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Is International Law Effective Part 1: Is International Law Really ‘Law’

By Aoibhín Spriggs- Law Student @ St Catharine’s College, Cambridge


What is International Law?

First, we must consider what we mean by international law. It is primarily a law between states. It is a legal system, containing rules about what states must and must not do and rules about how to determine what counts as international law. International law is a horizontal system (it lacks a supreme authority) with emphasis placed on state consent.

Is International Law really ‘law’?

This is a somewhat theoretical debate, but international law must be considered true law for states to feel bound by it. There are arguments that international law is not really law, but a normative system that guides behaviour. These arguments have been rehashed recently, given the pandemic international relations has been perceived as taking precedence. I will consider some arguments that international law is not law and argue that these are not as convincing as they first appear.

HLA Hart argues that international law fails to meet the characteristics of law. He argues that the absence of a legislature, court and centrally organised sanctions means that the rules for states are simply a form of social structure. However, this relies on a particular definition of law that is based on a traditional underst