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Is international law a meaningful concept?

Alice          30 June 2015 03:57 PM


Suppose we want to establish some new international law, that all countries are supposed to abide. How do we do it? The vast majority of countries are non-democratic and have authoritarian regimes. The vast majority of people live in such countries. So if we try the "democratic" approach, we'll have these countries (and their non-democratic regimes) dictate the international law to western democracies, which does not make much sense. The alternative is to have the Western world, or some other subset of powerful countries dictate the international law to all other countries. (This is roughly reflected by today's UN's security council, though why these specific countries should have such powers is not clear, except maybe for historical reasons.) In any case this latter solution also does not sound very fair or democratic. Is there a way to design international law in a meaningful way?



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Silent Cal 10 July 2015 03:47 PM
72%

It can be, with limitations.

One way is to have an opt-in agreement with all members agreeing to punish anyone who violates the agreement. Obviously this can only cover things lots of nations agree on, or else only cover smaller subsets of nations. Fwiffo discusses these well.

The other way is for a group of powerful nations to agree to enforce something and admit the justifications are not internationally impartial. As worrying as this is, I think I'm okay with it as long as it's done carefully. But right or wrong, it's clearly meaningful.

So a group of powerful and like-minded nations could say "We declare the following things illegal, and since we have the guns and the money, what we say goes." This is essentially the League of Democracies proposal.


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Alice 10 July 2015 08:13 PM
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So a group of powerful and like-minded nations could say "We declare the following things illegal, and since we have the guns and the money, what we say goes." This is essentially the League of Democracies proposal.


So this is basically the law of the jungle, except that it's not being presented as such. It's one thing to admit that a bunch of countries decided to play the world's policeman, and these are their rules. Another thing is to present everything perceived as opposing the so called international law as immoral and wrong. Also I feel like it is generally accepted that democracy is the best political system we have today to run a country, but when it comes to relationship between different countries, such principles are not applied anymore, even though we seem to pretend they still do, via UN and other international institutions.

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Silent Cal 16 July 2015 03:30 PM
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The subtlety is that in the case of a League of Democracies type body, the rules they enforce would be the ones they consider moral. So they would have a basis for saying those who violate their dicta were immoral, but the dicta would be in place because the actions they forbid were considered immoral, rather than the actions being immoral because they violate the dicta.

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Fwiffo 11 July 2015 09:02 AM
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There are lots of non-democracies in the world. The issue isn't clear enough to be settled. I am of the impression that when people invoke internationalk law arguments they fully well know of their "might makes right" angle. This is like saying that you allow your neighbour to generally conduct their lives and do minor mistakes but if he does something truly offensive its your duty to set him straight and bust through the wall with fists.

I don't think it was ever the case that relationships between countries would be organised by democracy. That is international organizations are there to mediate things but countries never went asking anyone for permission.

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Fwiffo 6 July 2015 05:16 AM
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In law of ruling over people the state has somewhat legitimate monopoly on violence use. If we were to copy that verbatim to laws over states then we would have international monopoly on violence use. This is often seen as a negative outcome where some party has "conquered" earth.

Most of the international laws are actually opt in agreements. That is countries volunteer to abide by them. Thus the problem of enforcing it against unwilling participants doesn't arise. The issue is then when countries are unwilling to commit to principles. For example the USA doesn't want to be accountable to anyone else pretty much no matter how western the values of the proposal would be. So US leaves the option to not be formally required to live up to human rights. There is a somewhat of a PR hit you cease to be a party to such an arrangement but some are able to take it no problem.

Likewise there has been attempts to make distinction of legitimate wars vs unlegitimate wars. However often the process ends up being political instead of juridical. That is when a countrys representatives vote on a issue it has little to do with overarching principles but more how the situation plays in the voters favour. This can devalue the meaning of the process entirely. Thus an "illegit war" label isn't an effectice block to anyways going to war but is like a small footnote in the process. There is a use where a "legit war" label can make other countries more supportive of it. However this usually doesn't have direct formal ties to the decision. Rather it is used as a shorthand for the overall ethical consideration. But making subjective ethical considerations isn't automatically inferior.


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melian 6 July 2015 01:07 PM
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Most of the international laws are actually opt in agreements. That is countries volunteer to abide by them. Thus the problem of enforcing it against unwilling participants doesn't arise.

Just because the country signs an agreement voluntarily does not mean it intends to abide by it. Take, for example, the Helsinki Accords from 1975. The Warsaw Pact governments signed them even though they had no intention of honoring some of their articles (such as freedom of conscience).

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Fwiffo 7 July 2015 12:16 AM
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Yes, it's not that binding. However if you have a signed agreement you can atleast point out where the contradiction between words and actions lay. This can give a more concrete goal for example opposition groups to rally behind to boost country internal debate on the issue (that is whether to honor that or not). I would imagine it would feel easier to try to get a goverment to actually do stuff they have already said they are going to do rather than try to get it to do stuff it hasn't committed to even in name.

It's also an issue that the inititative to put those items probably were not theirs. That is they are foreign ideals. In that way diplomacy that circumvents actually changing minds and tries to force issues through signatures isn't likely to be super effective. However it does link stuff that they care about to stuff that the opposing side cares about. Should they ... read more


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