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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: September 2009

1 - Law and legal process in international affairs


“And now for something completely different”

Lead-in to each program in the Monty Python BBC television series

Law and legal process in international affairs are truly “something completely different” from their counterparts in domestic legal orders, especially, perhaps, that of the United States. One seldom finds, for example, allegations that what is called law in domestic societies is not really “law” but rather only “positive morality” giving rise to at most “political obligations.” By contrast, such allegations are frequently advanced with respect to international law. Prior to assuming his present position, John R. Bolton, currently US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, claimed that treaties are “‘law’ only for US domestic purposes. In their international operation, treaties are simply ‘political’ obligations.”

In response Robert F. Turner, Associate Director of the Center for National Security Law at the University of Virginia Law School, refuted Bolton's claim with the following observations:

How do we know that international treaty commitments are legally binding? Because every single one of the 185 [now 191] states that are members of the United Nations, and every single one of the few states that are not, acknowledge that fact. Article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties recognizes the fundamental and historic principle of pacta sunt servanda: “Every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.” […]

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