The crisis in international law

The crisis in international law

#GS-02 International Relations, PSIR Optional

For Mains (PSIR Optional)

International Law

  • Professor Hilary Charlesworth a current judge at the International Court of Justice described international law as “a discipline of crisis”.
  • International Law post World War II has been more or less decided by the UN Charter.
  • However, even though, the UN Charter has succeeded in preventing another world war, it has failed in stopping inter-state wars.
  • As seen by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year which has once again highlighted the ‘crisis’ dimension of international law.

International Law and Unipolar World

  • The collapse of Soviet Union led to the formation of a unipolar world and three decades of what Raja Mohan calls “relative harmony” among the major powers.
  • This phase saw the spread of democracy, greater acceptance of universal human rights, and a global consensus for maintaining international rule of law.
  • This was achieved by making multilateral institutions and independent international courts act as referees.
  • However, even during this period, conflicts such as the NATO bombing of Kosovo and the US led invasion of Iraq happened in complete disregard to the UN Charter.

Threats to International Law:

  • Securitisation, populism, and protectionism are the major threats to the core universal values enshrined in international law.
  • The creation of multipolar world have begun the securitisation and weaponising of international law.
  • Countries such as Russia and China views law as an instrument in the service of the state.
  • However, this is diametrically opposed to the rule of law theory embedded in liberal democracies where the law’s function is to constrain unbridled state power.
  • The rise of populist and ethno-nationalist regimes in several countries such as Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and Israel are a major threat to International Law.
  • Populists challenge the legitimacy of international law and often refer to it as foreign law, which is inimical to their national interests.
  • In the populist scheme of things international law is often reduced to a mere law of coordination.
  • Which means its need is only to ensure a minimal relationship between countries with common ideational moorings.
  • Another major threat is the increasing spread of economic protectionism.
  • US is fast backtracking on the neoliberal ideas of interdependence and non-discrimination in international economic law that it itself built in the last three decades.
  • An example of this can be seen in the recent adoption of the Inflation Reduction Act in the U.S.
  • This Act aims to transition to clean energy by providing massive industrial subsidies to domestic American companies.
  • US has also rejected the recent World Trade Organization (WTO) panel reports that held the U.S.’s protectionist industrial policies as illegal.