International Law
International Law Introduction

A vast network of international law and dozens of international organizations make globalization possible. Treaties and other types of agreements among countries set rules for international trade and finance, such as the GATT; foster cooperation on protecting the environment, such as the Kyoto Protocol; and establish basic human rights, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Meanwhile, among many international organizations, the United Nations facilitates international diplomacy; the World Health Organization coordinates international public health and protection, and the International Labor Organization monitors and fosters workers’ rights around the world.

The scope and authority of international law have thus expanded dramatically during the era of globalization. Historically, international law addressed only relations between states in certain limited areas (such as war and diplomacy) and was dependent on the sovereignty and territorial boundaries of distinct countries (generally referred to as “states”).

But globalization has changed international law in numerous ways. For example, as globalization has accelerated, international law has become a vehicle for states to cooperate regarding new areas of international relations (such as the environment and human rights), many of them requiring states to rethink the previous notions of the inviolable sovereign state. The continued growth of international law is even more remarkable in this sense, since states, having undoubtedly weighed the costs and benefits of the loss of this valuable sovereignty, have still chosen to continue the growth of international law.

Because of the need for enhanced international (or as some call it, “transnational”) cooperation, globalization has therefore given new meanings to classic issues. Questions of the authority of a country within its own borders—that is, its state sovereignty—the role of the individual in the international community of nation-states, and the authority of international organizations, have all evolved in light of the forces of globalization.

The following Issue in Depth describes the sources of international law and the subjects it covers; the international organizations that implement international law; and some of the controversial aspects related to international law and organizations as well as their relationships to state sovereignty.


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