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Man is a social animal. He just can't remain isolated. He establishes interactions with other human beings and so there are disputes between them. Similarly, states too cannot remain in isolation. They also establish diplomatic relations and subsequently there are prospects of conflicts and differences between them. The interdependency of states binds them to have laws to regulate their relations. The rules and principles of actions that deal with the disputes between or amongst different states are summed up as international law.


According to Professor Gilchrist, 'International law is defined as those set of rules which civilised states observe in their dealings with each other, these rules being enforced by each particular state according to it's own moral standard or conveniences'.
As per Wheaton, 'International law consists of more rules of conduct which reason deduces as consonant with justice from the nature of society existing among independent nations, with such modifications and definitions as may be established by general consent'.

It is also defined as the paradigm of some customary and conventional rules which are considered legally binding by civilised states in their intercourse with each other. These laws were not made at once rather they have developed in tandem with the development of the international community including the different world countries. These have either grown through some 'customs' accepted by states or through some 'conventions' or 'treaties' concluded by states in different international meetings or conferences.

Development of International Law

The history of international law is as old as human civilisation. Since ancient times, there existed some customary rules and regulations to manage the relations between the various tribal states. The Mesopotamian, Chinese, and Indian records give proof of the same. The Greek city-states and the Byzantine Empire contributed much to the diplomatic intercourse. The Romans under the name of 'Jus Gentium' contributed to the development of international law, a Latin phrase meaning the 'law of nations'. Precisely, it is the law which natural reason established for all men distinguished from the civil law specific to a particular state or a society. However, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotious should be accredited for writing a treatise on International Law - Law of War and Law of Peace. A subjective framework of international law existed with almost all the European states. Modern times have again brought into the limelight the significance of international law as a factor to promote global governance. Modern international law is governed both by the 'Law of War' ( the rules of conduct guiding the state in times of war ) and the 'Law of Peace' ( the rules of conduct guiding the state in times of peace). It also appends the discussion about the rules of conduct available in relation to neutral or subordinate states. Principles of international law are always on a mode of construction. As long as the world is politically organised into nations, international law is going to be a dominant feature of world politics.

Is International Law, a Law or not?

The Analytical School of Thought contends that 'international law is not a law' for the following reasons:

  1. Law implies the commands issued by a superior to his inferior while international law does not resonate with this idea.
  2. Law is followed as it is backed by its coercive authority. International Law is not bound to any such sanctions. The states obey and break it at their will. No punishment is followed for such a breach. Hence, it is said that 'International Law is the vanishing point of jurisprudence'.
  3. There are indefinite interpretations of international law. International Law is not properly defined for any particular issue. Furthermore, there is the absence of competent courts to interpret international law. It remains uncertain or vague in some parts.
  4. A state is considered to be sovereign when it is sovereign both 'internally' and 'externally'. Recognition of international law circumscribes the external sovereignty of the state. A sovereign state never recognises any 'superior' in international relations. Validating the idea of international law will precipitate a crisis in the theory of the state, according to which sovereignty is an essential characteristic of a state without which a state ceases to be a state. Hence, it is regarded by some philosophers that legitimising the concept of international law negates the sovereignty of the state.

The Modern School of Thought contend regarding the 'legal validity of international law' for the following reasons:

  1. International Law emanates from sources such as customs, religious and judicial precedents which act as similar sources for civil laws as well.
  2. International law can be followed for fear of public opinion and morality. It is not necessary that it should be always backed by some punishment on account of it's breach. As Shakespeare has also remarked, ' Lawless are they that make their wills their law.' Those who have to follow the law will follow it and those who don't have to follow the law will actually never follow it, whatsoever the case may be.
  3. There are many international courts present for the interpretation of international law like the International Court of Justice at Hague, Permanent Arbitration Court, and International Prize Courts in almost every state.
  4. Developed nations like England or America have recognized international law as a law of their land. The legislative branch in these countries cannot frame laws which are contrary to International law.
  5. Various diplomatic correspondences, formal declarations, international conventions have contributed to the development and codification of international law. It is said that 'International Law is the result of diplomacy.' Digests of International Law for the USA is also a compilation of declarations and correspondences. Arbitration or adjudication in international courts on various matters has also sharpened international law.
  6. International law is adopted by the states on their consent. The Heads of different states also pay certain obligations to international law. President Roosevelt in this context remarks, 'It would be preposterous to think that international relations are governed exclusively by force; and that statesmen are not moved by the considerations of right or wrong.' It is just that states never admit a breach of international law.
  7. International law is no negation of the sovereignty of the state for the simple reason as the states can mutually agree to follow some rules of conduct to fulfill the goals of collective security.


International law is fundamentally the same as that of National Law. The compact complex world in the modern scenario has increased the significance of international law. Some serious steps or reforms are being taken in the development of international law. We shall conceptualise the concept beyond the myopic view of a normal human being. International law can never be expunged from the scope of international politics. In the contemporary situation, the national interest of every state can be secured, if each of them surrenders a part of their sovereignty to the effective international legal order. Though, international law appeals to morality while at the same time it acts as a law for all. In the view of Saner, 'International law is halfway between morality and law'.

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