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I was mostly talking about something different: we hear all the time that this country or that violates the international law. I don't believe this has to do with any agreements or treaties these countries signed. In this case, what does this mean? Who gets to decide what international law is? Is there a way to do it meaningfully from moral point of view, so that we can all say, it's not OK to violate the international law.






That is a little like saying a country violates divine law or saying that someone is a thief without any recourse to any definition of theft in a law. It would be less manipulative just to say that they did a bad thing or a thing that would be okay to be banned universally.

Offcourse if there has been a international treaty that is very idealistic in its aims and a large majority but a few countries sign it, it might be tempting to think it "passed" and think the behaviour of the countries that didn't sign in terms of the agreement. Thus there would be countries that would not be under obligations to change their behaviour should they sign it and those that would be under obligation to change should they sign. In this way you can be "violating" a treaty that doesn't bind you. The idealistic motivation for the treatment might be nebolous and hard to say what it means in practise. A treaty is more likely to identify conrete things countries ought to do or not to do or standards to hit. This way saying that a country doesn't hit a standard defined in a treaty is more detailed than saying that it doesn't fullfill the ideal. For example allowing election observers is more of a question of fact than whether a country is "democratic".

Countries are soverign meaning that by default they are not under any law as state entities. It is common for them to a create a law to organise their citizens relations. Usually if the law is found to be unjust there is a process to change it. Any international process of changing rules can't really escape consent of the affected parties, maybe outside sanctioned war.

If one would point out what international laws are "broken" you could track back the relevant moral reasoning. However international laws are hard to set because they are expected to bind very different countries. Thus they are likely to encode minimal standards to hit. Saying that a country is violating international laws without specifying which ones is like saying that there are multiple severe concretely provable/pointouttable treaty violations. If a country had theorethically defensible principles governing its behaviour it would probably fulfill the minimal standards by accident (that is without reference to the specifics of the treaties). Multiple violations suggests that the principles of the country are not extendible to general rules. While this might be a ethically relevant statement it is far weaker than for example calling a person not fullfilling the law ie a criminal.

On the international stage things "not being OK" is also far weaker than it is for state vs person level. For a lot of countries what North Korea does is definetely not OK, but it just amounts to saying "we don't believe you are doing things the right way". This is largely because countries don't need each others permission to do things.

We can talk about what kinds of laws other countries set for themselfs we are okay with but in order for an international law to make any sense it must be possible to determine what the law is. If treaties and agreements are not a valid recourse on the details I can't really imagine where one would pull the details. If it's some kind of "selfevident to any civil person" in practise that would allow anyone to claim any detail based on what their personal sense of justice says. That would not be very lawlike in operation althought it might be similar in that the sense of "grave violation" is emotionally similar. It would almost be a state of complete lawlessness. In documents the decisions are numbered by giving them sections and clear statements (in usually english). This allows one to point "this, this is what is being violated". International law should not be a concept where the listener has to themselfs fill in what is being violated.
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