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International Law in Crisis


 The year 2023 will put the limits of international law to the test, not only because of Russia’s ongoing illegal war, but also because of a number of other factors that will play out over the next year and beyond.


GS Paper-2: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests

Mains Question

What are the major challenges that have contributed to the crisis in international law? Additionally, propose a solution for a peaceful world governed by well-established international laws. (150 Words)

Highlights include

  • Securitization, populism, and protectionism pose a threat to the fundamental universal values enshrined in international law.
  • The world is currently facing some major challenges that must be addressed.

Geoeconomic Difficulties

  • Following WWII, the world was bipolar, with great power competition between a ‘capitalist’ America and a ‘communist’ Soviet Union.
  • The Cold War’s end resulted in the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of communism.
  • This “unipolar” moment gave multilateralism a boost, resulting in three decades of “relative harmony” among the major powers.
  • Nonetheless, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombed Kosovo and Western forces invaded Iraq in defiance of the United Nations Charter.
  • The’relative harmony’ phase saw the spread of democracy, increased acceptance of universal human rights, and a global consensus for maintaining international rule of law with multilateral institutions and independent international courts serving as referees.
  • These universal values, however, are under threat as we enter a multipolar world characterised by the securitization of international law.
  • International law is now confronted with a new ground reality: the decline of the ‘liberal’ and ‘capitalist’ West, and the rise of a ‘autocratic’ China and ‘expansionist’ Russia.
  • The Westphalian understanding of international law is now pitted against Chinese and Russian interpretations that believe in bending international law to serve national interests.
  • As the clash between different interpretations of international law intensifies in 2023.
  • As a result, it will exacerbate the crisis in international law.

Global State of Lawlessness

  • The concurrent spread of economic protectionism is viewed as a significant consequence of the rise of the geo-economic order.
  • The rise of China has sparked debate in the United States, which is desperate to maintain its hegemony.
  • The United States is rapidly abandoning the neoliberal consensus of interdependence and nondiscrimination in international economic law.
  • The USA policy can be seen in the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to transition to clean energy by providing massive industrial subsidies to domestic American companies at the expense of imports and foreign companies.
  • Similarly, the United States’ rejection of recent World Trade Organization (WTO) panel reports that found the United States’ protectionist industrial policies masquerading as national security objectives illegal is another indicator.
  • The United States has also suffocated the WTO’s effective dispute settlement mechanism by persistently opposing the appointment of Appellate Body members.
  • All of these challenges will only worsen in 2023, leading to greater lawlessness in the global economy.

Populists pose a challenge

  • In 2023, populist and ethno-nationalist regimes in countries such as Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and Israel will continue to pose challenges to international law.
  • Populists undermine international law’s legitimacy by referring to it as foreign law, which is harmful to their national interests.
  • In the populist scheme of things, international law is frequently reduced to a mere law of coordination.
  • This law of coordination is not intended to foster international cooperation in the development and promotion of common global values, but rather to ensure a minimal relationship between countries with similar ideological moorings.
  • Populists also criticise international institutions and courts for impeding their efforts to advance the interests of the “pure” people they claim to represent.
  • Domestic laws are enacted to protect the ethnic identity of the ‘pure’ people, even if these laws violate international law.

The Crisis’s Characteristics: Scholars’ Thoughts

  • Some scholars characterise the crisis in international law in various ways, including-
  • B.S. Chimni believes that if the phenomenon of imperialism is not addressed, there will be a crisis in international law.
  • James Crawford argued that crises occur in international law because of “the absence of any constitutional order, other than constitutional order of States”.
  • Jan Klabbers contends that the current crisis in international law is a crisis in liberal democracy.
  • Whatever the label, the fact remains that the liberal international legal order is under attack from a variety of directions.
  • To achieve world peace, the international community must fight back against the relentless assaults on core universal values posed by securitisation, populism, and protectionism.

May 2024