International law

Amid power, order and justice

Authored by: Richard Falk

Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies

Print publication date:  February  2007
Online publication date:  March  2007

Print ISBN: 9780415396653
eBook ISBN: 9780203089163
Adobe ISBN: 9781134154814

10.4324/9780203089163.ch21

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Abstract

The history of international law has been decidedly mixed. It has functioned for several centuries both as a sword for the strong and a shield for the weak. It has developed over the course of the Westphalian Era, stretching back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, as a regulatory and cooperative framework for the interplay of sovereign states. Throughout this history the juridical logic of equality that is embodied in international law has been consistently subordinated to the geopolitical framework of world politics based on the logic of relative power. The same ratio of law to power pertains today. This means that the quality of world order is very dependent on the prudence, wisdom and legitimacy of the global leadership provided at a given time and in various settings by the main geopolitical actors.

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