5.3.6 International Law: Global

International law is controlled by the United Nations Security Council, some international courts, and the Geneva Conventions.

The United Nations (UN) has been unable to prevent repeated violence, but parts of the global legal system are working:

●  Countries can voluntarily sign treaties that bind them to avoid behaviour that threaten each other.

●  The UN has also had some successes: providing arbitration services to avoid wars, judging when to use military force, and arranging peacekeeping for ceasefires. Almost every country has signed up to its framework of rules (although there have been many breaches).

The current framework of international law is described further in the following sub-sections:

●  The UN Security Council is its supreme authority (, with five Permanent Members (the P5) having the right of veto. It acts as both political authority and legal system, but disagreements between the P5 have prevented it from working properly.  Some of its decisions have been ignored with impunity.

●  There are several International Courts of Law to deal with different kinds of dispute ( They operate with the consent of those who have signed up to them.

●  The Geneva Conventions deal with the conduct of war ( They protect civilians and prisoners of war, obliging signatories to prosecute breaches through their own courts.

●  The weaknesses in its framework prevent it from acting as a conventional legal system ( There is insufficient legislation, and the Security Council has too much power.

●  The Security Council can permit the use of force (, but an emerging agreement on the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ people who are being oppressed by their governments has floundered.



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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/536b.htm.