The concept of International law is very important in our contemporary international system. The international system, as is reckoned, lacks an effective central authority that imposes order and enforces proper State behaviour. It is, therefore, considered to be anarchic. But we also see that contrary to an imagery of chaos, the international system has some degree of order and it is, to an extent, predictable. This orderly trend, as observed in international relations, owes much to the presence of international laws.
There is a little bit of contradiction here because these laws in fact exist even though the system lacks a central government to consistently enforce them.
International laws are given their form and power within international institutions, especially of states. It is necessary that it is a ‘body’ of states, albeit loose, that makes these laws because in theory, and most of the time in practice, the sovereign State is the highest authority in the global political system. These laws are mostly consensus agreements between states on international customs, treaties and pacts, international conventions and ‘general principles of law recognized by civilized nations’. The absence of a central law enforcing agency superior to states, place the enforcement of these laws into the hands of the very States that these laws were made for. And this has resulted in anomalies in the working of international laws especially in sensitive issues of high politics. Such areas include nuclear non-proliferation (in general, armaments), international intervention and boundary disputes. There has been less successes in this area of application of international law compared to those laws that concern international business and markets and finance. It appears that this aspect of international law is the most advanced form in the whole lot and it is mostly adhered to by States and private actors.
It is this very point that draws attention to consider if international law, as it is today, helps the cause of justice or it is indifferent to it.
Benjamin Barber, in his article titled, ‘Jihad vs. McWorld’, argued that ‘in the context of common markets, international law ceases to be a vision of justice and becomes a workaday framework for getting things done- enforcing contracts, ensuring that governments abide by deals, regulating trade and currency regulations.’ Barber’s argument was that the dynamic of international markets is the biggest reason against war. He wrote, ‘Markets are enemies and intolerant, of parochialism, isolation, fractitiousness, and war.’
This is a huge claim Barber made in 1992. In 2013, this claim appears to get validated everyday. It appears that every sovereign state action ( including foreign policy action) is spurred or inhibited by economic considerations. Europe is closely knit today because of its markets. And as functional interactions increase and expand every hour, the costs of international war become too great for any country to bear. The United States has engaged in two major wars since 2001, and it has increased fundings to several active military-related operations in the Middle East, Africa, and elsewhere. The economic costs of these military actions have ‘come home’ to U.S markets, which currently struggles against budget deficits, debt defaults, credit flight, and decline in economic growth. It is plausible that the U.S is in a hurry to end its military presence in Afghanistan as a result of the market costs.
It would seem then that the strong influence that market dynamics have on international law and state behaviour pay off since there has been a steep decline of international wars between states. International institutions [the custodians of these laws] such as the United Nations and the WTO pride themselves in helping to avoid another major war since 1945. But internal conflicts with horrendous human costs have arisen to replace inter-state wars.
This rise in intra-state wars, and mutations such as terrorism, may be traced to resurgent subnational actors who may not be on the good side of the growth of international markets. While the dynamic international markets has raised the economic costs of war, compelled states to endorse treaties and conventions that open up state borders to free flow of humans and goods, resulting in greater interests in human and labour rights, it has also widened the gap between the rich and the poor. It is an era of the super rich and the super poor. This trend could be linked with insurgences especially in emerging economies, where local groups are fighting against what they perceive as foreign intrusion, fighting against the traditional state mechanism that permits it, and trying to build new and smaller units of political cohesion, isolated from the harmful side effects of globalization.
Nonetheless, can one argue that progresses made in the International Criminal Court, for example, could, over time reverse or correct this destructive trend?