- Term Papers and Free Essays

International Law

Essay by   •  December 10, 2010  •  1,602 Words (7 Pages)  •  1,149 Views

Essay Preview: International Law

Report this essay
Page 1 of 7

International Law has been active for over 1500 years in one shape or another. It builds a natural relationship with people and governments, and helps to decide issues that transcend borders. It can be a countries’ best friend, and its worst nightmare. It can benefit mankind, represent those unable to represent themselves, and can fight for peace and goodness. It can also be incredibly difficult to enforce, can be made a mockery of, and can entice what can at best be considered confusion in the interaction of neighboring countries. In some cases, it is incredibly effective; in others, it struggles for footing. International law has a varying relationship with local sovereign law. Sometimes it complements local law, at times it contradicts, and sometimes it even establishes order of law where none existed before. It can be used as a framework for developing countries to reference, and can set precedent for sitting judges to use to make bench decisions (Janis & Noyes, 1997).

International Law is defined by Webster’s dictionary as “a body of rules that control or affect the rights of nations in their relations with each other (International Law)”. Webster is a bit abstract, but the definition is fair enough; there are rules that sovereign governments abide by, having made pacts or signed other forms of agreement with another country or many others, which work within their national framework of laws. There is also an understanding that some things, like female infanticide, rape, murder, and torture, which are universally morally wrong. This is international law as well, though not necessarily spelled out country to country. The U.N., with its 192 member states, is the largest organization of countries in the world. In the U.N. Charter, which each member state must sign before being admitted, it says, “Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations (Charter of the United Nations).” This kind of mandate is what international law is all about; its task is binding nations together in the rules of law.

The history of International Law goes back at least to biblical times, with the Romans discussing jus gentium, or a law of nations. There was, even in those times, talk of universal law, which was a type of common sense with regard to how people would treat one another. Hugo Grotius, who wrote The Law of War and Peace in 1625, is given credit for being the founding father of International Law (Janis & Noyes, 1997, p. 1). In 1648, the Peace of Westphalia was written, and it is considered by many to be the beginning of modern international law (Ibid. pg. 34). As treaties and agreements continued to be written throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, International law continued to grow, change, and adapt itself to rule an every changing, globalizing world. Original questions of property and borders have been replaced by war crimes and crimes against humanity; keeping the peace has been replaced by judging the evils of modern countries and balancing sovereignty with humanity.

When it comes to municipal law, International Law works in many different ways and levels of effectiveness. In examining the U.S. system, international laws in the form of treaties and agreements augment the U.S. constitution, and are considered on par with national laws within the country. Treaties and agreements are considered “higher” law than local U.S. laws, that of states and local governments. This hierarchy shows the importance given to agreements made by the U.S. with other countries, and the fact that the U.S. would heed such agreements as laws enforceable just below the constitution itself underlies how important these agreements are to the U.S. as a country.

But international law doesn’t always agree with the constitution of all countries. There are cases where agreements and treaties actually conflict with the highest law of the land. In those cases, as far as the U.S. is concerned, no treaty or agreement may be entered into.

But there are organizations that advocate on behalf of interest groups and attempt to shape and enforce what is considered “moral” law. These groups have worked to change the political landscape in countries around the world by convincing countries to abide by a global set of ethical standards (Hurrell, 2005). In some cases they have been successful, in others, not so much. But the distinction being drawn here is that of International Law and international ethics; no country is obligated to adhere to any international law because there can be no political authority over sovereign countries in order to enforce it. Countries may be pressured to adhere to international court rulings, such as the case of McCann V. United Kingdom, where the U.K. realized that adhering to a world court order and paying damages to the families of some IRA terrorists was preferable to denying the legitimacy of a court they had helped to establish (Janis & Noyes, 1997). There are several instances where countries had to decide whether to join the international consensus or go against it. The U.S. action in Iraq in 2003 is an excellent example of the U.S. ignoring international coalition action and pursuing its own agenda with regard to military involvement in Iraq. Though they were condemned by the international community, the U.S. could act independently. This was due to being a sovereign nation that felt wronged by the actions of another foreign country, and took military action to appease their losses. At no time did the question of sovereignty leave the minds of the international political community. If the U.S. wanted to take this action, they (the international political community) could not stop it.

So that is where the rub lies with regard to International



Download as:   txt (9.7 Kb)   pdf (120.1 Kb)   docx (12.2 Kb)  
Continue for 6 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 12). International Law. Retrieved 12, 2010, from

"International Law" 12 2010. 2010. 12 2010 <>.

"International Law.", 12 2010. Web. 12 2010. <>.

"International Law." 12, 2010. Accessed 12, 2010.