Nations, it was with the prior knowledge that the man felt nothing but contempt for this international organization and would disparage it at every turn. At present Bolton has turned out to be just the kind of fellow who fits into the reactionary White House run by Donald Trump.

Turkey Ignores Diplomatic Immunity

(Video) Why do we need international law? An animated explainer

The leaders of the United States are not the only ones who can purposely undermine international courts. Christoph Flügge tells of another incident wherein the government of Turkey arrested one of its own nationals, Aydin Sefa Akay, who was a judge on the international court at the Hague. At the time, Akay had diplomatic immunity by virtue of his position, a fact that the increasingly statist government in Istanbul ignored.

Akay’s crime was to be judged insufficiently loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flügge and his fellow judges strongly protested the Turkish actions, but they were not supported by the present UN secretary general, António Guterres (who is a former prime minister of Portugal). And, without that support, Akay lost his position as judge and was, so to speak, thrown to the dogs of nation-state arrogance.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 2014. (Hesabi via Flickr)

Upon resigning, Flügge had some seminal words of warning about the fate of international law. “Every incident in which judicial independence is breached is one too many.”The cases of Turkish and U.S. interference with the International Criminal Court set a fatal precedent, he continued, “and everyone can invoke it in the future. Everyone can say: ‘But you let Turkey get its way.’ This is an original sin. It can’t be fixed.”

Commenting on the threat leveled by Bolton, Flügge said, “the American threats againstinternational judges clearly show the new political climate. … The judges on the court were stunned.” Yet, this behavior was quite in accord with nation-state aggrandizement and American exceptionalism; national sovereignty stands above international law.

Suborning of Interpol

(Video) What is international law? An animated explainer

It is not only the world’s international laws and international court that are being undermined, but also Interpol, the world’s international police force. Nation-state leaders, particularly the dictators who place their interests and preferences above even their own domestic law, now seek to suborn Interpol and use it as a weapon to silence their critics.

The latest example of this comes out of Bahrain, a wealthy monarchical dictatorship in the Persian Gulf. It is run by a Sunni elite minority which systematically represses the country’s Shiite majority. By doing so, its major “achievement” to date has been to give the religion of Islam a bad name. It is also a staunch U.S. ally, and the U.S. 5th fleet is based in that country. If you want to know where much of the U.S. naval forces supporting the Saudi destruction of Yemen come from, it is Bahrain.

U.S. Navy’s Coastal Command Boat gets lowered into its homeport of Bahrain, 2014. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Felicito Rustique)

So how is the dictatorship in Bahrain corrupting the world’s international police force? One of the players on Bahrain’s national soccer team, Hakeem al-Araibi, vocally expressed his dissent over the way Bahrain is run. He was thenframed for “vandalizing a police station” even though he was playing in a soccer match, broadcast on TV, at the time of the incident. He was arrested, beaten up in jail, yet still managed to escape to Australia, where he was granted asylum.

At this point Bahrain managed to have Interpol issue a fraudulent arrest warrant. When al-Araibi showed up in Thailand on his honeymoon, he was taken into custody and now awaits possible extradition back to Bahrain, where he may well face torture. By the way, it is a violation of international law to extradite someone to a country where he or she risks being tortured. So far Thailand has not taken advantage of this legal and moral reason to defy the Bahraini monarchy.

This is not an isolated problem. The watchdog organization Fair Trials has documented multiple cases of the corruption and abuse of Interpol by “governments” which do not feel themselves bound by the rule of law.

(Video) National law vs international law - An animated explainer

21stCentury Assaults

There is little doubt that the 21st century has begun with an assault on both the climatic and legal atmosphere that underpins the world’s stability.

Before 1946 the world was a mess: one hot war after another, economic recessions and depressions, imperialism, colonialism, and racism galore. All of this was grounded in the nation state and its claim of sacred sovereignty. The world experienced a sort of climax to this horror show in the form of Nazi racism and the Holocaust, the use of nuclear weapons, and Stalinist Russia’s purges, mass starvations and Gulag exiles.

Troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division wading onto Omaha Beach (Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France) June 6, 1944. During the initial landing two-thirds of Company E became casualties. (Wikimedia)

After World War II, things got better in a slow sort of way. The trauma of the recent past spurred on the formation of international laws, international courts, a universal declaration of human rights, civil rights movements and the like. We also got the Cold War, which, for all its tensions, was a big improvement on hot wars.

Now things are falling apart again, and rest assured that U.S. leaders and their less-savory allies abroad are doing their part in the devolution of peace and justice. Shall we name just a few U.S. names? Well, there is Donald Trump and his minion Bolton. They go gaga over thugs passing themselves off as presidents in such nation-states as Egypt, the Philippines and that pseudo-democracy, Israel. There is also Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has turned into the U.S. version of Cardinal Richelieu when it comes to Washington’s South America foreign policy. He is the one pushing for the overthrow of the legitimate government in Venezuela while simultaneously calling for close relations with the new fascist president of Brazil.

(Video) The Politics of International Law: Martti Koskenniemi

And the list goes on. How do we do this to ourselves? Is it short memories of the wretched past or almost no historical memory at all? Is it some sort of perverse liking for group violence? This is an important question and a perennial one. But now, with global warming upon us and lifestyles soon to be under threat, things are going to get even messier—and messy social and economic situations are usually good news for barbarians. More than ever, we are going to need uncorrupted international laws, courts and police.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

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What is the central problem with international law? ›

The central problem with international law, as he saw it, was its decentralized and essen- tially unenforceable nature (Morgenthau 1985: ch. 18). The message of the classical realists was pretty clear: nothing of real importance in international relations could be achieved through international law.

What is one of the main challenges of international law? ›

Legitimacy and Inspiring Trust. The first—and the biggest—challenge is to inspire trust in the international legal system and its processes. That is an issue for any legal system. Legitimacy is as important an issue as simple legality.

What is the main criticism of international law? ›

The criticism is that there can be no international law unless it is accepted that, on some matters at least, states must be irrevocably subject to an authority other than their own; the possibility of subjection to an external authority must be viewed as a necessary requirement for even minimal international law.

What are the disadvantages of international law? ›

Weakness Of International Law
  • It lacks effective law making authority.
  • It lacks effective machinery or authority to enforce its rule.
  • International court of justice has no compulsory jurisdiction.
  • The sanction behind the International law are very weak.

What are the three main central problems? ›

The central problems of an economy revolve around the following factors:. What to produce? How to produce? For whom to produce?

What are the problems and challenges in international relations? ›

Security, human rights, terrorism, poverty, soverignty vs free trade---are some of the many problems. Those problems are part of the challenges of ir today. Dear Michael, greetings!

What are the arguments against international law? ›

The opponents of International Law argue that International Law cannot enjoy the status of a law because it is not framed by any international legislature, nor is it enforced by any international executive, nor is it interpreted by any international judiciary it is opposed to national laws.

What are some international challenges? ›

This section offers an overview of some of these issues, and links to other resources, where you can get additional information.
  • Africa. ...
  • Ageing. ...
  • AIDS. ...
  • Atomic Energy. ...
  • Big Data for Sustainable Development. ...
  • Children. ...
  • Climate Change. ...
  • Decolonization.

What are the biggest problems and challenges facing law firms? ›

The 10 biggest challenges facing the legal profession in 2022
  • Law firm recruitment and talent retention. ...
  • Fee-earner burnout. ...
  • Lawyer competency. ...
  • Meeting your clients' digital expectations. ...
  • Having the right technology. ...
  • Thriving as a hybrid-working law firm. ...
  • Keeping cybercriminals at bay. ...
  • Remaining on top of compliance.

What is the greatest limitation of international law? ›

The most obvious limitation of international law is the lack of an international 'sovereign' – some form of international government. 'Law' in domestic terms is traditionally viewed as a set of commands backed up by threats, such as the law against murder that carries the threat of a long prison sentence.

Where does the greatest weakness of international law lie? ›

Potential weaknesses: lack of legislature, of an effective system of courts, and of sanctions.

What are the three main issues commonly dealt with by private international law? ›

They bring a common law perspective to contemporary problems concerning the key issues in private international law: jurisdiction, choice of law, and recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments.

What are the disadvantages of laws? ›

Law has not only advantages but some disadvantages also, Disadvantages of law are as follows:
  • The rigidity of law: An Ideal legal system keeps on changing according to the changing needs of the people. ...
  • Conservative Nature: Another disadvantage of law is that its Conservative Nature. ...
  • Formalism : ...
  • Complexity :

What is a disadvantage of international human rights law? ›

Some second world countries can't follow some of the laws (ex. good education; some can't afford it) Job that are created can go against human rights with bad working conditions and low wage rates in less advantaged countries. There are limitations in how the UDHR is implemented.

What are the negative effects of international business? ›

Adverse Effects
  • Adverse Effects on Economy. When two countries get engaged in an international business, one country's economic condition affects the economy of the other country. ...
  • Unequal Competition. ...
  • Rivalry among Nations. ...
  • Colonization. ...
  • Exploitation. ...
  • Legal Problems. ...
  • Negative Publicity. ...
  • Dumping Policy.

What are the causes of central problem? ›

Scarcity of resources: Resources like labour, land, and capital are insufficient as compared to the demand. Therefore, the economy cannot provide everything that people want. Unlimited Human Wants: Human beings' demands and wants are unlimited which means they will never be satisfied.

How many types of central problems are there? ›

The three Central Problems of an Economy are? What to Produce and in What Quantity? How to Produce? For Whom to Produce?

What are the top 5 biggest problems in the world? ›

World's biggest problems on the UN list
  • Climate Change.
  • Wars and military conflicts.
  • Water contamination.
  • Human rights violation.
  • Global health issues.
  • Poverty.
  • Children's poor access to healthcare, education and safety.
  • Access to food and hunger.
2 Aug 2022

What are the factors affecting international relations? ›

Factors Affecting International Relations:

Economic factors. Geographical factors. Political factors. Military factors.

What is the main purpose of international law? ›

The objective of the International Law is to achieve global justice and resolve the dispute amicably, that ultimately helps individuals. The development of many areas in the International Law such as International Human Rights Law with the objective to protect the interest of the individual.

What is the biggest problem in the world 2022? ›

What Worries the World – August 2022
  • Key findings. Inflation remains the top global worry: 39% say it is one of the top issues facing their country today (+1pp vs. ...
  • Inflation. ...
  • Climate change. ...
  • Coronavirus. ...
  • Military conflict between nations. ...
  • Focus on the economy.
19 Aug 2022

What are the 10 challenges? ›

Top 10 Personal Challenges
  • Run a marathon. ...
  • Take on a charity challenge. ...
  • Exercise your brain. ...
  • Surprise yourself. ...
  • Volunteer yourself. ...
  • Get a new job/seek promotion. ...
  • Overcome a fear. ...
  • Climb a famous peak.

What are the challenges of international development? ›

These issues include definitions of development, global influences on development, measurements of development, the contribution of international aid, the relationship between global development and gender equality, the idea of development as 'modernization', theories of underdevelopment, and regional variation.

What are the issues of law? ›

While legal issues can arise in any criminal or civil matter, the public discourse of legal issues often revolves around regulations dealing with controversial social issues such as abortion, human and civil rights, gun control, immigration, the death penalty, and privacy.

What are challenges in law? ›

Primary tabs. Challenge has two major definitions in the legal context: In general, any expressed doubt about the qualification of a person for some task, or about the legality of an action or thing.

What are the problems of legal institution? ›

These problems, some of which have been traced to criminal institutions and the law itself, are congestion of courts workloads, delay in dispensation of justice, abuse of the processes and inefficiency by the practitioners and/or law enforcement personnel, delay issuance of Attorney General's Copy of legal advice and ...

What are the five limitations of law? ›

Limitations of rule of law
  • Corruption: Corruption is one of the major limitations of the doctrine of rule of law. ...
  • Illiteracy: ...
  • Bad leadership: ...
  • Immunity of some government officials: ...
  • Lack of patriotism:
28 May 2020

What are the 3 types of international law? ›

International Law can be broadly divided into three types: Public International law, Private International law and Supranational Law.

What are the 4 international laws? ›

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982)

What is lacking in international law? ›

first one is, the international law is lack of legislature. In the international legal system, there is. no law-making authority that can make law for the whole international community in accordance. with their new needs. Even though, as delineated in the Charter of the United Nations, the.

Is international law is a weak law? ›

It is true that International Law is not enacted by sovereign and has no agency for its enforcement. But it is true that it is a weak law.

Is international law still relevant? ›

The importance of international law has grown in an increasingly global world. States and their citizens are interconnected and depend on each other to enforce and comply with international law to meet common goals.

What are the main aspects of international law? ›

Important elements of international law include sovereignty, recognition (which allows a country to honour the claims of another), consent (which allows for modifications in international agreements to fit the customs of a country), freedom of the high seas, self-defense (which ensures that measures may be taken ...

What is the most common legal issue and why? ›

Crimes. Crime is, unfortunately, on the rise. So, one of the most common legal issues that lawyers handle is criminal law cases. Irrespective of the type of crime, if you are charged with a criminal offense, it is vital you get a lawyer to help.

What is meant by international law? ›

international law, also called public international law or law of nations, the body of legal rules, norms, and standards that apply between sovereign states and other entities that are legally recognized as international actors. The term was coined by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832).

What is a advantage and disadvantage? ›

As nouns, the difference between disadvantage and advantage is that disadvantage is a weakness or undesirable characteristic; a con while the advantage is any condition, circumstance, opportunity, or means, particularly favorable to success, or any desired end.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of studying law? ›

​Well, there are financial rewards in every job but financial rewards and emotional rewards are at the top of the advantages for most law aspirants. Obtaining a law degree might not guarantee immediate success or a massive salary in the beginning but you can see good salary growth with years to come.

What are the disadvantages and limitations? ›

They're not exactly the same thing, but they have many things in common. In fact, a limitation is technically a disadvantage, but the opposite is not always true.

What is a disadvantage of an international strategy? ›

Although a global strategy can help your company attract a new customer base, the drawback of this strategy is that cultural differences in other countries can derail your marketing efforts.

What is the main problem with human rights? ›

The central problem with human rights law is that it is hopelessly ambiguous. The ambiguity, which allows governments to rationalise almost anything they do, is not a result of sloppy draftsmanship but of the deliberate choice to overload the treaties with hundreds of poorly defined obligations.

What are the disadvantages of international trade agreements? ›

The disadvantages are twofold. If FTAs are not set up within the right framework of policies, they can diminish rather than enhance economic welfare. The second disadvantage is that they are not good vehicles for liberalising trade in sectors on which parties outside the agreement have a major influence.

What are the 4 barriers to international business? ›

TANC classifies foreign trade barriers within four broad types: Border Barriers, Technical Barriers to Trade, Government Influence Barriers, and Business Environment Barriers.

What is advantage and disadvantage of international trade? ›

It enables a country to obtain goods which it cannot produce or which it is not producing due to higher costs, by importing from other countries at lower costs. (iii) Specialisation: Foreign trade leads to specialisation and encourages production of different goods in different countries.

What are the three major risks in international business? ›

What are the three major risks in international business? The three major risks companies engaged in the international business face are financial, political, and regulatory.

What is a central problem? ›

An economic problem generally means the problem of making choices that occurs because of the scarcity of resources. It arises because people have unlimited desires but the means to satisfy that desire is limited. Therefore, satisfying all human needs is difficult with limited means.

What are the central problems and why do they arise? ›

The central problems of the economy arises because the resources in the economy are scarce and human wants are unlimited. Therefore, there is need for an efficient relationship between both the factors. Was this answer helpful?

Why is international law ineffective? ›

This is due principally to lack of compliance by some States, and lack of enforcement against rich and powerful States. It is also difficult for States not to defend themselves against threatening States until those have attacked them.

What are the barriers to international? ›

There are three main types of barriers to international trade that you should know: tariffs, quotas, and other non-tariff barriers. Tariffs: taxes that a government adds on imported goods. The higher the tariff, the less international trade between countries.

How does international law affect human rights? ›

International law is a crucial aspect of human rights. Governments are in a powerful position to control the freedoms of individuals or groups – freedoms that may be harder to win without international agreement and pressure.

How many central problem are there? ›

These three basic problems of an economy are known as the central problems. Every other economic problem revolves around the three central problems.

What are the 5 basic economic problems? ›

The 5 basic problems of an economy are as follows:
  • What to produce and what quantity to produce?
  • How to produce?
  • For whom to produce the goods?
  • How efficient are the resources being utilised?
  • Is the economy growing?

What are the 3 central problems of an economy Why do they arise? ›

Answer: The central problems of an economy is the production of goods and services, its distribution and indisposition/sales. these problems arise mainly due to unavailability/scarcity of resources which affects all the above systems.

What is the solution of central problem? ›

In a market economy, the central problem is solved by market forces of demand and supply. Market economy is also called the capitalist economy, in which the prices are determined by the free interaction of the forces of demand and supply.

How are the central problems solved? ›

Explain in detail. Answer: Basic problems in Capitalist economies are solved through price mechanism, in Socialist economy through planning and in mixed economy through price mechanism and economic planning.

Is international law difficult to enforce? ›

Enforcement is a fundamental challenge for international law. Sanctions are costly to impose, difficult to coordinate, and often ineffective at accomplishing their goals.

Do we really need international law? ›

International law does work, at times invisibly and yet successfully. World trade and the global economy depend on it, as it regulates the activities required to conduct business across borders, such as financial transactions and transportation of goods.

What are the disadvantages of international agreements? ›

Cultural Differences. One of the major disadvantages of international trade is that, many times, cultural differences are never documented. There are unwritten rules of commerce in the country that are hard to uncover and can be even more difficult to solve.


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