Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

7. International Law

David P Fidler


International law

  • Because no supreme power controls state behavior in an international system, states need mechanisms for regularizing their contacts = international law
  • International law comprises:
    • a practical element
    • a normative element

Sovereign states produce a particular political structure for interaction which contains independent territorial units that are interdependent because they interact and affect each other's fate. Because no supreme power controls state behavior in an international system, the potential for cooperation and conflict exists. As interaction is unavoidable, states need mechanisms for regularizing their contacts. A chief mechanism devised for this purpose is international law.

International law comprises a practical and a normative element. It embodies the realization of states that rules and procedures are needed to regulate day-to-day interactions to produce order and stability in the international system. International law fulfills this practical need by providing rules that stabilize and harmonize systemic interactions.

International law also fulfills the normative need created by the anarchical structure of international relations, forming an ‘international society’, where a group of states conceive themselves to be bound by a common set of rules, and share in the working of common institutions.

The table (next page) illustrates how the normative functions of international law build on the foundation laid by international law's practical organization of systemic interaction.

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