Trade, foreign policy, diplomacy and health

7. International Law

David P Fidler

Normative and practical aspects of international law

This table (to the right) illustrates how the normative functions of international law build on the foundation laid by international law's practical organization of systemic interaction.

The body of international law regulating the day-to-day interactions of states developed historically without reference to public health. International diplomacy on public health did not emerge until the mid-19th century, when CDC became a matter of interstate concern. International CDC in the 19th century posed new normative and practical problems for which new procedures, represented by a series of international sanitary conferences, and new rules, embodied in international sanitary conventions, were created but which were built on the existing edifice of international law

In the 20th century, normative and practical vision for public health expanded through: (i) the creation of international health organizations, which began to look at global public health problems beyond infectious disease control; and (ii) the evolution of radically new legal and moral concepts such as health as a fundamental human right.

GPGH are equivalent to the common interests and values that define the nature of the international society among states. International law represents the common set of substantive rules used by states in their interactions to achieve their common interests and values. States also use international law to create common institutions, such as international organizations (IGOs), that become focal points for cooperation on problems of mutual concern. Through IGOs, states use international law to create on-going diplomatic processes that allow substantive approaches to new problems to develop as the regime evolves.

This description of the role of international law in the production of GPGHs echoes institutionalism and constructivism because it: (i) recognizes that states use international law for practical, selfish reasons to address problems that cannot be handled except through international cooperation; and (ii) captures how international law can be adapted to receive new ideas and approaches that affect both the normative and practical aspects of state interaction.