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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2009

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This article studies the effects of invoking international necessity, to see whether it can be reconciled with an aspiring international rule of law. Any field of application in theory possible, the doctrine is here applied to uses of force, illustrated by humanitarian interventions, actions against international terrorism and the 2004 Construction of a Wall case. Relationships between circumstances precluding wrongfulness and the grounds for treaty termination is examined in light of international practice, studying necessity's impact on the stability of treaty regimes. The author concludes that international tribunals when applying necessity generally heed the rule of law, the stability of treaties and the elevation of overriding norms.

Necessity, if successfully invoked, is not perceived to alter substantive obligations. It cannot create a right to assume would-be illegal behaviour. As a result, necessity need not threaten international legal regime building, but may serve as a safety valve, allowing states to remain faithful to general norms, from which they are allowed to deviate only temporarily. In this manner, necessity can even contribute to the rule of law, thanks to its limited scope, constitutionalising emergency powers and subordinating them to pacta sunt servanda.

Copyright © T.M.C. Asser Instituut and Contributors 2009

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