International law is made up of principles and rules that govern the conduct of international organizations and states. According to von Bogdany (2012), these rules and principles normally spell out the way international organizations and states should relate with one other. In this way, they help to ensure organized and stable international relations (Slomanson, 2011). Unlike state-based legal systems that are targeted at private citizens, international law only applies to states (Simpson, 2000). International law is used to regulate various aspects that affect a state, such as the use of the sea and outer space. International law also dictates the way international transfer of money is conducted, as well as the transportation of goods and services, among others issues (Pattison, 2007; von Bogdany, 2012). Other issues that the international law seeks to address include environmental protection, matters of state security, as well as the use of armed force by nations (Held, 2003). In other words, the international law regulates and governs virtually everything that happens on the international. Therefore, in the absence of international law, it will be almost impossible to attain global inter-dependence. The premise of the current essay is to examine the possibility of conducting international relations without a binding international law. The essay shall also endeavor to determine the importance of international law in international relations.
Possibility of conducting international relations without a binding international law
Binding international law facilitates the smooth conduct of international relations. Since we do not have in place supreme power to control the behavior of states on the international arena, the need arises for a mechanism that will enable the regularization of inter-state interactions. That is how international law came into being. It is important to note that the reason why international law has thus far proven to be very effective is its binding nature. According to Dunoff and Pollack (2013), international law has greatly enhanced cooperation among state, in effect reducing any potential conflict. Obviously, it is inevitable that states will interact among themselves at one point or another and as such, such interactions need to be regulated. International law hinges on the premise that procedures and rules are necessary for regulating the manner in which states interact with one another (D’Amato, 2008). This is a vital aspect in that it enhances stability and order.
As stated earlier, the principles and rules of the international law facilitates the governance of how states relate with each other in line with the stipulations of the UN General Assembly Resolution 2625. This particular resolution hinges on seven key principles as indicated below:
- States are expected to desist from the use of force or threats against the political, independence or territorial integrity of others states. In addition, they should not be seen to act in a manner likely to contravene the aim of the UN
- States are expected to ensure that any emerging disputes are settled peacefully
- A state should desist from interfering in the domestic issues of another state in line with the UN Charter
- Inter-state cooperation is crucial as indicated by the Charter
- Equal rights should be accorded to all individuals
- It is the right of every state to enjoy sovereign equality
- The Charter spells out the need for all state to ensure that they have fulfilled the various responsibilities they are expected to meet in good faith
These principles indicate that if international law is not binding, then there is the likelihood that a powerful state might be inclined to exercising its power over the territorial integrity of another less powerful state using unlawful means. In this way, international relations between states would be jeopardized. However, because international laws are by nature binding to the states involved, this enables the peaceful settling of disputes, in effect averting imminent war (Byers, 2001).
While there are various issues at play in trying to settle emerging international disputes, nonetheless, all of these issues rely wholly or in part on the guiding principles of the international law. Therefore, international law is indispensable when dealing with international relations (Dunoff & Pollack, 2013). On the same breath, before a state or government decides to make a key decision that involves an association with another state or government, it borrows heavily from the rules of international law. International laws also seek to control how a state relates with its own nationals (like in a situation where their human rights have been violated as well as the nationals of other states (for example, in cases that involve criminal jurisdiction). For international law to apply to a given state, such a state should first claim the sole sovereignty over its territory. In addition, such a state should also take a vow to the effect that it is ready and willing to respect “the internal sovereignty of the other states” (D’Amato, 2008, p. 2).
Where foreign relations are involved, it is inevitable that states will interact. Some of these interactions are however not healthy as they result in inter-state clashes and conflict (Simpson, 2000). In a bid to settle the prevailing conflict, the warring states are compelled to form rules that eventually end up becoming “common law”. These are eventually adopted in a bid to aid in the settling of similar disputes in the future. In addition, states could also be compelled to adopt a treaty that establishes vital rules in helping to avoid or settle emerging and anticipated disputes. Once again, rules of the international law prove very useful as they help the states concerned to minimize disruptions among them (Held, 2003). Slomanson (2011) argues that to ensure a strong normative force for the international law, it is important to ensure that such laws are largely, binding.
As previously noted, all states are deemed as equal with respect to the international law. If this is the case, in the event that such laws are not binding to the state involved, what is to prevent the weaker and most vulnerable states from denouncing them, because they could be in favor of more influential states? In the same way, we do not have a global body or legislature thus far that helps to control the international law (Pattison, 2007). This is a deliberate move because there is fear among states that some of the most powerful states, at the expense of their less-powerful counterparts, could intimidate such a body. As such, each of the 192 states on the globe are deemed as being equal with regard to the international law.
Importance of International law in managing international relations
International law is a ‘normative system’ of obligatory conduct that is expected of one state over another. Should one state violate this ‘normative system’, it has to pay the price. Normative systems are necessary in that they bring order in society by enhancing the common good. Consequently, normative systems are vital in averting chaos that could come about as a result of the multilateral and bilateral relations in the international society. In this context, the normative system mirrors a political system in the sense that both the domestic and international laws share certain similarities. Domestic law consists of standards, procedures, norms, institutions and principles that govern the society. Besides its role in upholding order, domestic law also helps to enhance the plight of individuals. In addition, domestic laws promote other societal values like good life and justice (Bergink, 2010). Like domestic law, international law comes about as a result of the association between political systems and society. International law also consists of standards, principles, procedures, and norms.
While both international law and domestic law share a similar purpose, they however differ with respect to their constituents. That is to say, international law deals with the political entities, as opposed to individuals. On the other hand, states make up the international society. Although local governments are charged with the responsibility of manufacturing and financing public goods, we do not have any central government with the mandate to develop inter-state relations (Armstrong, Farrell & Lambert, 2007). As a result, most states are said to interact amid a state of ‘anarchy’. It is from this state of ‘anarchy’ that international law emerges. Therefore, when dealing with international relations, international law helps to enhance inter-state cooperation.
The past three decades have seen various international lawyers from Europe and the United States endeavor to fill the existing gap between international relations and international law. Consequently, various stimulating articles on politics and law have been published on leading journals in Europe and the United States. This acts as further evidence of the interplay that exists between politics and international law. Based on the foregoing arguments, we can classify the importance of international law into three categories, as they relate to international relations:
Since nations exist as more or less “sovereign states”, it follows then that they should also seek to accommodate and coordinate mutually conflicting interests (Armstrong et al., 2007). In addition, nations must endeavor to prosper and coexist peacefully in an international society where norms and common interests are lacking. Consequently, states are forced to enter into negotiations as a means of enhancing their individual interests under diverse restraints and conditions.
Even when partaking in war, communication is still necessary. In this case, international law offers states a common framework to facilitate the exchange of claims (D’Amato, 208). International law for example, enhances a state that is entangled in war with another state to send a message of peace using a common framework in a fair and just manner. Such a framework binds the two states. Therefore, international law acts as a mediating tool for warring states. International law enables states to organize conflicting claims by making use of various aspects of law like the relatively high determinacy and the coherence of definite provisions. In this way, the mediating and communicative aspect of international law plays a crucial role in helping to settle disputes among the conflicting parties.
A shared understanding and perception of international law
This function depicts the common positive attributes of international law that states have come to depend on as a means of ensuring the management of transnational and international relations. Consequently, it has become increasingly easier for state to achieve common aspirations and ideas (Dunoff & Pollack, 2013). We can demonstrate this in two ways. To start with, the fundamental structure of European or global international society following a period of major wars is in most cases expressed and embodied by a number of treaties. Examples of such treaties include the Versailles Treaty, and the peace of Westphalia.
In addition, key leading human rights treaties like the 1996 International Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and leading global environmental treaties like the UN Framework Convention on climate change of 1990 symbolize global ambitions manifested by most states on the global arena (Armstrong et al., 2007) in a somewhat solemn and legitimate manner. In the absence of international law, it would have been hard, if not impossible, to reign in on the multiple behaviors of various members of the international society.
The legitimizing and justifying role
Every state seeks to oppose the legitimacy of behavior manifested by an opposing state and at the same time, justify its own international behavior. On this, ‘realist’ international relations scholars acknowledge that by and large, states try to justify their actions using international law as an instrument (Wood, Slaughter & Tulumello, 1998). Alternatively, such realists could also contend that the only relevant function of international law is to give reasons for the policy of states, and more so with regard to the issue of maintaining the status quo. Nonetheless, it is important to provide a more detailed assessment of this issue (Woo et al., 1998). It has already been established that there is a diverse wariness in regards to interpreting the principles and rules of international law. Different interactions of the international law by various governments are likely to result in differences in the level of their persuasiveness based on the explicitness, nature, and determinacy of those factual contexts and rules. Therefore, we cannot solely rely on international law to justify all behaviors manifested by all governments and states
In sum, international law consists of several binding norms, standards, procedures, and rules that regulate how states relate with one another in an international setting. The rule of law as it applies to international relations is firmly asserted in the same way it would be when dealing with domestic relations. All states are parties to various agreements and treaties that regulate how these states conduct and relate among themselves. There are three key reasons why international law has been developed. First, is to regulate states because of the emergence of state. Secondly, international law aids in facilitating state interaction. Thirdly, the development of international law helps to regulate war between states and especially with regard to agreeing on rules to avert war. It is important however to note that even as the international law is vital in regulating inter-state relations, they do not in any way influence a state’s internal affairs. It is therefore safe to assert that international law are the guidelines that states follow in their quest to implement organized and stable international relations.
International law also differs from domestic laws in that it only applies to states or countries, as opposed to individuals. The law cuts across diverse elements of international and inter-state activities such as the use of outer space, sea, and the Antarctica. International law also deals with the use of armed force, dignity of individuals, and security of nations. In fact, international law both governs and regulates virtually everything that affects their international society. In the absence of the international law, it would be hard or impossible to achieve an inter-dependent world. While international law was previously mainly concerned with ensuring the smooth functioning of the international community, it has since evolved to include the control of states.
The existence and binding nature of international law has both been acknowledged and accepted by the international community. For example, the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990, the 1194 Rwanda Genocide and the Bosnian war were all termed as “unlawful” acts. The seven key principles of the UN General Assembly Resolution 2625 act as a guideline for international law. They have successfully prevented powerful states from exercising their influence on less powerful states through unlawful means. They do so by providing states with a platform for solving disputes, thereby averting war. International law also enables states to accommodate one another, in effect ensuring peaceful coexistence. This normally occurs when states enter into negotiations meant to improve their individual interests. In this case, international law acts as a common language and framework that binds states. This also facilitates peace mediation.
International law is also vital in ensuring a smooth management of international relations between states. Consequently, states can achieve common aspirations and ideas. Lastly, international law helps to legitimize and justify the behavior of a given state when relating with another state on the international arena, as well as a justification for the behavior of such a state.
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