5.3.6 International Law: Global

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It is tempting to leap to the conclusion that international law can never be a useful concept, because it doesn’t appear to have prevented repeated violence.  One might think that enforceable international law would require some form of world government, and that this would be highly undesirable in practice: a perceived loss of sovereignty, as some people argued within the EU (

The situation is better than the above bleak summary would suggest.  Countries can voluntarily sign treaties that bind them to avoid behaviour that threatens world peace.  This approach is an old idea that stretches at least as far back as Grotius in the 17th century, and which has worked for long periods in practice.[1]  The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 was successful for a long time,[2] and the United Nations has also had some successes.

The current system of international law is described in more detail below:

  • The role of the UN Security Council (
  • International Courts of Law (
  • The Geneva conventions (
  • The weaknesses of international law (
  • UN-sanctioned use of force and the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (

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[1] The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Hugo Grotius, who was regarded as the father of international law, was available in April 2018 at http://www.iep.utm.edu/grotius/.  His book De Jure Belli ac Pacis [The Law of War and Peace] was published in 1625.

[2] The Treaty of Westphalia, and its possible relevance in today’s world, were described in an article entitled A Westphalian Peace for the Middle East that was published on 10 October 2016; it was available in April 2018 at https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/europe/2016-10-10/westphalian-peace-middle-east.