International Law: Does it exist?
Jan 18, 2020Posted by on
This week on Facebook: The notion — and last week’s post — led me the concept of international law and eventually Plato. International Law can be a avery boring subject in which finding articles that interested me (let alone any readers) was very difficult. Occasionally it gets a diplomat gets arrested for something other that avoiding parking fines, but for those who may be interested in international law there are Jstor references cited at ¹·².
The President of the U.S.A recently ordered a drone attack with the intention of killing Iranian military commander Qasim Soleimani in Iraq. There was a time when the most of the news-media that we tend to follow would have downplayed such an item, as it did in the Syrian conflict. It was, perhaps, the response to Soleimani’s death by the Iranians that turned the matter into one on the application of International Law. In last week’s post I remarked that, “The balance of power that the USA and China now share is likely to lead to a conflict for economic and military dominance on an unprecedented global scale.”
My previous remark, coupled with one I remembered from my schooldays that might makes right and Plato’s adage, made me very sceptical about this new found rapprochement between the U.S.A and China. Any form of justice arising from this new found rapprochement in the brave new world that the U.S.A and China are creating is extremely unlikely.
I firmly believe that might makes right and that (to paraphrase Aldous Huxley in his 1962 speech at Berkley), “The law will be used to enable a controlling oligarchy to get the people to endure their servitude.”
“From the police point of view… theft, burglary, even violent crime will not be the predominant police feature. What will be the matter of greatest concern will be the covert and ultimately overt attempts to overthrow democracy, to subvert the authority of the state.” The State, Domestic Extremism and Terrorism.
1. Soleimani attack: What does international law say? The relevant law in the UN Charter allows for a state to act in self-defence “if an armed attack occurs”. But this definition tends to be interpreted by governments, say legal experts. In the Soleimani case, the US is claiming it acted in self-defence to prevent imminent attacks, a category of action which, if in fact true, is generally seen as being permissible under the UN Charter.
2. The Killing of Soleimani and International Law: In order to establish that it was legally justified in attacking the Iranian platforms in exercise of the right of individual self-defence, the United States has to show that attacks had been made upon it for which Iran was responsible; and that those attacks were of such a nature as to be qualified as “armed attacks” within the meaning of that expression in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, and as understood in customary law on the use of force.
3. China’s military might is much closer to the US than you probably think: Of course, just because an army costs a lot, or has a lot of personnel, doesn’t mean it is good value. The numbers don’t tell us everything we might want to know about relative military power. But they do give a very different, and more accurate, picture of the global distribution of military muscle. So you should have been impressed by the might of China’s military on parade. The US is still number one — but not by as much as you might think.
4. Why international law serves U.S.A national interests: Now, with over 560 major multilateral instruments deposited with the United Nations alone, citizens around the world benefit every day from rules their governments have adopted conjointly with each other. These agreements, as the American Society of International Law has documented, enable worldwide telecommunications and postal networks; universal recognition of time standards; improved weather forecasting; stronger safety standards for automobiles, airplanes, and ships; sharing of information about the origin of our food and other products; protection of software, literary, and artistic works; and preservation of cultural heritage sites and endangered species, to name a few. With the adoption of international human rights treaties after World War II, these rules expanded to protect people from torture and other forms of inhumane treatment; promote equal protection for women and children, including for adopted children and those caught in custody disputes; and facilitate pursuit of war criminals, terrorists, human smugglers, and drug traffickers. Agreements to protect the public and the environment from chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other harmful pollutants are among some of the more effective binding instruments of modern international law.
5. International Law: The International law arises not from the work of some supranational legislature, but because nations have agreed to follow customary and accepted rules and norms and to comply with the treaties and conventions signed between them. International law can be defined “as the body of rules applicable to the conduct of nations in their relationships with other nations, the conduct of nations in their relationship with the individuals and rules for international or intergovernmental organisations. It can also include crimes and criminal procedures applicable to genocide, war crimes and offences against humanity committed by individuals in an official capacity”.
Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:
- A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
- Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
- A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
- The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
- A long read url* (when used below) is followed by a superscript asterisk.
- Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
- JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.
¹Andrew T. Guzman. “Rethinking International Law as Law.” Proceedings of the Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) 103 (2009): 155-57.
²Green, L. C. “The Nature of International Law.” The University of Toronto Law Journal 14, no. 2 (1962): 176-93.