5.3.6 International Law: Global

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, which would be highly undesirable in practice: a perceived loss of sovereignty.

The situation is better than the above bleak summary would suggest:

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

●  The United Nations 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 system of international law is described in more detail below:

●  The UN Security Council is its supreme authority (, with five permanent members having the right of veto.  Its authority is more dependent on political negotiation than on fixed rules, though, and 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 and related issues (, obliging signatories to prosecute breaches through their own courts.

●  There are many weaknesses in international law ( there are loopholes, 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.



Next Section

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/edition04/536.htm.