International Law Traditionally Term Paper

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International Law

Traditionally, International Law was defined as "the body of law that governs the legal relations between or among states or nations." ("The Free Dictionary"). In this definition, the state or a nation is assumed to be sovereign, have its distinct territory, a population, and a government. Hence, if we strictly follow this definition, international law would only apply to relations and interactions between sovereign states. In the current changing paradigm of increasing globalization, the proliferation of non-government organizations, and the growing activities of multinationals, the scope of International Law has become much broader. The jurisdictional and protective reach of international law now extends far beyond traditional state-to-state interactions to international organizations as well as individuals. This paper looks at the background of the expanding scope of international law and at some of the challenges, benefits and trade-offs that such a growing reach of international law necessarily brings.

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The birth of the modern nation-states, which followed the declining influence of the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century, gave rise to the need for international laws in order to avoid conflicts over issues of land, wealth, and trade rights. Initially, relations between nation-states were mostly governed through bilateral treaties. The concept of an international organization called the "League of Nations" was put forward by the U.S. after WWI, but the idea collapsed due to internal opposition within the U.S. government. It was only after WWII that the concept was finally realized in the form of the United Nations -- an international organization that sponsors legally binding, multi-lateral agreements between its member countries. Several organizations within the umbrella of the UN were formed including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), which promote international law, development, and trade between countries. In recent times, improved communication technology and rapid globalization, has given rise to the need for extending the scope of international law beyond just sovereign nations to private businesses and even individuals. It is, however, not easy to implement international law effectively, let alone expand its scope beyond state-to-state interaction. (McWhinney, 5-10)


International law is often perceived to encroach upon domestic sovereignty of nation-states. Most governments are jealously protective of their sovereignty and consider any international law that conflict with their domestic laws as unwanted intrusion in their internal affairs. It is, however, noticeable that the most fervent opposition to a more widespread implementation of international law comes from coercive, dictatorial regimes such as China, Russia, and the military regime of Burma -- governments who do not like to adhere to civilized norms of behavior, particularly in the treatment of their own people. Even a number of democratic countries, such as the United States are only supportive of international law as long as it serves their narrow national interest. Hence, the biggest challenge to extending the scope of international law beyond its traditional boundaries is to devise and implement it in such a way that it does not conflict with domestic laws and does not threaten sovereignty of nations.

Another formidable challenge to expanding the jurisdictional and protective reach of international law is the absence of a sovereign power to enforce such law. The closest thing to an international sovereign is the UN, but even the UN does not have the powers of enforcement and depends on its member states for implementation of its resolutions (Hathaway, 54). As a result international law is largely voluntary, which means that it is never going to be as effective as domestic law unless a satisfactory mechanism is devised to ensure its enforcement.


Since effective enforcement of international law is such a formidable challenge, it is pertinent to examine whether expanding the jurisdictional reach of such law is worthwhile to begin with? To my mind, just two cross-border issues, i.e., environmental degradation and international terrorism ought to be enough to convince even the most ardent skeptics that international law is so important. Without a concerted global effort to control the rapid environmental degradation such as the one envisaged by the Kyoto Protocol or an international law against terrorism, we would be fighting a losing battle against forces that have the potential to destroy the world as we know it.

Another example of the benefits of an expanding role of international law is the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICJ) in 2002, which has the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "International Law Traditionally" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

International Law Traditionally.  (2008, January 14).  Retrieved February 25, 2020, from

MLA Format

"International Law Traditionally."  14 January 2008.  Web.  25 February 2020. <>.

Chicago Style

"International Law Traditionally."  January 14, 2008.  Accessed February 25, 2020.