International Law

The Growth of International Law Between Globalization and the Great Power

International Law is not only growing fast, but is virtually exploding: between 1864 and 1919, an estimated 257 multilateral treaties were concluded, and from 1919 to 1971, 1090 entered into force. In August 2003, a total of 40,000 treaties (among them 2799 multilateral ones), were registered with the UN.

The question of this agora, is, however, not only whether international law is changing in quantity, but whether the international legal system is changing “in nature”. The principal reason for such a change might be the termination of the bipolar world order with its balance of power between two rivaling Great Powers and the increasing contempt of international law by the remaining single Superpower, the United States. Although the international legal system has always been shaped and dominated by Great Powers, America’s current global supremacy constitutes, as US Foreign Policy Advisor Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out, a “hegemony of a new type”. Hegemony means, since Greek antiquity, the political phenomenon of leadership or predominance, which may or may not be legally to some extent formalized or institutionalized. So what is new with the USA? One novelty is that, while all former Empires were in reality only regional in scope, the United States has been, since 1990, a truly global power. It controls all the world’s oceans and leads in three key dimensions of power, namely in military, economic, and scientific/ technological realms. The superiority of the military potential of the USA and other states is as overwhelming as never before in the history of any other hegemony. In 2002, the United States spent six times more on defense than Russia. The US defense budget exceeds by one third the budgets of the other nine NATO-members plus Australia, Japan and South Korea added together. In the year 2000, the United States’ economy accounted for 30 percent of the entire world’s gross product. Moreover, due to the market dominance of US corporations, superior expertise, and the availability of model norms in US domestic law, US rules and in particular US technical standards often exceed their formal confines and function as global rules of the world markets, or of the internet.

In science and technology, American firms and researchers are at the cutting-edge of tomorrow’s economy. In the cultural domain, US-American mass entertainment, films, music, and American life-style in general, as well as higher education in the USA are loathed and condemned by some groups in the world. However, that resentment rather confirms than disproves the overall power of the American maelstrom.