International law is developed and implemented today in a complicated, diverse, and changing context. Globalization and integration, fragmentation and decentralization, and bottom-up empowerment are arising simultaneously among highly diverse peoples and civilizations. Most importantly, this period is characterized by rapid and often unforeseen changes with widespread effects. Advances in information technology make possible ever shifting ad hoc coalitions and informal groups and a myriad of individual initiatives.
The resulting kaleidoscopic world faces global problems that affect everyone: climate change, financial crises, health threats, communication disruptions and cyber attacks, ethnic and other conflicts, among many others. These cannot be managed solely by one state or a handful of states, or solely by non-state actors. Some of these problems erupt quickly and are not easily contained. Others, like climate change, have inherently long time-horizons and affect the welfare of future generations. One of the most pressing problems is poverty, with more than 1.4 billion people existing on less than US$1.25 per day in 2008 and another 1.2 billion people on less than US$2.00 per day.1
This kaleidoscopic world both offers opportunities for international law to become more relevant and central and poses significant dangers for its relevance and effectiveness. This article provides an initial analysis of the significance of the kaleidoscopic world for international law.