By Kent R. Kroeger (August 3, 2022)
International law consists of rules and principles governing the relations and dealings of nations with each other, as well as the relations between states and individuals, and relations between international organizations. (Cornell Law School)
The overarching goal of this blog is to highlight analytic tools and data that are available to everyone. Today, however, I am going off-script to address an issue that is close to my heart and represents an early part of my career.
I taught a survey class in International Politics and Law at the University of Iowa almost 30 years ago, and though I was an only marginally effective instructor, my students were exceptionally engaged on the question of international law.
Does international law actually exist?
One student in particular, who served in the Army reserve and who had been deployed on a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission, aggressively disagreed with the contention that the UN, or any other international organization, represents a ‘legal authority’ that can sanction or punish a rogue nation independent of the will of a major world power (i.e., the U.S.).
The student offered this observation: “If I steal a car, I broke the law and will be arrested by the police. What police force stops me from stealing a country?”
“The U.S.,” answered a student.
But the U.S. is not an international organization. It is a nation-state, a powerful one at that.
Current events have brought this issue to the forefront: Vladimir Putin claims Ukraine is historically part of a greater Russia (not true), and the Communist Party of China argues that Taiwan is a breakaway province (true) that is inseparably part of the People’s Republic of China (not true).
What international laws validate Russia and China’s claims of sovereignty over Ukraine and Taiwan?
The answer is that there is no such international authority. Historical claims of sovereignty, like Russia’s and China’s, are feckless and impotent separate from their military and diplomatic ability to acquire those territories.