Document Type



International Law | Law and Politics | Law and Society


The recent developments in Eastern Europe and the Persian Gulf dramatize the efforts of the United States to muster the support of other states and international organizations in asserting principles of international law and process. These diplomatic initiatives to win a global consensus about the rule of law in international politics reflect an important turn in U.S. policy. In the past few decades the United States has mostly enunciated a parochial rhetoric regarding international law, treating it either as a sort of extension of United States law or as a flexible framework that somehow always promoted U.S. legal and political values. In the present, however, the United States is promoting a vision of international law as a set of legal norms and as a form of legal process that exists apart from a nationalistic interpretation by the United States and is ultimately universal in nature. The developments of the Gulf and in Eastern Europe have also underscored as well the increasing importance of international institutions in the formulation and administration of international law. If Security Council resolutions during the Gulf crisis helped shape specific diplomatic objectives and military tactics, they also fit into a more general political context involving internationalism and non-state actors. The internationalization of the media, for example, played a role in the formulation of political initiatives in the Gulf, as it has helped to encourage the political development of Eastern Europe. Multinational enterprises helped prompt the Soviet Union into pursuing ties with the West. The Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations are playing increasingly important roles in international relief operations. Private environmental groups are ever-more influential in setting and implementing international environmental agendas. Such phenomena underscore the need to rearticulate the theory and practice of international law. International lawyers have never really made room for the obvious importance of non-state actors in international politics. Although there have been many calls for such recognition, international law needs finally to develop intellectual models that include not only the state but also international institutions and individuals. Now is the time to seize the opportunity afforded by the renewed attention being paid to international law and modify the discipline's contemporary conceptions, both in its basic theory and in its practice. Now is the time to return to the universalism that characterized the foundation of the modern law of nations. Now is the time to break the mold of international law's twentieth-century paradigm, to assault the discipline's basic assumptions, and to refashion the subject in a form suitable for the obvious needs of the next century. This essay begins the task by challenging the parochialism of the U.S. approach to international law and by attacking some of the legal notions related to the sovereign state. It concludes by doubting that the term international law is still appropriate for the discipline.